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Cesarean sections were initially performed for the sole purpose of removing a baby from a mother who died during childbirth.
By the late twentieth century however, delivery by C-section became widespread, rising dramatically in response to high malpractice rates associated with complicated vaginal births. In an effort to discourage “medically unnecessary” Cesarean procedures, the international health community has endorsed a 10%-15% C-section rate since 1985.
C-sections are a common procedure nowadays, but there are still numerous issues to consider before electively choosing to undergo one. On the positive side, C-sections are scheduled, which offers more convenience and a shorter labor time for the mother. Benefits for the child may include a reduction in the physical stresses associated with vaginal birth. Conversely, moms can expect longer hospital stays and recovery periods. C-section is considered a major surgery, and has a slightly higher maternal mortality rate due to complications like clotting and infection. Risks for babies include higher incidence of respiratory problems, injury from incision and difficulties with breast-feeding.
Cesarean sections are certainly indicated when an emergency arises during delivery. These may be caused by a variety of situations including oxygen deprivation, less-than-ideal placental location or the baby’s position in the uterus. Multiples are generally delivered via C-section so that the challenging birthing conditions they present can be closely monitored and controlled.
Outside factors also contribute to the C-section rate. Believe it or not, choice of hospital has a huge impact on whether or not you’ll receive a C-section. Pacific Business Group on Health recently reported that in California, the frequency of C-sections can range from 11.2% to 68.8% depending on where you give birth!
Vaginal delivery comes with its own list of pros and cons. On the negative side, mothers may experience more physical and mental stress, post-pregnancy urinary incontinence and vaginal tearing. Babies can sustain injuries that range from bruising, to broken bones to trauma caused by forceps or vacuum extraction. On the other hand, vaginal deliveries generally result in shorter hospital stays and quicker recovery times. Major medical complications occur less often with vaginal births and mothers may be able to initiate breastfeeding more effectively. Benefits to babies may include increased immune systems (from exposure to good bacteria in the birth canal) and lower occurrence of respiratory issues (possibly the result of excess fluid being squeezed from the lungs during birth).
Whenever possible, birthing methods should be examined well in advance of delivery. Speak to your health professional to determine which option is best for you and your family.
Perry, Richard, “Reducing Unnecessary C-Section Births,” January 19, 2016
Editors of The Encyclopedia Brittanica, “Cesarean Section”
Nierenberg, Cari, “Vaginal Birth vs. C-Section: Pros & Cons”