How To Decide Between C-Section Vs Natural Birth For Your Delivery
Hi mama – as you are preparing for your upcoming birth, you may be weighing the choice between a c-section vs a natural birth. Embarking on the miracle of childbirth means making choices.
As you read this post, I hope you get everything you need to make an empowered choice. That means accurate, unbiased information, grounded in the fact that some moms will find a natural birth as their right choice and others a c-section.
Each approach has its own perks and things to think about, making it crucial for expectant parents to really consider what feels best for them. Both can be remarkable ways to meet your baby.
So, join us as we dig deep into the world of these two different paths, exploring everything from the medical details to the emotional ride and the practical side of things. Whether you’re eagerly counting down the days until your little one arrives or just curious about what’s on the horizon, our aim is to support you in making a choice that resonates with your heart and values, making this journey uniquely yours.
C-Section Vs Natural Birth: What Is The Experience Like
Length Of Labor: Natural Birth
When it comes to a natural birth, the length of labor can vary quite a bit. On average, first time moms can plan to be in labor for about 20 hours, and moms going through labor again can plan on labor about 12 hours.
That said, some moms will move through the process like a racecar flying to the finish line. Others will meander through labor, sometimes taking days. (Though typically, slower labors are less intense for much fo the time.)
Overall, I tell my first time mamas to prepare to be in labor just over a day, and if it happens to be less, that’s a great win!
Length Of Labor: C-Section
When it comes to the length of delivery, the c-section option really shines in the comparison to a natural birth. While c-sections do have their fair share of cons, length of delivery is definitely a pro.
From the time a woman enters the Operating Room to the time she is back in a recovery room is usually between one to one in a half hours.
However, when it comes to a natural birth, delivery signifies being past the hardest work or labor and entering into a space of recovery and bonding. But, when it comes to a c-section, the hardest work is just beginning as you enter recovery from major surgery on top of the responsibilities your newborn came packaged with.
A key concern at the forefront of many mothers’ thoughts is the aspect of pain, which can be challenging to measure accurately. The labor experience is profoundly individual, with emotional factors significantly influencing the intensity of pain and the emotional meaning of that pain. Have you ever gone on a hike and though the process was quite miserable, the overall experience was extraordinarily empowering? Birth can be like that. But, it does take preparation.
Surprisingly, the body produces endorphins and other hormones during labor, which can be up to 18-33% more potent than morphine in alleviating pain. Conversely, feelings of anxiety, fear of pain, and self-doubt about facing the impending challenge can also impact pain during labor.
If you are planning a vaginal birth, with or without an epidural, I highly recommend taking our childbirth course. Here you can learn how to work with your contractions and gain the confidence to meet the process of birth in an empowering way.
One benefit of a C-section is an anesthesiologist will help you control of pain during the surgical procedure from start to finish.
However, it’s important to note that while you may not feel pain during the surgery, you might experience sensations like pressure and pulling.
That said, some moms do feel pain during surgery, even after the pain medications. According to one study, around 20% of women report feeling pain during a C-section delivery, with an average pain level of 4 on a scale of 10.
First Contact With Baby: Natural Birth
In natural births, it’s a common practice to place the baby directly on the mother’s chest as she births her baby. This facilitates an instant and intimate connection. Unlike in C-sections, there’s usually no waiting period, allowing moms to experience immediate skin-to-skin contact and embrace the golden hour for bonding with their newborns. These aspects often make natural births a preferred choice for mothers seeking these special moments right from the start.
First Contact With Baby: C-Section
Following a surgical birth, immediate skin-to-skin contact may not always be possible for mothers. Typically, the baby needs to be checked at the baby station nearby before the mother can have this precious bonding time. Although some nurses may facilitate skin-to-skin contact in the OR, in many cases, the baby is attended to at the warmer as the nurses handle various tasks in the operating room.
Even when the option for skin-to-skin contact exists, factors such as anesthesia, the discomfort of the surgical incision, emotional strain, and other considerations can sometimes make it challenging or less realistic for a mother to connect with her newborn right away.
