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Vaginal vs Cesarean vs VBAC Delivery

Vaginal Birth vs. Cesarean Section - Pros and Cons

While in most cases vaginal delivery is the most natural and uncomplicated way to deliver a baby, more and more women are opting for Cesarean Sections. 

Today C-sections make up about 30% of all births. Since every woman can choose how they would like their delivery, it is important to understand the risks and advantages of both options. Here are the pros and cons for natural birthing and c-section deliveries.

There are some situations where c-section is safer for mother and child, sometimes lifesaving. The same is true of interventions with vaginal birth. However, the vast majority of women and babies are safer with a vaginal birth and no interventions.

There are possibly a lot of questions in your head such as ‘which delivery method would be safe for my baby,’ ‘is it going to be painful,’ or ‘how long would it take?’ and so on. Well, that’s normal, and you would be relieved once you see your baby.  

As you near the delivery date, you should know in detail about the two childbirth procedures: normal or vaginal delivery and cesarean delivery. Knowledge of the procedures will help you anticipate what happens when the time is due and help you deal with anxiety and fear. In this MomJunction post, we will tell you about the benefits and risks of the two procedures and also answer some childbirth-related questions.

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Vaginal vs Cesarean vs VBAC Delivery

Vagnial Birth

The most common option for delivery, vaginal delivery is known to have fewer risks than a c-section. According to the WHO, 70% to 80% of pregnant women who enter into labor are at low risk and can probably deliver vaginally. That’s perhaps why vaginal delivery is often called as normal delivery. It is also considered as the natural birth procedure because the labor starts on its own, signifying that the baby is ready to come into the world.  That said, not all normal deliveries may be safe. There may be certain limitations along with the advantages too, which we talk about next.

What Are The Benefits Of Vaginal Delivery?

For The Mother

  • Mother and baby interaction: Women have expressed higher satisfaction, improved interaction with the baby, and control over the delivery in the case of vaginal delivery.


  • Breastfeeding: Vaginal delivery also aids better maternal breastfeeding success through breast milk maturation. Skin-to-skin contact during normal delivery also leads to better outcomes with regards to breastfeeding and infant crying.


  • Maternal mortality: Studies comparing maternal mortality between cesarean and normal delivery have shown that the risk is low in normal delivery than it is in c-section.


  • Faster recovery: The recovery time after delivery is shorted with vaginal delivery than with cesarean delivery. It takes just one or two days to recover after a normal delivery, and about two weeks to resume the daily activities.


  • No risks of surgery: There is no anesthesia given and no surgery done in the case of normal delivery. There won’t be any stitches or scars, and there is no need to worry about surgery-related risks such as infections, blood clots, hemorrhage, or reactions to anesthesia.

For The Baby 

  • Brain development: Yale School of Medicine’s research states that during vaginal birth, Ucp2 (a protein) is triggered in the hippocampus (a small brain organ), aiding the infant’s brain development. It also results in better neurobehavioral and physiological functions. 

  • Baby gets beneficial bacteria: During vaginal birth, the baby goes through the birth canal. Here, it gets exposed to bacteria that are known to be beneficial for its immune health, brain, and digestive health. It even helps in preventing infections . 

  • Low risks of TTN: Just before birth, the baby’s lungs are filled with fluid. When the fluid remains even after the birth, the baby may develop a condition called transient tachypnea of the newborn (TTN). However, with vaginal delivery, the fluid is cleared out while the baby is passing through the birth canal. Hence, there is almost no risk. 

If there are any complications during labor, vaginal delivery can also pose risks for the mom and the baby.

What Are Possible Problems Associated With Vaginal Delivery?

For The Mother

 

  • Labor is painful and longer: Labor pain is considered to be severe, which is the reason why women fear vaginal delivery. In addition to that, the time taken for the birth could be shorter or longer, and cannot be predicted which way it leans.

  • Others: Usually, normal delivery doesn’t have any major risks. But in some cases, there could be risks such as pelvic floor disorders, including urinary and fecal incontinence, and excessive bleeding

For The Baby 

Usually, vaginal delivery is safe for the baby. However, in rare cases (difficult birth, prolonged delivery, the baby is too large for gestational age), there could be risks of mild injuries that could be resolved a few weeks after the birth.  In case there are more risks than benefits related to vaginal delivery, the doctors suggest cesarean birth.

