Labor and delivery are two of the most fascinating subjects for moms-to-be, and humankind in general. They're pretty remarkable bodily processes that have been studied inside and out by very smart people, but still remain simply awesome. There's not enough data, research, or scientific jargon to quantify the coolness that is the birth of human life. One of the most incredible stages of labor (and sometimes most painful) is the second stage, or pushing phase. Especially when you consider what happens to your baby when you start pushing. Hint: it's a whole lot of pressure.
When it's time to push, the Sutter Health website noted that you're fully dilated at 10 centimeters, meaning there's nothing really blocking your baby's head anymore (this is assuming your baby is not in a breech position). Your contractions are about two to five minutes apart and last from 45 to 90 seconds. What To Expect explained that your contractions may be more or less intense, it's really a very unique experience for each woman. Moms to be may also feel a strong urge to push, although if you've had an epidural you may feel nothing. According to a video on Baby Center, the top uterine muscles will be contracting and squeezing down on your baby, while the lower ones will be elongating and stretching to gear up for the baby to pass through the birth canal.
There are two different ways of pushing as explained by another article on Baby Center. One is the widely practiced coached pushing where a doctor or nurse will advise and guide the mom to push during contractions and rest in between in order to help move the baby through the birth canal. The other option generally favored by midwives is called spontaneous pushing where moms allow their body to be their guide and only push when they feel an urge.
No matter what you choose, your baby's head will start passing through the birth canal during the pushing phase. The Baby Center video mentioned above showed that the three separate soft bones in the baby's head actually overlap while the baby is being pushed through the birth canal. The overlapping helps get the head through the birth canal and often creates the cone shaped head that goes away in a few days after birth. The baby's whole body will also rotate so their head will be facing their mother's back. Once the head emerges or "crowns" and then passes through, the baby will rotate again, this time sideways, in order to get the shoulders to fit through the birth canal. Typically the shoulders are delivered one at a time. After the shoulders come out, the contractions push the rest of the baby's body through the birth canal with ease.
Your baby is essentially being squeezed during the whole labor, but more intensely during the pushing phase. Whether or not this actually hurts the baby is unknown. According to Parents, doctors think a baby might feel extreme compression during the pushing phase likened to being in just a really tight spot. Your baby may also hear things during labor, pushing, and delivery, but how much and how distinct is debatable. The same Parent's article noted that doctors believe that babies have some auditory capabilities while in the womb and actually recognize their mother's voice after birth.
Knowing what your baby may be going through during labor and specifically, the pushing phase, may be fascinating and it could also help you decide how you want to actually birth your baby when the time comes.