Surgical birth mamas often need to think about building in their own bonding and skin to skin time after they get through the initial recovery process. Don’t forget, bonding is not a one and done event.
C-Section Vs Natural Birth: Risks
Blood Loss And Hemorrhage
When it comes to safety and recovery one main focus between a c-section vs a natural birth is blood loss.
When it comes to expected blood loss even in the simplest C-section, mothers tend to lose twice as much blood compared to a vaginal birth. In a typical natural delivery, the expected blood loss is around 500 ml (or about half a quart). Conversely, during a cesarean section, the average blood loss reaches approximately 1,000 ml (equivalent to a quart), akin to donating blood twice in one day.
But what about hemorrhaging? Hemorrhaging refers to excessive or uncontrolled bleeding. It can lead to severe loss of blood, potentially causing complications such as low blood pressure, organ failure, and in extreme cases, even death.
Women who undergo surgical births are MUCH more likely to experience excessive blood loss than those that have a vaginal birth. Here in the United States postpartum hemorrhage is one of highest contributors to our high maternal mortality rate. Between 1994 – 2006 the risk of postpartum hemorrhage for women who had surgery after a failed induction increased 160%.
Severe Complications For Mom
Planned surgical births have a slightly higher rate of severe complications for a mother than a planned vaginal birth. These types of complications are presence of complications such as a haemorrhage, requiring hysterectomy or blood transfusion, any hysterectomy, uterine rupture, complications associated with anaesthetic (including those arising from the administration of a general or local anaesthetic, analgesic, or other sedation during labour and delivery), obstetric shock, cardiac arrest, acute renal failure, assisted ventilation or intubation, puerperal venous thromboembolism, major puerperal infection, in-hospital wound disruption, and haematoma.
Yes, I know that is a long list. Though the risks for these are still low – some studies have shown that moms who undergo a surgical birth are 5 times more likely to have one of the significant medical complications during their birth than those that have a vaginal birth.
Surgical Complications For Babies
Surgical birth can absolutely save a life in the right situation. But, many moms who have the choice between a vaginal delivery or surgical delivery want to know if there are any potential downsides to a surgical birth for their baby. The answer is yes.
Infants born through C-section may encounter different hormonal, physical, bacterial, and medical influences, which can subtly impact their physiology and development.
What are the short term risks? Altered immune development, allergy, atopy, asthma, and reduced intestinal gut microbiome diversity. We don’t know if these last into adulthood yet. Research is still needed.
Other research shows that surgical birth might be associated with storing more fat, increased blood pressure, type 1 diabetes, asthma, changes to liver function, and others.
Again, we don’t know if these are things that are lifelong or that will work themselves out in the long run.
If you are having a baby, you must be concerned about your pelvic floor and core stability. Pregnancy puts a tremendous amount of strain on the body. So let’s look at how the pelvic floor is affected 6 years after delivery.
Urinary Incontinence – women who have a surgical birth were significantly less likely to be bothered by urge incontinence and urine leakage related to physical activity. On the other hand, those that had a surgical birth were more likely to have lingering lower abdominal pain.
When it comes to resuming sexual life, more women struggle with painful intercourse after a surgical birth than vaginal deliveries.
We recommend that all women consult with a pelvic floor physical therapist after delivery, regardless of experiencing a vaginal or belly birth. A Pelvic Floor PT can help you with incontinence, abdominal soreness, scar pain, and painful intercourse.
In addition, there is a wonderful program that can help with pelvic and core health throughout pregnancy and through recovery called Every Mother. This program specifically helps you nurture pelvic floor and core health through your childbearing year. It has separate recovery paths for mothers who take a natural birth route vs a c-section birth route.
C-Section Vs Natural Birth: Recovery
When it comes to recovery after a c-section vs natural birth there are three things most women want to know about: how long will it take to feel comfortable in your body, pain levels and time with baby. Let’s dive in!
Length Of Recovery: Natural Birth
After a natural birth, most moms feel a bit roughed up. Imagine running a marathon or summiting a new peak. Your body did a lot, and it’s time to give it rest.