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Cesarean Section

The rate of cesarean delivery in the US is growing for varied reasons. Cesarean or c-section delivery is a surgical procedure, wherein an incision is made through the abdomen and uterus of the mother. When vaginal delivery is not considered safe, the doctor’s have to go with this method of childbirth.  

Like vaginal birth, cesarean delivery also has its own advantages and disadvantages. More about it in the following section.


What Are The Benefits Of C-Section delivery?

For The Mother

 

  • Planned delivery: Usually, a cesarean is planned based on the health conditions of the mother and the baby. The doctors plan the entire procedure to bring the baby into the world safely. The procedure is mostly under control. 

  • No labor pain: As it is a surgical procedure, the mother does not go through labor or experience the pain that she otherwise would have in normal delivery. 

  • Reduced time: In recent years, the cesarean techniques have been simplified. The results are minimal loss of blood, shorter operating time, and higher patient satisfaction 

  • Reduced risk of incontinence: There is no stretching or tearing of the vaginal with cesarean surgery, so there is a lower risk of pelvic prolapse, anal and urinary incontinence. 

  • Reduced risk of infection transmission: A few studies have found that there is no or reduced risk of transmission of hepatitis B virus or other infections to the infant with the elective cesarean procedure. This risk is high in the case of vaginal deliveries.

For The Baby 

  • Reduced trauma: As the baby doesn’t have to pass through the birth canal during a c-section procedure, there is no stress or trauma to the baby. The baby is directly and safely taken out of the mother’s womb.

  • Reduced or no injury: There are fewer or almost no risks of injury to the baby through a cesarean delivery.

  • Safe delivery with abnormal conditions: Sometimes, the baby settles down in the mother’s womb in certain abnormal positions (such as transverse lie or breech). Or the mom could have conditions like placenta previa (placenta covering the cervix). In such situations, vaginal delivery could be risky, and a c-section would ensure your baby is safe

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What Are Possible Problems Associated With C-Section Birth?

For The Mother

 

  • Anesthesia-related complications: Anesthesia given before the cesarean is not the actual reason for risks. Rather, inadequate knowledge, inexperience, improper care, as well as the condition of the patient are certain factors that contribute to complications after the administration of anesthesia.

  • Breastfeeding concerns: There is a high risk related to breastfeeding for mothers who have undergone c-section surgery. Some of them include delayed maturity of milk, production of insufficient milk, and even early termination of breastfeeding.

  • Surgery-related infections: Similar to other surgeries, cesarean surgery could result in surgical site risks such as endometritis and wound infections. There are also chances of maternal mortality and morbidity.

  • Other long term risks: There could be risks related to future pregnancies and fertility with cesarean delivery, which is not the case with vaginal delivery.

For The Baby 

  • Breathing problems: With a c-section delivery, there is a risk of transient tachypnea of the newborn (TTN), which is the formation of fluid in the baby’s lungs, making it difficult to breathe.
     
  • Others: There is a possibility of babies having some chronic disorders such as asthma, allergies, diabetes, and bowel diseases if they were born through a cesarean delivery

Vaginal birth after cesarean delivery (VBAC)

If you have had a previous cesarean delivery, you have two choices about how to give birth again:

  1. You can have a scheduled cesarean delivery
  2. You can give birth vaginally. This is called a VBAC.

A Trial of Labor after Cesarean (TOLAC) is the attempt to have a VBAC. If it is successful, TOLAC results in a vaginal birth. If it is not successful, you will need another cesarean delivery.

A successful VBAC has the following benefits:

  • • No abdominal surgery
  • • Shorter recovery period
  • • Lower risk of infection
  • • Less blood loss

For women planning to have more children, VBAC may help them avoid certain health problems linked to multiple cesarean deliveries. These problems can include bowel or bladder injury, hysterectomy, and problems with the placenta in future pregnancies. If you know that you want more children, this may figure into your decision.

 

Some risks of a VBAC are infection, blood loss, and other complications. One rare but serious risk with VBAC is that the cesarean scar on the uterus may rupture (break open). Although a rupture of the uterus is rare, it is very serious and may harm both you and your fetus. If you are at high risk of rupture of the uterus, VBAC should not be tried.