Demystifying c-sections: what every expectant mom should know

October 09, 2015 | by Julie Jensen, M.D.
Categories: Healthy Driven Moms

Every mom-to-be wants a safe labor and delivery. But what kind will you have, vaginal or cesarean? With one in three mothers giving birth via c-section in the United States, the chances you will deliver this way are higher than ever.

While a c-section can be a lifesaver for many women, only about five percent are true emergencies, whereas the rest are elective repeat, urgent or unscheduled c-sections. For women with low-risk pregnancies, c-sections may pose more problems than necessary for mother and baby. Here’s what every expectant mom needs to know about cesarean sections before getting to the delivery room.

For most women, vaginal delivery is the safest way to have a baby. Vaginal birth is generally easier on a woman’s body, and recovery is usually shorter and less painful. Babies born vaginally have lower rates of asthma, diabetes and allergies, and are less likely to become obese. 

Also, direct skin-to-skin contact immediately after a vaginal birth allows mom to bond with baby and breastfeeding to get off to a good start. Skin-to-skin contact is still encouraged for mothers who have had a c-section, although it may be delayed by 15-20 minutes. Some drawbacks of vaginal delivery are tears which usually heal easily, weakened pelvic muscles, and the risk to some babies of nerve and/or bone injuries.

While recovery from a vaginal delivery may be 2-4 weeks, it takes at least 4-6 weeks to recover from a c-section, and recovery is often more difficult. Like all surgeries, c-section poses risks of infection, blood loss and other complications, including problems in future pregnancies. Some babies born via c-section have breathing difficulties and are at greater risk of developing chronic childhood diseases. Also, since VBAC (vaginal birth after caesarean) may not be encouraged, once you have a c-section you’ll likely deliver the same way in the future, and the risks increase with each one.

The good news is, if cesarean is the only safe option for you and your baby, few procedures are as easy for doctors or work better than a c-section. Your doctor may recommend surgery when labor or vaginal birth could be risky, such as if you’re having multiples, if your baby is in a breech position, or if there are certain changes in fetal heart rate during labor.

If you’ve had a healthy pregnancy so far and your doctor hasn’t planned a c-section for you, a vaginal delivery may be your first choice. If so, here’s how to increase your chances of a vaginal delivery:

  • Choose a doctor with a low primary c-section rate (around 15 percent). Ask how to safely increase your chances for a vaginal birth, and at what point a c-section may become your safest option.
  • Maintain a healthy weight before pregnancy, as heavier women are more likely to require c-sections. Follow your physician’s recommendations on weight gain during pregnancy, which is currently 25-30 pounds.
  • Don’t wait too long to have a baby if possible, as c-sections tend to increase with the age of the mother.
  • Arrange for support during labor and delivery. For example, a doula can help with comfort and good labor progress.
  • Don’t induce labor unless there is a medical reason, especially in first time mothers. There is conflicting research about whether inducing labor is more likely to result in the need for a c-section. Induction of labor should be carefully discussed with your physician, including the pros, cons and risks.
  • If your baby is in the breech position near the end of your pregnancy, ask your doctor about turning the baby to a head-first position. Your physician will determine fetal position by 36 weeks of pregnancy.

If you’re pregnant, talk with your doctor about your options for labor and delivery. Every expectant mom’s situation is different and only your doctor can tell you what’s good for you. Remember, whether it’s a vaginal or cesarean birth, the prize at the end — a healthy baby and a healthy mom — is all that really matters.

Learn more about what to expect in labor and delivery at Edward-Elmhurst Health.

Find an OB-GYN or midwife.

Julie Jensen, MD, is an OB-GYN at DuPage Medical Group.

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