A woman who delivers a child vaginally, whether living or stillborn, or who suffers a miscarriage after the 40th day from conception, enters the status of yoledet as well as that of niddah. This applies even if she experienced no bleeding during delivery (an extremely rare situation), but not after a cesarean section. A woman who delivers by cesarean and experiences vaginal blood flow has the status of niddah but is not a yoledet. The laws of a yoledet are very similar to those of a niddah.
The Onset of the Status of Niddah
A woman becomes a niddah when her cervix is dilated during the final stages of labor. She is not halachically required to undergo an internal examination to determine the degree of dilation. From the point that she can no longer walk unaided, we assume that her uterus has opened enough to render her a niddah.
Uterine bleeding during labor also renders a woman a niddah. Rabbinic authorities differ about the halachic significance of the water breaking, and of the release of the mucus plug.
If a woman’s cervix is dilated by a few centimeters early in labor (or earlier in her pregnancy), but she has not had any bleeding, she does not yet become a niddah.
A woman enters the additional status of yoledet (a woman who gives birth) with the vaginal birth of baby. The laws that apply to a yoledet are basically identical to those for a niddah. Therefore, since she already became niddah during labor, this has little practical significance. (A yoledet may not immerse until 14 days have passed since the birth of a girl, but postpartum bleeding rarely ends soon enough for this to be possible.)
A woman who undergoes a cesarean section is not halachically considered a yoledet (a woman after childbirth). Thus, if she experiences no vaginal bleeding at all, she need not immerse in a mikveh. This, however, is an extraordinarily rare occurrence as a woman almost always has vaginal bleeding as she sheds the remains of the uterine lining from pregnancy. This causes her to become niddah following a cesarean section.
A woman may begin to count seven blood-free days (shivah neki’im) as soon as the bleeding has ceased, after a minimum of five days. Unlike a yoledet, who delivered vaginally, she is not required to wait a minimum of 14 days before immersion following the birth of a girl. However, it is unusual for a woman after birth to cease staining before a few weeks have elapsed, so this rarely has any practical implications.
Husband in the Delivery Room
Childbirth produces wonderful results, but it is often a painful and frightening process. Both medical and halachic sources attest to the importance of emotional support for the mother during labor and delivery. However, the growing trend for the husband to serve as his wife’s labor coach presents certain halachic difficulties. First, a woman in childbirth has the status of a niddah. Therefore, physical contact between the couple is prohibited and the husband may not see his wife undressed. Furthermore, the husband is halachically prohibited from looking directly at his wife’s vaginal opening even when she is not a niddah. Due to these concerns, many rabbis forbid the attendance of the husband in the delivery room. There are, however, those who permit it with the following stipulations:
1) The couple should request that a mirror NOT be used to allow the husband to see the baby emerging.
2) The couple should request that the wife be kept as covered as possible, or that a screen be placed between her upper and lower body. (This is done routinely for cesarean deliveries and thus should not be difficult to arrange).
3) The husband should not touch his wife unless no one else is available to help her.