When it comes to having babies there’s a wealth of information out there and a whole bunch of opinions and personal stories. Most mums are well educated these days and quite capable of making informed decisions about how they’d like to give birth. But each option has its risks as well as its benefits.

The further you get from a “natural” birth, the more medical intervention is required and the less options will be available to the mum. Medical professionals, however, have a series of standard procedures—and the equipment—to deal with a whole range of birthing complications. So basically, the more risks that are anticipated for the mother and baby, the more pressure there will be on the mum to plan a birth in a well-resourced medical setting.

A caesarean section, or C-section, is about as medicalised as a birth can be. The body’s instincts—the baby turning, the cervix opening, the mother’s urge to push—are not part of the process. Instead the birth becomes an abdominal operation—typically a 10cm horizontal cut just above the pubic area through which the baby and placenta are delivered. Usually the operation is performed under local anaesthetic; that is, the mum is awake but is numb from the chest down. Most C-sections are elective; that is, they’re scheduled to occur on a particular date. But sometimes serious complications occur late in pregnancy or during labour that necessitate an unscheduled emergency caesarean, for example, when the baby is in a breech (feet or bum-first) position and can’t be turned. In either case, the mum’s permission is required to go ahead, or if she’s unable to give her consent, a partner, relative or support person.

A caesarean may not be a natural way to give birth but for many women it’s a safer way. According to the World Health Organisation, a baby’s chance of dying during or soon after childbirth is up to six times higher in developing countries than it is in Australia, New Zealand and other developed countries. Well-conducted caesareans are an important part of the reason for these statistics. Birth complications are common enough that nearly a third of babies are born via C-section in Australia and New Zealand. We’re blessed with the option to take a safer route in situations where there is an increased risk to mother or baby

So if it’s safer, why not just organise for all babies to be born via C-section? For some mums-to-be a caesarean sounds like the rational option where calm medical professionals have all the facts and are in control. That sounds better than just waiting for blind animal instinct to take over—excruciating contractions, grunting, screaming and a fair bit of trauma to the most intimate parts of one’s anatomy—why would anyone choose that?! However, the facts are that a complication-free vaginal delivery is actually safer than a caesarean for both mother and baby. Being squeezed through the birth canal seems to kick-start a baby in some mysterious way and particularly improves their chances of being able to breathe normally after birth. And for the mum, there’s some evidence that contractions prompt the production of breast milk. There’s incredible design built into the natural birthing process, not all of which is fully understood.

Recovery for the mother will generally be shorter and easier after a vaginal delivery in comparison to a C-section. A caesarean is a major medical procedure—a longer hospital stay after giving birth is typical, the mum is told not to lift anything heavier than their baby for six weeks, they’re banned from driving for the same time and they need to care for the abdominal wound to avoid it re-opening or becoming infected. A previous C-section also complicates attempts to have subsequent vaginal births.

So should you deliver your baby via caesarean section? Every pregnancy and birth is different and involves some level of risk so it’s something that needs to be discussed with health professionals and the people closest to you. By all means listen to a range of opinions but make sure you get the facts. Your options may be limited if there are medical complications, but that’s life—none of us is ever able to completely be in control, even of the things that are most important to us. So try to be grateful for what’s going right and make as many choices as you can for the benefit of your health and for that of your baby.

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