Spontaneous vaginal birth
A spontaneous vaginal birth is a birth where the mother pushes the baby out herself without any medical assistance.
It is the most common type of birth.
This animated film illustrates the journey of a spontaneous labour and birth:
The Physiology of Childbirth – YouTube
In England in 2021-22:
65 in 100 women had a vaginal birth (either spontaneous vaginal birth or assisted vaginal birth – using forceps or a ventouse suction cup).
53 in 100 women had a spontaneous vaginal birth.
Generally, women who have had a spontaneous vaginal birth will:
- have a faster recovery than women who have an assisted vaginal birth or a caesarean birth.
- have a shorter hospital stay
- be less likely to need regular pain medication or to have an infection after the birth.
- usually have a shorter labour in the future, with a low chance of complications for themselves and their baby.
Most women recover well and have healthy babies after a spontaneous vaginal birth.
It is common during a first vaginal birth to experience vaginal or perineal tears. The perineum is the area between the vagina and anus. This area stretches as the baby is born. For most women, these tears are minor and heal quickly.
You can read more about perineal tears here: Perineal tears during childbirth | RCOG and about ways to reduce the chance of more serious perineal tears here: Reducing your risk of perineal tears | RCOG
It is also common for the muscles that support the bladder, bowel and uterus (known as the pelvic floor) to be weaker after birth, which may temporarily affect control of your bladder and, less commonly, control of your bowels.
These muscles can be strengthened with regular pelvic floor exercises. You can read more about how to strengthen your pelvic floor after childbirth here: Your pelvic floor | RCOG and here: Pelvic Health Information – Squeezy (squeezyapp.com)
Assisted vaginal birth (also known as an instrumental birth)
An assisted vaginal birth is when a doctor uses forceps or a ventouse suction cup to help the baby to be born.
In 2021-22 in England:
20 out of 100 first-time mothers had an assisted vaginal birth.
5 out of 100 women who had given birth before had an assisted vaginal birth.
You can read more about assisted vaginal birth here:
Assisted vaginal birth (ventouse or forceps) | RCOG and Forceps or vacuum delivery – NHS (www.nhs.uk)
Most women recover well and have healthy babies after an assisted vaginal birth
An assisted vaginal birth will only be recommended if it is considered the safest option for you and your baby.
Are there ways to reduce the chance of having an assisted vaginal birth?
- Having continuous support during your labour from a birth partner reduces the chance of needing additional interventions in labour
- Using different positions during the pushing stage of your labour, for instance upright positions or lying on your side, increases your chance of having a straightforward vaginal birth. At Kingston we support women to try different positions in labour. All our rooms have birthing balls and “peanut” balls which can be used to help the baby into the best position for birth. You can read more about “biomechanics” in labour here.
- Not starting to push too soon after your cervix is completely open (“fully dilated”) if you do not have a strong urge to push. Your midwife will advise you about this, depending on your individual circumstances.
- Giving birth at home or in a Birth Centre (the midwife-led unit) if your pregnancy is uncomplicated reduces the chance of needing an assisted vaginal birth and an episiotomy.
- There is some evidence that having an epidural may increase the chance of needing an assisted vaginal birth. You can read more about epidurals here: Epidural advice and information – Labour Pains and here: https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/epidural/
- If your labour is induced, this may slightly increase the chance of an assisted vaginal birth