Spontaneous Pushing 101

Picture the pushing stage of labor.

What do you think of? A woman on her back, chin tucked to her chest, holding her breath and pushing as hard as she can? A doctor, a nurse, and her partner around her? Someone telling her when to push and when to stop? How stressful is that? You end up with performance anxiety in the middle of your labor, during a time when no one knows better what your body is doing than you do.


Did you know that no one interfered with my pushing? There is a better way to push than the way I described in that last paragraph. It’s called spontaneous pushing, and it means that the laboring woman’s body decides when and how to push. The pushes are shorter and more effective, and there is a likelihood of both less damage to the mother and less stress on the baby.

So why doesn’t everyone push like this? Unfortunately, pharmacological pain relief interferes with the body’s natural pushing reflex, making the pushing stage longer, harder, and potentially more damaging. Epidurals can be dialed back during the pushing stage, allowing for more sensation and a chance at the possibility of spontaneous pushing (not guaranteed, if the epidural is still in effect). Or non-pharmacological pain relief can be used (hypnosis/guided imagery, movement/positioning, hydrotherapy, etc.).

Spontaneous pushing is also a very empowering experience, putting the laboring woman directly in touch with her body and her baby as she works to birth her child. Many women who have had an upsetting birth experience in the past find spontaneous pushing to be a healing process, as it gives them control over their own labor and does not require a third party to direct the birth. It is simply mother and baby—communicating, cooperating, and connecting.

To read a nice piece about spontaneous pushing, written by nursing students for a research project, click here.

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