Looking back- vaginal birth

Most of the women we interviewed had a vaginal birth, although levels of pain relief and interventions differed widely. Some went into labour spontaneously and had little intervention. One woman who had an uncomplicated home birth felt very positive about her choices and the support she received.

Another mother described how her back waters went, she had a show the next day and gave birth in one and a half hours.

Another woman thought about a home birth for her second baby, but her first birth in hospital (with birthing pool) had been so good she did not think the location mattered very much. Again, what mattered was support and freedom to do what she wanted.

Some women had more intervention than they had hoped, but still felt positive about the birth, including one who had an induction. She could not relax in a bath as planned because of the drip and monitor, but birth was awe-inspiring and she was oblivious to her surroundings.

A mother who had had a previous caesarean birth was pleased to have a vaginal birth next time, and said she recovered much faster. She needed some help with ventouse to help deliver the baby.

Another mother had a forceps birth after a long and exhausting labour. She was surprised that she was not very assertive and let staff make decisions for her, but she had worked on the ward as a doctor and trusted them. She had asked for a 'stretch and sweep' to start labour when she was only five days overdue, and wondered afterwards whether it might have been better to let labour start naturally. (In a stretch and sweep, the midwife or doctor places a finger just inside the cervix during a vaginal examination and makes a circular, sweeping movement to separate the membranes from the cervix).

Women's views about their birth were of course partly related to the length of the labour and how painful they found it. But their feelings were also affected by how supportive the staff were and whether they felt informed and involved in decision-making. This in turn affected how confident they were that the right choices were made. One mother was disappointed to have an induction and forceps, but it helped that the anaesthetist and obstetrician saw her next day and explained why it was necessary.

Another mother having an induction described how her experience was transformed once she was given continuous support by midwives and taken off gas and air, to which she reacted badly.

Another felt unsupported by one midwife, but things improved when a different midwife took over. During a long labour, there may be several changes of midwife, and the lack of continuity upset one mother.

One mother had a very distressing induction when she went past her due date, which she had tried to resist. Her husband was not allowed to stay with her overnight, and she felt disempowered and unsupported. Although it was a vaginal birth, she felt it was 'just as artificial as a caesarean birth'. The baby needed resuscitating for five minutes, which she felt was partly because the midwife cut his umbilical cord immediately. (This is usual practice if an injection has been given to help deliver the placenta, but she had not been told this). She contrasted it with her second, spontaneous labour with a doula (independent birth companion).

Some people reacted badly to some of the drugs used for induction. One mother had an induction because she had pre-eclampsia. The pessaries made her very sick, but once she had an oxytocin drip and an epidural the labour went very smoothly.

(See also 'Looking back - caesarean birth' and 'Thinking about where and how to give birth').

For more information see our pregnancy resources.

Last reviewed May 2017.
Last updated
May 2017.


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