“Everyone I know had a C-section, what’s the big deal?”
My friend, in her late 30s, wasn’t being snarky; she was genuinely confused. She was pretty sure she wasn’t going to have any of her own biological children but every woman she knew in the high-powered well-heeled literary scene in New York City, she told me, was giving birth abdominally.
Why not just have a Cesarean birth? After all, it’s a lot quicker. It’s also more convenient. And you can choose a nifty birth date for your baby, like 1/17/17.
Plus, everybody’s doing it.
Cesarean birth may be popular, but that does not make it safe.
A woman is at least three times more likely to die during or after Cesarean birth than during or after vaginal birth.
That’s what happened to Frances Cappuccini, a vibrantly healthy 30-year-old mom giving birth to her second baby, as reported this week by the BBC.
And last November to 30-year-old Cassie Davis, a first-time mom in Utah whose pregnancy with twins was healthy and uncomplicated until her doctors order an emergency C-section.
And to Michigan mom Bethany Mellish, who died on December 30, 2015 while her husband was stroking her hair, leaving him to raise their 18-month-old daughter and newborn son by himself.
While we are told by the media and the medical establishment that it is rare to die in childbirth, the truth is the United States has the highest maternal mortality rate of any country in the industrialized world. Economic disparities, racism, lack of access to prenatal care and poor health during pregnancy play a role in our ignominiously high maternal mortality rates, as do our high cesarean rates.
But a catastrophic event is not the only reason to avoid having a cesarean birth.
Pain at the incision site (a dear friend is dealing with this now. A full year after her baby was born, she continues to be in constant pain), complications from the anesthesia, injury to internal organs, postpartum infections, and problems with the placenta in subsequent pregnancies are all well documented risks from Cesarean birth.
And then there are the risks to the baby. Doctor-caused injuries to the baby (here’s a list of possible injuries compiled by a medical malpractice lawyer), a disrupted immune system, disrupted digestive system, difficulties breastfeeding, and a higher risk of chronic health problems, including obesity and asthma, are just a few.
Yet even as we have definitive scientific evidence that the safest birth for both the mom and the baby is the least technological, doctors are performing some 600,000 unnecessary Cesarean births in America every year.
So if you don’t want a Cesarean, what can you do?
- Find a competent, experienced homebirth midwife. Having your baby at home or at a birth center will vastly reduce your chances of having a Cesarean. Just ask these doctors and obstetricians, all of whom decided to birth at home.
- Find a doctor with a low C-section rate. When you’re a hammer, everything’s a nail. Obstetricians are trained surgeons. Hiring a highly skilled surgeon to attend your birth is like hiring a pediatric neurologist to babysit your toddler. If you must give birth with a doctor, find one who has a low C-section rate, who is committed to vaginal birth, and who has admitting privileges at a hospital that also supports vaginal birth. Family practitioners often have lower cesarean rates than obstetricians.
- Hire a doula. Having continuous labor support helps women have shorter and more pleasurable labors.
- Be in good physical shape. Labor’s hard work. To be ready for it you need to exercise every day. Do squats, take walks, go for a bike ride, join a yoga class.
- Eat real, healthy, whole foods. If you want your car to drive you across the country, you need to put the right kind of gas in it. You must commit to eating well while pregnant, which simply means eating real food and avoiding processed edible food-like substances.
- Consider a hypnobirthing class. Do not take a hospital-sponsored childbirth class. These classes purposefully mislead women and propagandize about hospital policy, not what is best for you and your baby. If you want to have an enjoyable vaginal birth, try hypnobirthing or an independent birth class like Birth Boot Camp.
- Reduce stress. If you have unresolved sexual abuse in your past, addictions, or other challenges, now is the time to go to counseling, talk to your clergyman, and join a support group.
You can and will have an awesome birth. It just might have to be in spite of your doctor.
Jennifer Margulis is an award-winning health journalist, Fulbright grantee, and mother of four. Her books include Your Baby, Your Way: Taking Charge of Your Pregnancy, Childbirth, and Parenting Decisions for a Happier, Healthier Family and The Vaccine-Friendly Plan: Dr. Paul’s Safe and Effective Approach to Immunity and Health From Pregnancy Through Your Child’s Teen Years.