A major study of more than 94,000 births found that women who have a planned (elective) caesarean section put themselves, and their babies, at increased risk of serious complications and death.
The only time caesarian section was a safer alternative than vaginal birth was for babies who were in a breech position. But for normal, headfirst deliveries, the risk of the baby dying or suffering serious complications was one-and-a-half times higher when an elective (non-emergency) caesarian was performed.
This study should be a wake-up call, as nearly 25 percent of all deliveries are now caesarian sections. According to lead researcher Dr. Jose Villar, “The increase in rates of caesarean delivery at an institutional level is not associated with any clear overall benefit for the baby or the mother but is linked with increased morbidity for both.”
Said Dr. James Walker, spokesman for the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists and an obstetrician in Leeds, “[C-sections] can save lives in some circumstances but it does have risks for the mother and baby. It is important we don’t think of them as just another delivery option. This research is a reality check that we don’t go too far.”
There’s no doubt that a cesarean section can save your life, or the life of your baby in some circumstances. But the main point here is that ELECTING to have a C-section rather than going through with a vaginal delivery will increase your risk of serious complications, including death, for either you or your child.
Some instances where a C-section is necessary would include:
- In the event of a prolapsed umbilical cord (the umbilical cord slips through your cervix before your baby and may endanger your baby's oxygen supply)
- In the event of placenta previa, which occurs when your placenta grows in such a way that it blocks your baby's exit through your cervix
- When your baby is in a transverse (sideways) position
- If you have an outbreak of genital herpes
Unfortunately, the growing fanfare surrounding cesarean sections is another health care "illusion." The rising rate of C-sections is not due to an increase in the complications mentioned above, but rather to an increase in planned C-sections for reasons such as patient or practitioner convenience, pain-free labor, or provider liability fears, none of which constitute a valid reason for C-section.
If you are on the fence about whether or not to deliver your baby vaginally, remember that a C-section is MAJOR surgery, which brings with it many risks. As with all modern procedures, deciding to use drugs or technology is a judgment call -- it may make things better, or worse.
For example, babies born by C-section do not receive the natural stimulation that comes from moving down the birth canal, and therefore must often be given oxygen or a rub down to help them breathe. They also do not receive your natural hormones, which are released during vaginal birth to help your baby during its first moments of life.
Merely putting yourself in the hands of a high-tech doctor and a high-tech hospital does not guarantee you the safest birth. You yourself must take responsibility for your child's birth, including your decision of whether or not to use surgery.
There is not a single report in the scientific literature that shows obstetricians (specially trained surgeons) to be safer than midwives for low risk or normal pregnancy and birth. So if you are among the more than 75 percent of all women with a normal pregnancy, the safest birth attendant for you is in fact not a doctor but a midwife or doula.
Below is a variety of sources to help you make your pregnancy and childbirth as healthy and joyous as it possibly can be. If you are not pregnant, but know someone who is, take a moment to forward this vital information to her as well. It may make a world of difference.
- Birthing from Within: An Extraordinary Guide to Childbirth Preparation by Pam England and Rob Horowitz
- HypnoBirthing: A Celebration of Life by Marie Mongan
- The Womanly Art of Breast Feeding by the La Leche League International
- Ina May's Guide to Childbirth and Spiritual Midwifery by Ina May Gaskin
- Safer Medicine by Dr. Mayer Eisenstein
- Immaculate Deception II: Myth, Magic, and Birth by Susan Arms
- Natural Childbirth the Bradley Way by Susan McCutcheon
- Prenatal Parenting by Fred Wirth
Home birth resources:
- The Home Birth Advantage by Dr. Mayer Eisenstein
- Check your yellow pages or do a Google search for home birth providers in your area
How to find a midwife, doula, or birth attendant:
- Doulas of North America
- Childbirth and Postpartum Professional Association
- Association of Labor Attendants and Childbirth Educators
- www.birthlink.com (Chicago area)
Water birth resources: