Julius Caesar was not the first c-section baby (nor did he invent the Caesar salad) — Pliny the Elder speculated that he was named for an ancestor born by that method. In Caesar’s time, c-sections were used to save babies’ lives when mothers died in childbirth. Luckily for all of us, the procedure has changed a great deal through the years! Today, one third of the children born in the U.S. arrive via c-section.
Some mothers may choose a c-section because of health risks such as high blood pressure, previous c-sections, or just so they can pick a certain date. In other cases, your obstetrician may insist on the procedure due to fetal distress, non-progressive labor, infection or the baby’s position in the womb. C-sections have saved many babies and mothers.
For some mothers who had a particular vision of how their birth would go, an unexpected emergency c-section may feel like a failure. But believe it or not, there’s no special “vaginal birth mother” card they hand out as you’re moving from labor & delivery to recovery. It is sometimes necessary to cross out a few bullets on your birth plan and accept what might be the best choice for you and your baby at that time. Even if you are planning for a vaginal birth, it’s a good idea to familiarize yourself with what a c-section would involve and discuss any questions or fears you have with your obstetrician well before baby arrives — if you end up needing an emergency c-section your medical team won’t have time to answer your questions and you may have forgotten what they were!
Like any major surgical procedure, c-sections do carry some risks. Babies born via c-section might have breathing problems that usually resolve themselves. These babies also miss out on the beneficial bacteria that babies born vaginally receive (though scientists are studying ways to get around this). Breastfeeding is certainly still quite possible but may be a bit more tricky when avoiding a painful incision area. There is risk to the mother of infection, hemorrhage, and blood clots, and having one c-section makes future vaginal births more risky, which is why it can be difficult at times to find a provider who will agree to a VBAC (Vaginal Birth After Cesarean.)
Although experts don’t agree on the ideal c-section rate, most agree that the rate in the U.S. is higher than is really medically necessary. So if avoiding a c-section is important to you, what can you do to prepare? Find a health setting and provider with a low rate of intervention and c-sections in particular. Hire a doula who can support you and help remind you of your goals for labor. If you’re having a hospital birth, talk to your medical team about when to arrive at the hospital so you spend as much time laboring at home as possible. Many experts agree that avoiding as many interventions as possible, including continuous fetal monitoring, epidurals, and inductions, can help reduce the chances of a c-section. Additionally, consider taking a comfort measures class to prepare yourself for the discomforts and intensity of labor. And above all, don’t just write off c-sections as something that happens to other people — be prepared and be informed!