What’s Happening, Part 2 (E.g., “The Mechanisms of Labor”)

Some of you may have seen last week’s animated video displaying a window into the womb and birth canal as a baby is birthed. For those of you who are curious about what you saw (beyond the obvious), here is an explanation of what happens during a vaginal birth.

“Beginning with engagement [otherwise known as 0 station- the baby’s head is low and set in the pelvis] and continuing until birth, the baby engages in a series of actions, called “the mechanisms of labor” or “cardinal movements:

1) Descent– [a.k.a., moving downwards] Begins with engagement and continues as the baby is passed through the birth canal. Occurs due to the downward pressure of contractions, mom’s pushing, and (hopefully) the force of gravity.

2) Flexion– The baby’s chin tucks to touch his chest.

3) Internal Rotation- The head enters the pelvis in a transverse (diagonal) position. When it reaches the pelvic floor, the occiput [top of the baby’s head] rotates to the front.

4) Extension– After occiput emerges from the pelvis, the head extends and crowning occurs.

5) External Rotation (Restitution)- After the head is born, it turns to one side or the other. The shoulders internally rotate. Usually the anterior [front] shoulder is born first, then posterior [back], then body.”

-Taken from Sudharma Birth Services Doula Training, “A Mother is Born: Labor Stages 2 & 3”

Pretty neat, right? It may look like a lot of fancy terminology, but if you read it through, some of these “mechanisms” may already sound familiar to you. Of course, there is always the possibility that for one reason or another, the baby may not engage in each one of these five movements, sometimes causing variations and challenges in the birthing process. However, this series of movements is what will usually happen in a vaginal delivery.

Head back one post to What’s Happening Down There?!? and watch the animation again. See if you can spot all five mechanisms of labor during this video. Remember: descent, flexion, internal rotation, extension, external rotation. Can you see them happen? How amazing the birthing process, and so cool how God designed it to work!

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