What’s the difference between a first and second birth? 14 moms share their stories
Every pregnancy and birth really is different.
Of all the phrases I say as a midwife, “every pregnancy and birth is different” might be the most frequent—because it is the most true.
Most births follow the same general plotline, but the twists and turns are never quite the same, and every baby ends up with their own unique birth story. While it certainly makes life exciting for me as a midwife, it can be unnerving for the people giving birth. After all, it’s human nature to want to have some predictability, especially when it comes to monumental feats like giving birth.
Related: My birth story: Surrogacy made me a mother
While I can’t tell you how your birth will go, I can tell you that you will be strong enough to handle it—even in the hardest moments. This isn’t just lip service—I really and truly mean it. You can do this.
As you prepare for your birth, you may find yourself feeling curious about what others’ experiences were like. So we asked our amazing Motherly community how their first births differed from giving birth the second time (and third.) We got so many amazing responses (because you are all amazing). Here are just a few:
Homebirths versus a hospital birth
“Births two and three were at home with midwives. It was such an empowering experience. I don’t think I would have changed that for my first, though. I didn’t know how my body was going to take labor and delivery and I felt better being in the hospital with medical interventions if necessary.”
Related: What is a midwife? Here’s how they’re different from OBs and doulas
Two different births, both without pain medicine
“My first birth was natural but I had to have my water broken. I was in labor for 25 hours and pushed for an hour. My second birth was induced and I had to have my water broken again. In labor for eight hours and pushed for four minutes. No stitches for either birth. No pain medication for either birth.”
A stillbirth, a scheduled C-section and a VBAC
“We lost our first at 20 weeks. We had a private room and excellent staff. They let us spend time with her to mourn, have pictures and gave us the outfit they dressed her in while we spent time with her, and they gave us a cute little box to put all her stuff in.
“My second pregnancy was for twins. I was terrified of giving birth—especially considering it would have been another high-risk one with baby B being under [the] 10th percentile. There was a high-risk of emergency C-section, so I opted for a [scheduled] C-section instead at 37 weeks 5 days pregnant…Being naturally 114 pounds, I was READY to have those two babies out of my body lol!
“For my youngest, I opted for a VBAC considering he was extremely healthy and strong. Big boy too! Pretty sure I was in early labor for a week because I had contractions that never stopped and kept getting worse but I wasn’t dilating enough for them to admit me. He ended up being born two days before his due date.”
Two different providers, two different experiences
“My first delivery was dictated by my doctor’s wishes because I didn’t know any better. Got a new doctor. In my second delivery, I was more educated and had more input. I recovered more quickly with significantly less tearing. Know your options—supine delivery isn’t best for everyone.”
Related: Where to give birth: Here are your labor and delivery options
A bicornuate uterus
“My first baby was in the left horn of my bicornuate uterus, and with her my water broke, initiating labor. My second baby was in the right horn (a new uterus in essence) and labor started organically.”
Two different epidural experiences (and hopes for a third unmedicated birth)
“My kids were born 2 years apart, to the day, and within 2 hours of each other!
“My first: Water broke in the middle of the night. [I had] a dream of an epidural and I felt NOTHING. My husband and I were cracking jokes between contractions. Pushed for all of 4 minutes and done.
“Second: Contractions started in [the] middle of the night and had to have my water broken. Epidural only worked on half of my body but it wasn’t unbearable. I had to push a little longer.
“My third is due any day and I’m determined to do it without an epidural! Wish me luck.”
An induction story and a spontaneous (non-induced) labor
“First: My induction starting at 0 centimeters dilated and 20% effaced. I went in on a Wednesday evening, didn’t have her until Friday early morning. Only pushed for 20 minutes.
“Second: Water broke at 12:30 am with no contractions. Got to the hospital around 2 am and only 1 centimeter dilated. Pushed for a little over an hour. He was born at 11:59 am that same day.”
Related: Getting induced may not increase your risk for C-sections, says study
Each labor longer than the last
“My second was a much longer labor and delivery. I pushed for about 10 minutes with my first and an hour with my second. My third was a stillbirth and my fourth was SUCH a long labor but a very very VERY quick delivery (a nurse barely caught her).”
Two unmedicated births with different emotions
“Both were unmedicated vaginal births with minimal tearing and easy recovery, and 12-ish hours of labor….but my first I was foggy and ultra-focused, and my second I was more aware and relaxed think because I felt more confident?”
Planned C-section and a very long VBAC
“First was a planned C-section as [the] baby was in the Frank breech position. [The] second was 61 hours total of labor (13 hours active labor) and 4 hours of pushing for a successful VBAC. Crazy different experiences. If I had to do it a third time (which I won’t!) I really don’t know which I would choose!”
Emergency C-section and a calm VBAC
“Stark contrast—first was an emergency C-section. The second was a successful VBAC…super calm and wonderful.”
Related: Your guide to C-section recovery: Timeline, tips and what to expect as you heal
A long birth, a faster birth and a homebirth
“First baby girl: 37 hours of pure pain… however… once [she was] out and placed on me, it was incredible.
“Second daughter: Painful and I thought we’d take our time going to the hospital as I was expecting a long birth, but I was only in the hospital for 20 minutes and she was out! Learning to breathe makes a difference! Started around lunchtime out by 7:08 pm.
“Last birth ([number three]) was a planned homebirth and husband delivered. It was the best experience; having my other two daughters with us… [it] was so calm and comfortable, 3 hours 10 minutes from the very beginning to end! My daughters…were fantastic while waiting for daddy to get home. [Labor] started when [we were] getting up for school… they got all the birthing bits out and rubbed my back, bless them. [My] midwife turned up just after [my] husband. Biggest baby, too.”
An unplanned C-section and a planned C-section
“Had an unexpected C-section after my water broke with my first and then a planned C-section with my second. The day of was much smoother for the second baby, but overall recovery was about the same. More importantly, breastfeeding was much easier second time around so it also has been easier without the added pain and stress.”
A very hard first a very easy second (and now she’s a doula!)
“Second—easy peasy. First was the biggest effort ever. I became a doula and almost wish I could have my first birth again with all my birth knowledge.
A version of this story was published December 22, 2020. It has been updated.