Mamas on Bedrest: Cesarean Awareness Month

April 25th, 2012

April is Cesarean Awareness Month.

I have really mixed feelings about cesarean sections. Having had 2 cesarean deliveries and knowing that at least in the case of my first one, it pretty much saved my life and the life of my daughter, I can’t be entirely “anti-cesarean section”. But in the United States thousands of women have cesarean sections for bogus reasons and that is what this movement and month of awareness is really all about.

So what are the facts about cesarean sections?

  • Cesarean deliveries are one of the most commonly performed surgeries in all of medicine. The other most commonly performed surgery is a hysterectomy.
  • Cesarean deliveries currently account for some 32% of all deliveries in the United States annually.
  • Originally, Cesarean deliveries were intended to birth a fetus when the mother was dead or dying. It has since evolved to be indicated for “large babies”, uterine/placental/vaginal issues, fetal distress or shoulder dystocia
  • According to MedScape, The leading indications for cesarean delivery are previous cesarean delivery, breech presentation, dystocia, and fetal distress. These indications are responsible for 85% of all cesarean deliveries.

I think that most of us would agree that in a healthy mother and baby, a vaginal birth is the way to go. However, in an effort to “control the situation and avoid complications” or to “avoid the pain” or “avoid going into labor at an inconvenient time”, mothers and doctors often schedule a cesarean section “to be on the safe side”. This is the impetus behind the International Cesarean Awareness Network (ICAN) and its supporters.  ICAN and other organizations hope to raise awareness amongst women that cesarean sections are to be the exception to vaginal birth when it is unsafe for mother and baby to undergo vaginal delivery. And while most of us agree with that statement, thousands upon thousands of women often mistakenly believe that delivering vaginally will be unsafe or them and their babies and opt for the cesarean delivery.

Probably the most common reason for cesarean birth is repeat cesarean delivery. There used to be a saying, “Once a cesarean always a cesarean.” Thankfully this is no longer the case. Because of the risks associated with cesarean sections, more and more practitioners are beginning to look at VBAC (vaginal birth after cesarean section) as an option. One has to understand, a cesarean delivery involves cutting the abdominal and uterine walls, creating defects or weaknesses at the sites of the cuts and places for scar tissue to develop. The greatest concern is that in a VBAC, these areas won’t hold and the uterus will rupture causing hemorrhage and risking the lives of both mother and fetus. However, data is showing that this risk of uterine rupture is not as great as previously thought and that women who have repeat cesarean sectioins are at even greater risks. Additionally, in very healthy women having uncomplicated pregnancies and birthing with a skilled practitioner, VBAC’s are quite safe.

Another common reason for cesarean delivery is “large baby”. This is probably the most disputed reason for cesarean delivery and the most controversial. Who hasn’t heard stories of the 5 foot woman delivering an 11lb baby vaginally, or the 5ft 10 inch woman who had difficulty delivering a 5lb baby and required a cesarean section? Size of the baby is rarely the issue, but more aptly the position of the baby in the pelvis, the shape of a mama’s pelvis and how well mama and baby are faring during the delivery process.

Cesarean sections are also more common during labor inductions.  When labor is allowed to start and proceed spontaneously, babies have time to adapt and progress along the birth canal. Normal birth proponents continually state that when a baby is not ready to be born and labor is induced, the baby is rarely in the correct position in the birth canal, the baby often becomes distressed as a result of the uterine contractions, the labor fails to progress and then a cesarean section is performed.

So how does a mama decide whether or not a cesarean delivery is best for her?

  • Do your research. Know the indications for cesarean delivery
  • Talk with your health care provider. Know (as much as possible) the position of your baby in the uterus, consider the gestational age of the baby
  • Consider your obstetrical history. If you have certain complications, you may be more likely to require a cesarean delivery. Talk with your health care provider to assess your risks.

It’s a really tough decision. Even today, some six years after my last cesarean section, I often wonder if I should have tried to deliver my son. (my second child). But I had a list of obstetrical complications that would have made a VBAC quite risky. For women without my dicey history who are considering a VBAC vs. a cesarean delivery, I say, do your research, “be aware”. Only once you’ve fully informed yourself and spoken with your health care provider can you make an informed decision about whether or not to have a cesarean delivery.

Resources

The International Cesarean Awareness Network (ICAN)

MedScape

NIH Consensus Development Conference on Vaginal Birth after Cesarean: New Insights

The American Pregnancy Association

American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists

About.com

Giving Birth With Confidence

Unnecesarean

My daughter at birth

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