Now the baby maneuvers through the pelvis, rotating and slowly descending through the birth canal. Most women become very focused and clearheaded. Their contractions feel very different.
For some women, the initial contractions of this stage are strong and powerful. The urge to push comes quickly, sometimes even before the cervix is fully dilated. But for many women, second-stage contractions increase gradually, similarly to those of the first stage of labor. Be prepared to follow your body. There is no "right way" of pushing in labor. There is no need to breathe in a particular way, hold your breath during contractions or push in a prescribed way. Changing position, moving, rocking, walking and squatting will help the process.
The feeling of pressure will increase as the baby descends. You may find yourself grunting or groaning during parts of the contractions. You might find that you hold your breath as you bear down. Your body will tell you how to push your baby out. The way to do that actually becomes clearer as you move through this stage of labor.
When your baby reaches the perineum, the contractions are very intense, often accompanied by a feeling of burning or stretching. When the head emerges there is usually a tremendous sense of relief and some pressure with the delivery of the shoulders. Then the rest of the baby moves out easily.
There are wide variations in the time it takes for all this to happen, in part depending on the size and the position of the baby, as well as your freedom to move into different positions. Don't lose sight of the fact that, as with the rest of your labor, your body and your inner wisdom are your best guides.