At a minimum, we suggest natural birth moms follow the 5-5-5- rule.
That’s 5 days tucked up in bed doing nothing but baby care.
Followed by 5 days on the bed. Now, maybe you get coffee, but you come back to bed for snuggles, rest and to actually eat.
Followed by 5 days near the bed. Sure, you get up, move around, but again, you are mostly resting.
Many cultures expect moms to extend this period of rest to a full 40 days, which we are in full support of over here.
The true work of surgical birth really begins in recovery. While natural birth moms might be at the end of their intense pain, surgical birth moms are really just at the beginning of theirs as they try to navigate holding baby at a time when they have intense pain at their incision site.
At a minimum, we suggest surgical birth moms follow a 10-10-10 rule.
That’s 10 days tucked up in bed doing nothing but snuggling baby, breastfeeding and resting.
Followed by 10 days where you are on the bed, sure, maybe you go get coffee, but you definitely are not making a meal.
Followed by 10 days near the bed, where you are mostly in bed, but can get up for an occasional visitor or short task.
In general, after this time moms can begin resuming more of their activities. But they should take it easy for at least 6 weeks.
How much pain will you experience after you give birth? Moms who don’t tear can expect to feel muscle and vaginal soreness for about 3 weeks after birth. If you did tear, or had a more severe tear, this pain can last about 6 weeks.
This pain can typically be managed with Tylenol. After the initial 15 days of rest, most moms are able to gently begin resuming tasks as feels appropriate to their bodies.
Pain In Recovery: Cesarean
How much pain will you experience after a surgical birth? Honestly, it’s quite a bit more than a vaginal birth. Many moms are on prescription pain medication for a week to ten days after giving birth. After that is would be reasonable to stay on Tylenol through week two or three of recovery.
Baby Care: Natural Birth
After a natural birth, most moms can resume moving and baby care immediately. This means, things like showering, walking to the bathroom, picking baby up to nurse, swaddling, changing baby, or potentially walking or rocking baby are going to feel reasonable in your body.
Baby Care: Cesarean
After a surgical birth, moms need to plan for a lot of help. Simple things like walking to the bathroom, taking a shower, picking baby up, changing baby, even making the shushing noise we make to soothe babies can feel to painful.
Day by day these things will come back. However, you might not be able to bend to pick baby up until near the end of week two. Meaning, until that time, you will need others to do basics like clothe, swaddle, change and soothe baby if they aren’t peacefully resting near you or skin to skin on your chest.
C-Section Vs Natural Birth: Making The Empowered Decision
Entering motherhood can feel daunting to many moms – but it is also a time of growth, change and expansion. You may notice that both a natural birth and a c-section come with sacrifices, challenges and beauty. What’s most important to know is that you have everything you need to flow through either experience and come out stronger, more closely bonded with your family and as an incredible mother no matter which path you take.
In many cases, the promptness of a surgical birth can help a struggling baby get earthside quickly. Allowing them to get resources and support that they need. Sometimes a surgical birth can help a mom avoid danger as well – if her blood pressure is rising or she is reaching other physical limits.
A planned c-section also carries fewer risks than a c-section after an attempt at labor. So, if for any reason you or your doctor expect you might end up with surgery anyways, sometimes it makes sense to choose that option so you can plan for extra support around your recovery.
In general, a natural birth is the safest for both mom and baby. The body is designed to give birth. And the more we learn about it, the more reason we have to respect nature’s processes.
I hope this article helped you explore the question c-section vs natural birth and that you feel confident with whichever choice you make.
Take Our Childbirth Class
If you are leaning towards a vaginal birth we would love to help you prepare. We know that childbirth classes can help decrease interventions, the need for surgery, help you experience less pain and grow closer with your partner.
Our class is available online 24/7 and broken into short easy to digest lessons so you can learn everything you need without ever feeling overwhelmed.
If you are planning for a c-section or just had a c-section, you probably have a lot of questions. Before you go, check out our other guides on giving birth by surgery and healing from your surgical birth.
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