Giving birth is one of those life experiences that's gruesome and wonderful all at the same time. In fact, I once heard that the impact of giving birth on your pelvis is similar to the impact of a car crash — crazy, right? While an expert explains that the car crash analogy doesn't exactly hold true, it's also not far off. Now bear in mind: what happens to your body when you're pushing a baby out isn't for the faint of heart. But then, any woman who has pushed a baby out — or is preparing to do so in the near future — can hardly be considered faint. Basically, you're Gal Gadot's Wonder Woman crossed with Krysten Ritter's Jessica Jones. You're incredible. You're amazing. And you've finally reached the pushing stage of labor.
According to Dr. Rebecca Levy-Gantt of Premier OBGYN Napa, Inc., pushing a baby out isn't so much like a car crash as like a "slow-motion battering." But never fear — in an email to Romper, she explains that "a good birth attendant will help the process be smooth and gentle," aiming to prevent serious tissue tearing in the final phase. When you push, you help your baby move into the birth canal, and finally, out of the vagina. What To Expect reported that you'll know it's time to push when you're completely dilated and your contractions become more regular. For some women, contractions become more intense, and for others, the intensity actually lessens.
The physiological effects of pushing involve your entire body, and Levy-Gantt observes that it's quite like the effect of "bearing down" when you have a bowel movement. (I told you this was about to get real.) Your throat closes, increasing pressure in the chest cavity and putting pressure on your heart, decreasing blood flow. Your heartbeat even slows down a bit. "In between contractions, when the patient breathes normally again, the heart rate briefly increases again, reflexively," writes Levy-Gantt.
Now for the pushing. Your abdominal muscles contract, hard — it's the core workout to end all workouts. First-time mothers can expect to push for two or even three hours. Truly, if labor is like a marathon, this is your final hill. All the strength you've developed in prenatal classes, yoga classes, and through regular exercise will now protect your abs from separating or potentially herniating. With the help of your doctor or midwife, you'll moderate your pushing as you near the finish line to give vaginal tissues time to stretch without tearing. "The muscles stretch, the vaginal mucosa softens and stretches, and the pelvic bones relax and separate slightly," explains Levy-Gantt. The good news, of course, is that you're about to have your baby.
At this point, you'll feel enormous pressure and a burning sensation known as the ring of fire. Healthline reported that you're most likely to experience the ring of fire when your skin, muscles, and tissues have stretched to their max around your baby's head. According to Levy-Gantt, how much and how easily your vagina stretches can be chalked up to your overall health. A healthy diet rich in protein, proper hydration, and the absence of medical conditions that affect tissue health — like diabetes or an autoimmune disease — will work in your favor. Exercising during pregnancy and maintaining a healthy weight makes for more elastic tissue, too.
However, even if you're very healthy, your vagina will likely tear a bit, says Levy-Gantt. Essentially, the difference between healthy and unhealthy tissue has to do with how vaginal skin tears. In a bad tear, "the tissue tears in many different places, is hard to repair, gets more swollen and painful during the recovery, and may not heal completely back to 'normal.'" (If you needed another reason to take excellent care of yourself during pregnancy, well, you're welcome?) As Levy-Gantt puts it, your vagina is a reflection of your overall health at this important moment.
Once the baby's head comes through, expect a sensation of relief. In your final push, you'll deliver your baby's shoulders. After that, it's a downhill ski into a fluffy bank of feel-good hormones, and the pushing phase is at an end.
Congratulations, my friend. You did it. You will now receive your Academy Award crossed with a Nobel Prize, plus cookies. (Or at least you would in a perfect world.)
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