A cesarean birth is one in which the baby is delivered through incisions in the abdominal wall and uterus, instead of through the vagina. The medical term for this type of birth is cesarean section, which is often shortened to c-section. Cesarean sections occur in approximately 21 percent of all births. Therefore, you need to understand the procedures and options for delivering in this manner. You also need to know which factors increase your chance of having a cesarean, as well as ways to avoid having one unnecessarily.
Julius Caesar is usually credited with being the first baby delivered by cesarean section and for having the procedure named after him. Actually, it is unlikely that he was delivered by c-section, since during his time babies were delivered surgically only if the woman had died, and documents indicate that Caesar’s mother was alive for many years following his birth. The term cesarean section probably comes from the Latin word caedere, which means “to cut.” Hundreds of years before Caesar, a Roman law, lex caesarea, stated that a dying woman should be operated on to save the infant.
The first successful cesarean (meaning that the woman survived) was recorded in 1500. In 1882, Dr. Max Sanger was the first doctor to suture the uterus instead of removing it. Over the years, advances in anesthesia, antibiotics, surgical techniques, and pain medication have increased the safety of the procedure tremendously.
Since many cesarean births are not planned, you should read this chapter carefully to become familiar with the standard procedures and possible options in case you need a c-section. Cesarean delivery is covered in most childbirth preparation classes. In addition to providing a discussion about the actual procedure, the classes should also include ways to decrease your chance of having a cesarean. If your cesarean is planned, special classes are offered by some hospitals and may be a prerequisite for participation by your support person. These cesarean birth classes may also provide specialized instruction on exercises and postpartum care, as well as breastfeeding hints geared to the cesarean mother. Additionally, even though cesarean section is major abdominal surgery, proper preparation can make it a satisfying birth experience for the entire family.
Having a baby by cesarean can be a rewarding, family-centered experience. And, in those rare cases in which an emergency situation exists, it can be the only avenue to a healthy baby. However, because a cesarean involves major surgery, with risks to both you and your baby, you should make every effort to avoid an unnecessary one.
Your best bet for reducing your chances of a cesarean is your careful choice of a caregiver. Another important factor is making sure you have continuous support from a caring labor partner. The presence of a doula further reduces your chances. Allowing your body to labor naturally without interventions is another important element. It is particularly crucial to avoid interventions such as Pitocin or an epidural in early labor. Walking during labor and utilizing upright laboring positions also help to encourage a vaginal delivery.
Last, but very important, is your trust in your body’s ability to give birth. Our society has come to accept a 21-percent cesarean rate as normal, implying that over one fifth of women’s bodies do not function properly. We need to reverse this trend by realizing and demonstrating that birth is a natural, normal event. Use your visualizations to “see” yourself giving birth, knowing that your body was designed to give birth vaginally. Use your relaxation techniques to get in touch with your body, and realize that, in most cases, babies will be born healthy on their own, without any help or interventions. Having complete confidence that your body will know how to carry out this age-old process can be the key that ensures you a vaginal delivery.