Advice for Women About Cesarean and Vaginal Birth

As early as possible in pregnancy:
  • learn about c-section and vaginal birth: c-section offers important benefits in selected circumstances; however, without a clear, well-supported reason for having this surgical procedure, vaginal birth is likely to be far safer for mothers and babies
  • set your goals, considering what you learn and your values and preferences
  • take action to help reach your goals.
For help with all three steps, see resources on this website: Your choice of maternity caregiver and place of birth may be the most important thing you can do to influence the care that you will receive. "Practice style" varies widely. Choose wisely, and be sure that you will get support for your goals. A provider's caution about use of cesarean and a rate well below the national average (well below 30%) are good signs. Enthusiasm for c-sections and a rate around or above the national average are cause for concern (apart from a high-risk specialist caring primarily for mothers and babies with very serious problems).

Arranging for continuous labor support can help you avoid an unnecessary c-section.

The booklet What Every Pregnant Woman Needs to Know About Cesarean Section (PDF) can help you set and reach your goals. It has a section with many tips to help you avoid an unnecessary c-section and have a safe vaginal birth. If this is your goal, it is important to become informed as early as possible and make and carry out your plans due to the current climate where more and more cesareans are being performed. You can also download Vaginal Birth and Cesarean Birth: How Do the Risks Compare? (PDF), the companion at-a-glance summary.

For most pregnant women who had a c-section in the past, a vaginal birth after cesarean (VBAC) is a reasonable choice. If this is your goal, it is very important to become informed as early as possible, plan ahead and put care arrangements into place. To learn more, decide and take action, see Should I choose VBAC or repeat c-section?.

You may have heard that vaginal birth is harmful, and a c-section will prevent incontinence later in life. There are many problems with this line of thinking. Before undergoing major abdominal surgery for this reason, get the facts: Finally, understand and be prepared to exercise your maternity rights, including your right to informed consent and informed refusal.
Most recent page update: 2/22/2007

© 2015 National Partnership for Women & Families. All rights reserved.

Founded in 1918, Childbirth Connection has joined forces with and become a core program of the National Partnership for Women & Families. Together, these two women's health powerhouses are transforming maternity care in the United States.
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