Vaginal Birth and Cesarean Section
the Risks vs. the Benefits
Most women hope to have a vaginal birth. Many also want to have a natural birth.
Evidence shows that for healthy moms and babies, natural birth is definitely preferred over a birth with interventions.
Many women today remain in the dark as to why natural birth is the best for most moms and babies.
They're told that interventions do not affect their babies or their bodies, and that cesarean section is just as safe as vaginal birth. These are lies.
You know that there are some situations where c-section is safer for mother and child. In a small number of situations c-section are 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
One of the best ways to review the benefits of natural vaginal birth is to examine the possible risks of having a c-section.
On the most basic, primal level, c-section can be a violation of your body. It is cutting you open. If the reason is not a valid one or not explained to you, you can feel betrayed and violated. The "what if's" may haunt you and you may feel like a failure as a woman.
With a cesarean rate approaching 30% in the USA, it's troubling to think that so many women are going through surgery that may be 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.
There is 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 she is 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. But 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
As was already mentioned, there is a risk of cuts on the body of your baby from 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 who are 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 is also possible that they may be at risk for more malformations or more nervous system damage while growing in a scarred uterus.
It is true that a cesarean section can leave 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 can have more trouble functioning socially. It's a major surgery that can have 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 is some dispute about vaginal birth posing great risks to a woman's pelvic floor. Evidence shows that this is most likely from unnecessary intervention during the pushing stage (forced pushing, episiotomy, pushing down on the baby while it's being born, etc.).
Some women may experience incontinence related to vaginal birth, but it diminishes with time and there is no evidence that late life incontinence is related to vaginal births in a woman's younger years.
Discuss a cesarean carefully with your care provider if one is suggested during pregnancy. Feel free to research for yourself and seek second opinions. 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.
Some babies will need to be born by c-section. If you have a cesarean don't feel guilty about it. Do what you need to do to process through the experience.
Take the time to allow your body to heal. Having an excellent diet will help you to heal and it will help ensure a healthy pregnancy for any future babies that you will have.
I highly recommend that you read the free booklet on c-section at the Maternity Center Association's webpage. It's an easy read and has extensive references.
If you're interested in preparing for birth in a way that leaves you in control no matter what happens I highly recommend The Pink Kit - the PK method will allow you to truly prepare for birth and know your body. You'll go into labor confident that you can handle any situation that may occur. PK skills can be used for a vaginal birth or for a c-section birth.
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