Your due date is soon approaching, and you cannot wait to hold the baby in your arms. You are excited and probably nervous at the same time, worrying about what you will go through during the delivery.
There are possibly a lot of questions in your head such as ‘which delivery method would be safe for my baby,’ ‘is it going to be painful,’ or ‘how long would it take?’ and so on. Well, that’s normal, and you would be relieved once you see your baby.
As you near the delivery date, you should know in detail about the two childbirth procedures: normal or vaginal delivery and cesarean delivery. Knowledge of the procedures will help you anticipate what happens when the time is due and help you deal with anxiety and fear. In this MomJunction post, we will tell you about the benefits and risks of the two procedures and also answer some childbirth-related questions.
The most common option for delivery, vaginal delivery is known to have fewer risks than a c-section. According to the WHO, 70% to 80% of pregnant women who enter into labor are at low risk and can probably deliver vaginally. That’s perhaps why vaginal delivery is often called as normal delivery (1). It is also considered as the natural birth procedure because the labor starts on its own, signifying that the baby is ready to come into the world.
That said, not all normal deliveries may be safe. There may be certain limitations along with the advantages too, which we talk about next.
What Are The Benefits Of Vaginal Delivery?
For the mother
- Mother and baby interaction: Women have expressed higher satisfaction, improved interaction with the baby, and control over the delivery in the case of vaginal delivery (2).
- Breastfeeding: Vaginal delivery also aids better maternal breastfeeding success through breast milk maturation. Skin-to-skin contact during normal delivery also leads to better outcomes with regards to breastfeeding and infant crying (2).
- Faster recovery: The recovery time after delivery is shorted with vaginal delivery than with cesarean delivery. It takes just one or two days to recover after a normal delivery, and about two weeks to resume the daily activities (3) (4).For the baby
- Baby gets beneficial bacteria: During vaginal birth, the baby goes through the birth canal. Here, it gets exposed to bacteria that are known to be beneficial for its immune health, brain, and digestive health. It even helps in preventing infections (5).
- Low risks of TTN: Just before birth, the baby’s lungs are filled with fluid. When the fluid remains even after the birth, the baby may develop a condition called transient tachypnea of the newborn (TTN). However, with vaginal delivery, the fluid is cleared out while the baby is passing through the birth canal. Hence, there is almost no risk (6).
If there are any complications during labor, vaginal delivery can also pose risks for the mom and the baby.
What Are Possible Problems Associated With Vaginal Delivery?
For the mother
- Painful contractions: Uterine contractions are painful but once you get your bundle of joy, the pain seems worth it. Besides, judicious use of epidural analgesia and painkillers have made the journey almost pain free (7).
- Others: Usually, normal delivery doesn’t have any major risks. But in some cases, there could be risks such as pelvic floor disorders, including urinary and fecal incontinence, and excessive bleeding (2) (8) (9).
For the baby
Usually, vaginal delivery is safe for the baby. However, in rare cases (difficult birth, prolonged delivery, the baby is too large for gestational age), there could be risks of mild injuries that could be resolved a few weeks after the birth (10).
In case there are more risks than benefits related to vaginal delivery, the doctors suggest cesarean birth.
Cesarean or c-section delivery is a surgical procedure, wherein an incision is made through the abdomen and uterus of the mother. When vaginal delivery is not considered safe, the doctor’s have to go with this method of childbirth (11) (12).
Like vaginal birth, cesarean delivery also has its own advantages and disadvantages. More about it in the following section.
What Are The Benefits Of C-Section Delivery?
For the mother
1. Reduced time: In recent years, the cesarean techniques have been simplified. The results are minimal loss of blood, shorter operating time, and higher patient satisfaction (13).
2. Reduced risk of incontinence: There is no stretching or tearing of the vaginal with cesarean surgery, so there is a lower risk of pelvic prolapse, anal and urinary incontinence (14).
3. Reduced risk of infection transmission: A few studies have found that there is no or reduced risk of transmission of hepatitis B virus or other infections to the infant with the elective cesarean procedure. This risk is high in the case of vaginal deliveries (15).
For the baby
- Reduced trauma: As the baby doesn’t have to pass through the birth canal during a c-section procedure, there is no stress or trauma to the baby. The baby is directly and safely taken out of the mother’s womb.
