March 22, 2019

Cesarean births are common, but here’s what to know about reducing the chance you’ll have one.

Many women create birth plans with the hope that they will not have a cesarean section (or “C-section”).  These surgeries can be lifesaving for mother and/or her baby. However, while they are one of the most common surgeries in America, many C-sections can be avoided.

Avoiding C-section deliveries that are not medically essential reduces a range of risks for both the mother and baby, including the risk of infection, blood loss, chronic pain from adhesions after surgery, neonatal respiratory distress, newborn admission to the neonatal intensive care unit (NICU) and even mortality. While rare, the likelihood of these complications increases with each subsequent pregnancy.

“Many of us have had friends and family members who have had C-sections who are healthy. Because of this, it can be difficult for us to take the potential consequences seriously,” said Vanderbilt Midwife Services‘ Susan Lewis, MSN, CNM, a Vanderbilt assistant professor of Obstetrics and Gynecology. Women don’t often share their experiences with one another about recovering after surgery. Vogue magazine published an article in August 2018 about singer Beyonce’s experience recovering from her C-section. In this article she describes her recovery in a way that women do not often talk about.

“Our primary goal is for women to deliver healthy babies in the safest way possible,” Lewis said. “However, we also know that when a woman delivers vaginally, she will have an easier recovery and transition into motherhood. Recovery from surgery takes longer.”

Consider these five facts as you approach your delivery date:

1. Decisions made during your current pregnancy will affect your future health.

Preventing the first C-section can significantly improve your health as well as the health of your baby, not only now but also for future pregnancies.

2. Sometimes C-sections are needed.

But some hospitals are quicker to perform a C-section than others, even when they can be avoided. It is a good idea to ask your doctor or nurse midwife about cesarean rates in their practice and at the hospital where you will deliver your baby.

3. Learn how to care for yourself and determine whether you are in false labor or active labor.

Arriving to the hospital too early can cause exhaustion, increase anxiety for the mother and support team, and — if admitted too early without a medical indication — can increase the chance of having a C-section.  Birthing classes can help you learn the signs of false labor versus the real thing.

4. Research shows that continuous support during labor helps reduce cesarean sections.

Having a good support system in place during early labor and throughout until delivery helps reduce the chance of having a C-section. It is ideal to have at least one support person who understands labor and birth and who is able to meet your needs throughout. Doulas are ideal for this purpose. Ask if your hospital has a doula service, or for a referral to a doula.

5. Shared decision making is the goal. Your voice matters.

Let your doctor know that you only want a C-section if it’s absolutely necessary. By taking steps early, you can make a difference for you and your baby.

Being prepared for challenges during recovery — after vaginal or C-section delivery — can set a mom up for success in the postpartum period. By preparing early, you can make a difference for you and your baby.  Visit to learn how you can reduce your chances of having a C-section unless it’s really needed.

Woman cradles a newborn baby.

Need help?

Vanderbilt Women’s Health  provides care for women at all stages of their lives at  locations across Middle Tennessee. Call 615-343-5700.

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