The second stage of labour (pushing stage) is when your baby's born. It starts when your cervix is fully open and ends with the birth of your baby.
With a first baby, the second stage can last between 10 minutes and 2 hours or sometimes longer. It’s usually easier with your second baby.
Giving birth to your baby
As you start to give birth your contractions will be helping to push your baby out. You may want to try different positions at this point and find the one that feels best for you.
You’ll probably feel a powerful urge to push 3 to 5 times during each contraction. This is called bearing down.
Your midwife may encourage you to follow your instincts when your body's telling you to push. If you want to do this, tell your midwife. If you don’t, your midwife will guide you.
If you’ve had an epidural for pain relief, you might not feel the urge to bear down as strongly, so your midwife will tell you when to push.
As your baby’s head stretches the birth canal and the area of skin between your vagina and anus (your perineum):
- you may have a strong burning feeling which normally lasts a few minutes
- you’ll feel the perineum stretch at this point
If there’s a chance it might tear, you might be asked to pant or push more gently to ‘breathe your baby out’ instead.
Crowning is a truly amazing moment when your baby’s head can be seen completely at your vulva. Your midwife may encourage your partner to have a first look at your new baby.
With the next couple of contractions:
- your baby’s head comes out - your midwife will feel for the umbilical cord to make sure it’s not around their neck
- your baby’s shoulders will turn so that they’re sideways on and facing your leg
- the rest of their body will usually come out quickly and easily
At this point your baby's born and you'll have the lovely feeling of welcoming your baby with skin-to-skin contact.
Checking your baby
When your baby arrives, your midwife will check them over to make sure they’re okay.
- how your baby's breathing
- their heart rate
- their skin colour and muscle tone
- their reactions
Your midwife gives a score of 0, 1 or 2 for each of these checks, depending on how your baby is. These checks:
- form the Apgar score
- are usually done at 1 minute and 5 minutes after the birth
More about the newborn physical examination
A blood test may also be done by taking a sample from the blood vessels in your baby’s umbilical cord after birth.
This is to check the level of oxygen in your baby’s blood at the time of birth.
Babies who need extra care
Sometimes babies are born unexpectedly sick at full term (after 37 weeks) and need to go to a neonatal unit.
Staff will keep you fully informed and always involve you in decisions about your baby’s care and treatment.
More about babies who need extra care
When your baby's being born your vagina stretches, but sometimes it can’t stretch enough. If this happens, the bit between your vagina and your back passage (your perineum) may tear.
More about perineal tears
Translations and alternative formats of this information are available from Public Health Scotland.