A woman contemplates a C-section vs. a natural birth

C-Section vs. Vaginal Delivery: Choosing the Best Birth for You

For about a third of U.S. births, whether by choice or necessity, a cesarean section is the best option. Once you deliver via c-section, it is likely further births will be performed the same way. In any case, it is important to understand both the benefits and risks of either option. Here are the pros and cons of c-sections and vaginal births.

C-Section

A cesarean birth may be necessary because of labor complications. For example, if labor takes too long, it can become too difficult to push. A c-section is a surgical procedure in which an incision is made through the abdominal wall and uterus to deliver the baby. Midwives cannot perform c-sections. 

Pros

  • You can schedule an appointment for the exact day of the procedure, giving you peace of mind on the delivery date.
  • You're less likely to experience incontinence or sexual problems.
  • You and the baby are at a lower risk of accidental lacerations, bruising, and swelling.
  • The chance of uterine atony, which occurs when the uterus does not contract normally after birth, are minimized.

Cons

  • As a surgical procedure, you are at an increased risk of blood clots, blood loss, scarring, bowel issues, and infection.
  • Mother and the baby are at the mercy of anesthetic side effects, such as headaches, nausea, and inactivity.
  • Due dates can be miscalculated, which means a planned delivery can result in a preterm birth.
  • Your hospital stay and recovery are likely to take longer than a vaginal birth. 

Vaginal Birth

Women's bodies are naturally equipped to deliver babies vaginally. This process involves pushing the baby through the birth canal after the full dilation of the cervix. It is possible to schedule a vaginal birth as well, although induction may have a higher risk of emergency c-section. 

Pros

  • A hospital stay is only about 24 to 48 hours.
  • You will be able to bond and breastfeed immediately after birth.
  • In future pregnancies, labor and delivery tend to be quicker.
  • The baby is less likely to develop respiratory problems and more likely to have a balanced immune system because of bacteria in the birth canal.

Cons

  • You may experience stress and anxiety from not knowing exactly when baby will appear.
  • Pushing increases the risk of tearing or lacerations from the vaginal area to the rectum.
  • The baby may experience bruising and swelling from any equipment that may be necessary to assist delivery.
  • Complications can occur, such as a depletion of oxygen from the cord wrapping around the neck.
  • There are higher rates of incontinence, painful intercourse, and pelvic organ prolapse (the dropping and protruding of internal organs) falling vaginal delivery.

Depending on your medical situation and the particular pregnancy, you may have no choice in the method of delivery at the time of birth or in your planning. Consult your doctor with your questions and concerns to make an informed decision about what is best for your body and your baby. 

Last Updated: June 22, 2017