Risks of C-Section vs. Vaginal Birth

Many believe the c-section vs. vaginal birth debate is a matter of choice. But evidence proves natural birth is safest for most moms and babies.

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You’re told that interventions do not affect your baby or your body, and that cesarean section is just as safe as vaginal birth. These are lies.

There are some situations where c-section is safer for mother and child, sometimes lifesaving. The same is true of interventions with vaginal birth. However, the vast majority of women and babies are safer with a vaginal birth and no interventions.

Risks of Cesarean

On the most basic, primal level, c-section is a violation of the body. It’s cutting open. You can feel betrayed or violated if you don’t understand why the cesarean was done, or if the reason wasn’t valid.  The “what if’s” may haunt you and you may feel like a failure as a woman.
With a cesarean rate over 30% in the USA, and even higher in other countries, many women are going through surgery that’s unnecessary and emotionally damaging.

A c-section is also physically damaging. It is a major abdominal surgery. All cesareans involve a wound across the abdomen and the uterus. There is also risk of damage to organs around the uterus, including the possibility of nicking the bowel. Babies can also suffer accidental cuts from cesarean operations.

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There’s a higher risk of blot clots following a c-section than a vaginal birth. Hysterectomy is more common after cesarean. The risk of maternal death is higher. The risk of uterine infection is much higher after a c-section than it is after a vaginal birth. There is usually a longer hospital stay for the mother, and you’re at a higher risk of being re-admitted to the hospital later for complications.

The severity and length of pain after a cesarean is much greater than after a vaginal birth. You may feel more pain during a vaginal birth than you would during a cesarean (because of the pain medications given for surgery). Shortly after birth most of that pain will be gone (unless you receive intervention such as episiotomy). Pain from cesarean surgery continues on into the early weeks and for some women, months.

Risks for Baby

There’s a risk of cutting your baby during cesarean surgery. Babies born by c-section are much more likely to have respiratory problems than babies born by vaginal birth. They are also at much higher risk for developing asthma later in life.

Babies born by cesarean section may have a harder time breastfeeding. The first nursing session is almost always delayed and it may be harder for the mother and baby to establish the breastfeeding relationship. This is not an insurmountable problem – however the risk of a baby not being breastfed is much higher for cesarean section than for vaginal birth.

Risks for Future Pregnancies

Women who have cesareans suffer from more infertility than women who have vaginal births. This infertility is related directly to the physical effects of the surgery. Women who had c-sections are also less likely to want to become pregnant again.

The risks for ectopic (tubal) pregnancy, placenta previa, placenta accreta, and placental abruption are all higher for women who’ve had cesarean surgery. These conditions can endanger the life of both mother and baby. Future babies are more at risk for preterm birth and have an increased risk of stillbirth. It’s also possible they’re at risk for more malformations or more nervous system damage while growing in a scarred uterus.

Emotions

A cesarean section leaves you with complex emotions. You may feel angry or you may feel like a failure. You may feel both. You’re more likely to develop postpartum depression. Women who have negative birth experiences can even develop post traumatic stress disorder.

A cesarean section increases the risk of a negative birth experience. Women who have a c-section can face reduced self-esteem and may have more trouble functioning socially. It’s a major surgery with long-lasting consequences.

Weighing the Risks

It’s clear that a cesarean holds many risks. Vaginal birth is much safer for both mother and baby in most situations. There’s some dispute about vaginal birth posing great risks to a woman’s pelvic floor.

Evidence shows that this is most likely from unnecessary interventions during the pushing stage (forced pushing, episiotomy, pushing down on the baby while it’s being born, etc.).

Some women experience incontinence related to vaginal birth, but it diminishes with time and there’s no evidence that late life incontinence is related to vaginal births in a woman’s younger years.

Research and seek second opinions if your doctor suggests planning a cesarean. If a cesarean is proposed during labor, try to gather as much information on all the options as you can. Ask what the risks of doing nothing would be. You have the right to second opinions.

A few babies do need to be born by c-section. Do what you need to do to process through the experience, and remember guilt isn’t helpful – process and let things go. Take time and let your body to heal. An excellent diet will help you to heal and it will help ensure a healthy pregnancy for any future babies that you will have, as well as a great chance at a VBAC, or vaginal birth after cesarean.

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References:
Best Evidence C-Section. Childbirth Connection. childbirthconnection.org/article.asp?ck=10166.Childbirth Connection (2012). Vaginal Birth or Cesarean Birth: What Is at Stake for Women and Babies? New York: Childbirth Connection.
What Every Woman Needs to Know About Cesarean Section. Childbirth Connection. childbirthconnection.org/pdfs/cesareanbooklet.pdf

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