Cesarean Section: Myth versus Reality
Out of concern for rising cesarean rates and reduced access to vaginal birth after cesarean (VBAC), Childbirth Connection carried out a systematic review of several hundred studies that compared harms of cesarean and vaginal birth. The evidence is clear: unless there is a compelling and well-supported reason for cesarean section, vaginal birth is the safest way for women to give birth and babies to be born. (See links below to learn more about review results.)
MYTH: The belief that cesarean section is safe.REALITY: Vaginal birth is far safer overall for mothers and babies. Although cesarean section is safer now than in the past, it is major abdominal surgery and poses many extra risks for mothers and babies in comparison with vaginal birth.
MYTH: The belief that planned ("elective") cesarean is an optimal solution for mothers and babies.REALITY: Although planned cesarean is very convenient for busy hospitals and caregivers, vaginal birth is far safer overall for mothers and babies.
MYTH: The belief that vaginal birth is harmful for mothers and babies.REALITY: Vaginal birth is far safer overall for mothers and babies than cesarean section. Some common overused obstetric practices, such as making a cut to enlarge the vagina (episiotomy) or forceful staff-directed pushing, can harm women and should be avoided.
MYTH: The belief that a healthy woman who has a cesarean will avoid incontinence later in lifeREALITY: Current research suggests that this will have no effect on later-life incontinence. Having an unneeded cesarean poses plenty of risks and no clear benefits. Women who wish to avoid or limit incontinence would be wise to take other steps, such as maintaining a healthy body weight, avoiding or quitting smoking, avoiding or quitting hormone therapy, and carrying out a rigorous program of pelvic floor muscle exercises ("Kegels").
What is important for pregnant women to consider?Women need full and accurate information well before labor about what is at stake in decisions about how to give birth. To learn about more about Childbirth Connection's review, see
"Practice style" (and propensity to use maternity interventions) varies widely among providers and birth settings. Choosing a maternity caregiver and place of birth are two of the most important decisions that will influence the care a woman receives.
Childbirth Connection's message to women is:
Most recent page update: 2/9/2006
© 2013 Childbirth Connection. All rights reserved.
Childbirth Connection is a national not-for-profit organization founded in 1918 as Maternity Center Association. Our mission is to improve the quality and value of maternity care through consumer engagement and health system transformation. Childbirth Connection promotes safe, effective and satisfying evidence-based maternity care and is a voice for the needs and interests of childbearing families.
News and Features
Listening to MothersSM III is the third national survey exploring women’s experiences in pregnancy and childbirth. Commissioned by Childbirth Connection, conducted by Harris Interactive, and funded by the W.K. Kellogg Foundation, the survey polled 2,400 women who gave birth in U.S. hospitals from 2011 to 2012. Results show that medically intensive experiences are typical, and evidence-based practices are underutilized. Childbearing women need better support and knowledge to navigate their maternity care.
Access the full report and supplementary materials
New Report: Maternity Care and Liability
Go to report and supporting materials
New Report: The Cost of Having a Baby in the United States
Go to report and supporting materials
New Cesarean Resources:
Go to Best Evidence Report
Go to web pages and booklet for women
For 95 years, Childbirth Connection has been dedicated to improving the quality and value of maternity care for all women and their families. Learn more about our rich history through our interactive timeline and give $95 for 95 in honor of our 95th birthday.
Childbirth Connection works to ensure that all women and babies get the best possible maternity care. We have the collective vision and we know how to get there, but we can't do it alone. Join the transformation today.
The Transforming Maternity Care website focuses on maternity care system improvements designed to engage diverse stakeholders in quality improvement efforts. The site offers full access to the landmark reports 2020 Vision and Blueprint for Action, features a Blog, and other resources such as an Action Center, a database of quality improvement projects, an interactive data center, and many more tools for advocates and stakeholders.