It’s the mother of all questions: What does it actually feel like to give birth and push a baby out of your vagina? Now if you’re reading this article, chances are you’re probably about to embark on your own childbirth journey and doing a little (or a lot) of research as to what exactly you can expect when the big day finally arrives.
The short answer? There is no way to predict how giving birth will play out until it’s actually game time.
But what we do know for sure is that o two births are identical and however you deliver your child into the world – whether that’s vaginal birth, a c-section birth, a birth with an epidural, a birth without an epidural, a birth with instruments, a water birth, a birth with a whimsical playlist you spent months curating then couldn’t stand the sound of any music whatsoever on an actual day, or a birth on the side of the road because your baby couldn’t wait to join the party – we salute you. It’s not called labour for no good reason and the wonder of women growing and delivering tiny humans into the world is a real-life miracle.
There are three stages of birth and according to the Royal Women’s Hospital of Victoria: “The first stage is when your cervix is opening and your baby is moving down the birth canal. The second stage is when your baby is being born and the third stage is when the placenta is delivered.”
Every person will describe the pushing sensation differently but keep reading as we explore the entire spectrum of the most mind-blowing act known to humankind.
How painful is pushing a baby out?
This will be dependent on a whole range of factors – including your own personal pain threshold, whether or not you have an epidural, whether or not you tear and the degree of the tear and the size of your birth canal vs. the size of your baby, to name a few of the many variables when it comes to getting our bubbas out into the big, wide world.
For some women, they say there’s actually a huge sense of relief when they finally push their baby out, while others describe the sensation of pushing a baby out as the most excruciating pain they’ve ever experienced (again, we really don’t want to scare anyone! Remember that no two births are the same and if you are concerned about your delivery, speak to your midwife or obstetrician ahead of time to discuss your pain main management game plan).
Keep in mind, that there is no definitive way to measure pain and everyone’s birth experience is completely different.
How long does it take to push a baby out?
How long is a piece of string? We wish there was an average number we could commit to but again, the act of pushing varies greatly for every individual.
If you’re a first-time mama, the actual pushing part of the delivery can take anywhere from 30 minutes to three hours (yep, they don’t call it labour for nothing!).
The good news is subsequent labours are typically much quicker (we’ve all heard those stories of road-side deliveries on the way to the hospital!) and for many women, they can push for as short as thirty minutes.
What does it actually feel like to give birth?
When it’s finally time to push that moment can be extremely exciting, terrifying, exhausting and overwhelming all at once – especially if your labour has already been going on for several hours or even days.
As we mentioned before, the pushing phase of labour will vary for each person. The main sensations you may feel are:
- More intense and visible contractions with your uterus rising as each one occurs
- An overwhelming desire to push (however not everyone will feel this if they have had an epidural)
- Extreme pressure in your rectum and the urge to do a poo (don’t worry, that’s just the pressure of your baby’s body)
- The baby’s head moving down your birth canal
- A burning, stretching and tingling sensation in your vagina as your baby’s head starts to emerge
- A wet, slippery and heavy feeling as your baby pops their head out to the big wide world 👋
During this stage of labour, be guided by your body, your breathing and your gut instinct. Listen to the medical professionals in the room, including your midwife or obstetrician, who will tell you exactly how and when to push in rhythm with your contractions.
In their own words: Women describe what pushing a baby out feels like
As you prepare to give birth, your mind is probably racing with a million different questions. Does it feel good to push your baby out? What do contractions feel like? Can you feel their body parts touch your insides? What does it feel like to push the placenta out? These are all valid questions, so let’s put it to the people who have lived experience in giving birth to find out. We here at Kiindred put an anonymous call out to our audience and here’s what they came back with!
“You know when you were a kid and your friend would do a burn on your arm and twist the skin? It feels like that, but down there. Ring of fire is also accurate. Your vulva feels stretched, tingly and hot once the head pushes out. Once the pushing started, I felt less pain. I wonder if it was the brain overriding the pain because you know the end is near? I underestimated the act and feeling of ‘bearing down’. Rather than exhaling out, you exhale internally to push the baby down. I thought it was just a woo-woo exercise I learnt from hypnobirthing, but it’s a legit thing and made a big difference to me. Oh and then the midwife asks you to ‘stop and hold’, that’s the weirdest bit. Holding in your baby without pushing (even though you want to) is probably the most challenging part. It feels like you have this ball halfway down your birth canal and you just have to inhale and exhale through it. It’s weird.”
“Because I had an epidural, the ‘vaginal’ aspect of it was far less prominent than what I imagined. I had imagined the ‘burning watermelon’ and the sitting on the barbed wire’ feeling people talk about but my experience was much more about the sheer physical exertion of pushing in rhythm with contractions. The pushing itself was by far the greatest physical feat of my life. My face was covered in broken capillaries and my eyes were completely bloodshot from it. Anything ‘vaginal’ per se was a blip on the radar.”
“Contractions wash over your entire body and mind in waves like being slapped by a thousand rubber bands. Then it’s pushing, stinging, tingling, crowning, buuuuurning, intense pressure and stretching. Once you’ve pushed the head out and you can feel your baby just there between your legs, it’s the weirdest feeling. It’s also so emotional, you’re consumed by the pain but at the same time you feel powerful and the anticipation of getting closer to meeting that little person with each push helps keep you going. Then once the baby is out, you’re exhausted and you think it’s over but then you have to go start all over again to push the placenta out.”
“I had an epidural that worked so I didn’t feel a thing. I don’t even remember feeling the pressure as her head came out. The main sensation was my tummy tightening with contractions. They used a vacuum to get her out and I also had an episiotomy but again, I didn’t feel anything thanks to the epi.”
“Those hours of pre-epidural, labour felt like a Demogorgon was taking over my body. Once the epi hit, I felt INSTANT relief and contrary to popular belief, the epi sped up my labour. I relaxed, went with it and progressed quickly. Throw in an hour-and-a-half of pushing, an instrumental delivery and an episiotomy, I couldn’t have been more pleased to have the epi on my side. During the pushing, I couldn’t feel anything, I could have had a cup of tea at the same time! Same deal for when they used the vacuum, still nothing. When they used the forceps, there was a little tugging/rotation feel.. similar to pulling out an uncomfortable tampon (IYKYK). Episiotomy, zero feeling. Stitches, zero. I didn’t even know I was pushing the placenta out. I think that happened when the baby was on my chest.”
“I could literally feel his hands coming out of my vagina.”
“Have you heard of the saying it’s similar to pulling a watermelon out of your nose? Well, it’s like that, except instead of your nose, it’s your lady bits, and to up the ante, it’s in front of a crowd of people you have never seen before whilst you are in the most incredible pain E V E R #stillnotoveritfiveyearslater #whatpelvicfloor.”
So there you have it! Anyone else need a little lie down after reading that? Birthing is a wild ride and no matter how a baby is born, women are absolute warriros for what they endure to get their child safely in their arms.