What Is a Spontaneous Vaginal Delivery?


  1. A vaginal delivery is the recommended method of childbirth for women whose babies have reached full term.
  2. However, vaginal deliveries are not recommended for women who have had cesarean deliveries before, or who have infections that can be transferred to their baby through vaginal delivery.
  3. A cesarean delivery is the alternative to a vaginal delivery.

Vaginal delivery is the method of childbirth most health experts recommend for women whose babies have reached full term, or at least 37 weeks. Compared to other methods of childbirth, such as a cesarean delivery and induced labor, it’s the simplest kind of delivery process.

A spontaneous vaginal delivery is a vaginal delivery that happens on its own, without requiring doctors to use tools to help pull the baby out. This occurs after a pregnant woman goes through labor, which opens, or dilates, her cervix to at least 10 centimeters.

Labor usually begins with the passing of a woman’s mucous plug. This is a clot of mucous that protects the uterus from bacteria during pregnancy. Soon after, a woman’s water may break. This is also called a rupture of membranes. As labor progresses, strong contractions help push the baby into the birth canal.

The length of the labor process varies from woman to woman. Women giving birth for the first time tend to go through labor for 12 to 24 hours, while women who have previously delivered a child may only go through labor from six to eight hours.

There are three stages of labor that signal a spontaneous vaginal delivery is about to occur:

  1. Contractions soften and dilate the cervix until it’s flexible and wide enough for the baby to exit the mother’s vagina.
  2. The mother must push to move her baby down her birth canal until it’s born.
  3. The mother pushes her placenta (the organ surrounding the baby in the womb) down her birth canal and out of her vagina.

Should You Have a Spontaneous Vaginal Delivery?

Of the almost 4 million births that occur in the United States each year, most are spontaneous vaginal deliveries. However, spontaneous vaginal deliveries are not advised for all pregnant women.

Because of possible health risks for the mother, child, or both, experts recommend that women with the following conditions avoid spontaneous vaginal deliveries:

  • complete placenta previa, or when a baby’s placenta fully covers its mother’s cervix
  • herpes virus with active lesions
  • untreated HIV infection
  • uterine incisions from a previous caesarian section birth or uterine surgery

Cesarean deliveries are the desired alternative for women who have these conditions.

How Do You Prepare for a Spontaneous Vaginal Delivery?

Childbirth classes can give you more confidence before it comes time to go into labor and deliver your baby. In these classes you can ask questions about the labor and delivery process. You will learn:

  • how to tell when you’re going into labor
  • your options for pain management (from relaxation and visualization methods to medications like epidural blocks)
  • about possible complications that can happen during labor and delivery
  • how to care for a newborn
  • how to work with your partner or labor coach

When labor begins you should try to rest, stay hydrated, eat lightly, and start to gather friends and family members to help you with the birth process. It’s important to stay calm, relaxed, and positive. Feelings of fear, nervousness, and tension can cause the release of adrenaline and slow the labor process.

Have someone take you to the hospital when you find it hard to talk, walk, or move during your contractions. Remember, it’s always better to go to the hospital too early and be sent back home, than to get to the hospital when your labor is too far along.