04 Apr What Type of Childbirth is Right for You?
Have you ever thought of what kind of childbirth you’d like to have? In one study about childbirth choices, almost half of women say they know what kind of childbirth they want before pregnancy.² Often these choices are influenced by friends and family, social conditioning, and exposure to birth information online, on TV or in movies. Some of these Mamas have thought about their preferred birth place, types of childbirth providers, pain control methods, and medical interventions commonly used in birth practices. You may have had thoughts about this too or imagined the type of childbirth you’d like to have.
In general, there are four types of childbirth, each with their own risks and benefits. The four types of childbirth are: spontaneous childbirth, assisted vaginal birth, cesarean section (c-section), and vaginal birth after cesarean (VBAC).
A spontaneous vaginal birth is, very simply, giving birth to your baby through the vagina without the medical provider using tools to guide him out. This means going through the three stages of labor (dilation of cervix, pushing and birth of baby, and delivery of the placenta) without the use of tools like a vacuum or forceps.
A spontaneous vaginal birth can happen at home, a birth center, or in the hospital. The birth can be attended by a doctor, certified nurse midwife, or a direct entry midwife, depending on the birth setting you choose. Spontaneous vaginal births can be medicated or unmedicated. They can involve many different variations of pain control, such as movement, massage, baths (and water birth), showers, spinal block (epidural) and IV pain medication.
Some women prepare for childbirth through models of care that emphasize the physical and emotional support of the laboring mother. These models often include breath training and relaxation techniques too. The Bradley Method, Lamaze, Hypnobirthing, and doula support are common philosophies.
Assisted vaginal delivery happens when a birth is stalled in the second stage (pushing and delivery). Sometimes this happens due to the baby’s size, position, mother’s anatomy or fatigue level. Providers will use a vacuum or forceps to help the baby maneuver the birth canal. The baby is low in the pelvis at this point. A skilled provider doesn’t pull the baby out but helps to guide the baby while the mother still pushes.
Spontaneous and assisted vaginal deliveries carry less risk than cesarean sections for both mother and baby. In general, there is less risk of infection, less blood loss, a shorter hospital stay, and less breathing difficulties for the baby after birth. But, vaginal births mean you could have vaginal tearing, pain or swelling after the birth. Some women also experience stress incontinence (leaking urine when coughing, laughing, sneezing) after a vaginal birth because as the baby moves down the birth canal the pelvic floor muscles stretch. You can avoid this by maintaining a strong core and pelvic floor tone throughout pregnancy and postpartum.
A cesarean section (c-section) is the surgical removal of the baby through a cut made in the mother’s uterus. A c-section can be unplanned or planned. About 32% of births in the U.S. are c-sections.² Planned c-sections are typically for a medical reason such as the baby’s health, size and position in the womb, or a known medical condition of the mother where a vaginal delivery would be a risk to her. Since a cesarean section is major abdominal surgery, the risks are higher to mother and baby. There is a risk of blood loss and infection of the surgical incision. Recovery is longer for the Mama who gets a c-section. C-section babies are twice as likely to have breathing problems after birth since they don’t experience the pressure from a vaginal birth to expel the fluid in their lungs. These babies can also be a little sleepy and slower to breastfeed because of the effects of anesthesia.
Often, mothers who’ve had a prior c-section will elect for a c-section in subsequent births. However, some mothers are choosing vaginal birth after a c-section (VBAC). This is a discussion to have with your provider. Typically, you’ll want to wait 18 months between a c-section and a VBAC because of the small risk (less than 1%) of the rupture of a c-section scar during the labor of a vaginal birth. Even still, a VBAC carries less risk than a c-section because there is less risk of blood loss, infection, and a shorter recovery period.¹
There are so many choices to consider when envisioning your ideal childbirth experience! If you’re overwhelmed or just want information “reset” from the way the women in your family have historically experienced childbirth, there are plenty of resources out there. You can attend a birth, take childbirth classes, or explore different childbirth philosophies through books, media and other women’s birth stories.
Choosing a childbirth method that resonates with you will empower you, no matter what “type” it is, because you’ll feel safe and supported, and that’s invaluable when it comes to a fulfilling childbirth experience!
- American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG). August 2022. Vaginal birth after cesarean delivery (VBAC).
- National Library of Medicine (NIH). 2013. Choice? Factors that influence women’s decision making for childbirth. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4010239/
- Photo by Gustavo Fring: Content Young Pregnant Women During Fitness Workout In Modern Studio. https://www.pexels.com/photo/content-young-pregnant-women-during-fitness-workout-in-modern-studio-3984376/