Tuesday, 6 September 2011

Why I'd prefer a normal birth

Let me be clear from the onset: I believe that there is nothing wrong with women choosing even elective c-sections.

I think that you are no less of a woman or less of a mother if you birth "through the sunroof" as a friend described it, whether by choice or necessity. At the end of the day, after all, what matters is that your baby is born and that you are both alive and healthy.

HOWEVER, I think there's a lot wrong with the fact that our media and, more worryingly, our medical fraternity, has under-educated us and misled us to believe that major abdominal surgery is an easy route, or that a natural process our bodies were designed to perform is somehow wrong and unmanageable and unnecessary - for reasons that include (but I'm sure are not always necessarily limited to) personal convenience for ob/gyns and less legal liability.

I'm not saying there's a big, conscious, underground plot to promote c-sections. However the small ways in which gynaes, mainstream media and popular opinion appear to be biased against natural births means that more and more women aren't making decisions with all the facts available to them. It's a fact that even those women who have a preference for natural childbirth at first, overwhelmingly change their minds on the advice of less-than-impartial medical carers whom they trust to advise them.

The World Health Organization states that "there is no justification for any region to have caesarean section rates higher than 10–15%"[1]. Rates in South African private hospitals are, depending on whom you believe, as high as 80% but no lower than 60%[2]. That is a huge disparity with the WHO recommendation.

Some of the benefits of a vaginal birth for baby

  • Baby is born when baby is ready, not a week or two before (when c-sections are scheduled) - or even more if the due date calculation is out.
  • Baby has better respiratory function, since the compression in the birth canal forces amniotic fluid from the lungs. Vaginally delivered babies have a marked reduction in risk of asthma.
  • Baby's cardiovascular system gets stimulated during natural birth, preparing it for life outside the womb. This is why vaginally born babies gain a healthy colour much quicker than c-section babies.
  • Baby's immune system benefits from friendly bacteria picked up in the birth canal, providing benefits well into adulthood.
  • Breastfeeding is easier to establish after a normal birth.
  • Baby may develop better stress coping mechanisms through normal birth than with the trauma of c-section.
  • Newborns born naturally are less likely to end up in intensive care than c-section babies.

Some of the benefits of a vaginal birth for mom

  • Recovery from even a difficult labour is far quicker and easier than from a c-section (which is, after all, major surgery).
  • Believe it or not, vaginal births have a lower maternal mortality rate than c-section. Again, keep in mind c-sections are major operations and there are many risks associated with any operation.
  • Mothers who give vaginal birth are at lower risk for postnatal depression.
  • Lower risks for future pregnancies: the risks for ectopic pregnancy, placenta previa, placenta accreta, and placental abruption are all higher for women who've had c-sections.

I'll add citations later, perhaps; right now I am more aware of how irregularly I'm posting to the blog than I am of rigorous fact-checking :) but these arguments are ones that are presented over and over again by many reputable publications, and I did research a few that I hadn't heard before.

I know there are also risks associated with vaginal birth, but they get enough publicity as it is without me making this post even longer and less interesting by listing the counter-argument as well.

Although I have been doing my best to keep an open mind so that if I need a c-section I won't be too disappointed (Ziggy's size may end up necessitating it), I hope I have broadened your outlook a little and that you might better understand why, if at all safe and possible, I'd like to bring Ziggy into the world the way nature and God intended. Even if the prospect is a hella daunting one :)

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