- Reduced or no injury: There are fewer or almost no risks of injury to the baby through a cesarean delivery.
- Safe delivery with abnormal conditions: Sometimes, the baby settles down in the mother’s womb in certain abnormal positions (such as transverse lie or breech). Or the mom could have conditions like placenta previa (placenta covering the cervix). In such situations, vaginal delivery could be risky, and a c-section would ensure your baby is safe (16).
What Are The Possible Problems Associated With C-Section Delivery?
For the Mother
- Anesthesia-related complications: Anesthesia given before the cesarean is not the actual reason for risks. The condition of the patient might contribute to complications after the administration of anesthesia (17).
- Surgery-related infections: Similar to other surgeries, cesarean surgery could result in surgical site risks such as endometritis and wound infections (18).
- Other long term risks: There is a chance that vaginal delivery may not be possible in the next pregnancy and you may have to opt for c-section (19).
For the baby
- Breathing problems: With a c-section delivery, there is a risk of transient tachypnea of the newborn (TTN), which is the formation of fluid in the baby’s lungs, making it difficult to breathe (20).
Ideally, you should discuss your pregnancy with your doctor and weigh the pros and cons of each method. If your pregnancy is progressing smoothly and the doctors see no risks, then vaginal delivery is recommended. If not, the doctor would suggest a cesarean.
While a c-section is safe, some expectant mothers would prefer a normal delivery. If you too want to avoid a c-section birth, continue reading and know what you can do about it.
[Read: Vaginal Birth After Cesarean]
How Can You Improve Your Chances ?
Planning and maintaining a healthy lifestyle right from the time you conceive can help you avoid a c-section birth. Here are some tips that you can follow for that.
- Have a proper birth plan by discussing your health conditions and preferences with your doctor. This would let you avoid many risks and help you proceed with normal and safe delivery.
- A lot of studies have shown that the support of a doula during your pregnancy and delivery will help you reduce the chances of c-section.
- Acquire knowledge of the procedures of childbirth. You can read books on birthing and take childbirth classes; this will help you deal with the fear before the delivery.
- Make sure you are eating healthily and engaging in exercises safely. Being active through your pregnancy will prepare your body for labor and normal delivery.
- Try to avoid labor induction before 41 weeks, as that could increase the chances of a c-section. You should opt to induce labor only when the doctor says, which is generally to avoid medical complications.Try to be patient and relaxed even if everything doesn’t work out as planned and if the doctor says that a cesarean would be safe for you and your baby. After all, the health and safety of your baby and you is the priority.
In the next section, we have some common questions about normal delivery vs. cesarean answered for you.
Frequently Answered Questions
1. Can I choose the mode of delivery?
Yes, but it depends on several factors. For instance, you may wish to have a normal delivery, but doctors may suggest a c-section due to the baby’s position or other factors. In such cases, it is best to side with the doctor’s decision. On the other hand, if you want to have a cesarean due to the fear of pain or incontinence and the doctor says there are no risks with c-section in your case, then you can go for an elective cesarean.
Whatever procedure you choose, the goal should be the health and safety of both the mother and the baby.
2. Is normal delivery possible after c-section?
Yes, vaginal birth after cesarean (VBAC) is possible. According to a study, 75% of such cases are successful (21). However, it is essential that you talk about it with your doctor and then take a decision based on your health condition.
3. How many cesarean births are allowed?
Consecutive cesareans could increase the risk of placenta accreta, which means implantation of the placenta abnormally. The risk increases with every c-section, although it is 0.5% or less for the first three. But after four cesareans, the risk rises to 2%, and with six cesareans, the chances of placenta accreta increase to 6% (22). As the risks increase, labor supervision and management by an experienced medical professional become essential.
[Read: Pregnancy After C Section]
Try to relax and go through the details again and talk to your doctor to clarify any doubts. The more relaxed you are, the smoother your pregnancy and labor will be. Stay healthy and maintain a healthy lifestyle to avoid any complications during delivery. And once the baby is in your arms, all fear and doubt will disappear. Perhaps then, you will also realize the strength of a woman who is a mother.
What were your delivery experiences? Do share them with us in the comment section below.
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22. D. Hernandez; You Asked: How many c-sections can a woman have?; Texas A&M University Health Science Center