Giving birth to a baby is one of life’s most exciting, life-altering, and beautiful experiences. And thankfully, childbirth options for new mothers have advanced a lot in recent decades to make the experience safer and more customizable thanks to more research into women's health and advancements in medical technology. If you're going to have a baby soon or just want to educate yourself, we are here to share with you the different ways to give birth so you can feel as prepared as possible when the time comes.
In a vaginal birth, the baby is born through the birth canal. Johnson Memorial Health recommends that "pregnant women plan for vaginal birth unless there is a medical reason for a cesarean."
A vaginal birth is the most common way to deliver a baby because it carries the lowest risk (in most cases) to the mother and baby. Vaginal deliveries can have a lower risk of infection (versus other ways of giving birth), recovery is usually faster, babies have a lower risk of respiratory problems, they result in shorter hospital stays, and more!
A vaginal delivery can either be a spontaneous occurrence or a scheduled one and we'll talk more about that in a bit.
Cesarean Section (C-Section)
When a vaginal delivery is not an option, a cesarean section is the next best route. A C-section is the delivery of a baby through a surgical incision in the mother's abdomen and uterus and occurs in a hospital under anesthesia. C-section is one of the other most common birthing types with about 1.2 million C-section deliveries happening in the United States each year.
A C-section can be planned or it can happen as an emergency method for delivering the baby if vaginal delivery has become too dangerous for either the mother or baby. Your provider may recommend a planned cesarean delivery if you are carrying twins, have had a previous C-Section, if your baby is breech (positioned feet or bottom down instead of head down), if you have placenta previa, or for other reasons discussed here. Some women simply prefer having a C-section instead of vaginal delivery, and this is known as an elective C-section. That's something you can discuss the pros and cons of with your obstetrician.
Recovering from a C-section generally takes longer than from a vaginal delivery, and it includes caring for the incision scar and limiting how much you exert yourself, including not lifting anything heavier than your baby. There also are benefits to having a C-section as well--there's less trauma for the baby going through birth canal and less risk of your baby being oxygen-deprived during delivery.
Remember that while a vaginal delivery is the most common way of giving birth, be reassured that a C-section is a no less special and beautiful way to welcome new life into your world!
Vaginal Delivery After Cesarean (VBAC)
A VBAC is when a woman has a normal vaginal birth after having had a cesarean section with a previous pregnancy. Some women want the option of giving birth vaginally if they weren't able to before, and while giving birth vaginally after having a C-section can pose risks, your doctor can help you know whether a VBAC is a safe option for you.
There can be risk of complications during a VBAC, including the rare case of having the scar on your uterus from the C-section rupture. If your doctor decides your uterus is at high risk of rupturing, a VBAC won't be an option. Benefits, however, include a shorter recovery time than a C-section, less blood loss, less risk of infection, and you won't have to have surgery on your abdomen.
VBAC is possible in many cases. In fact, an estimated 75 percent of women who try VBAC have a successful vaginal delivery. Just check with your hospital first if they do VBACs, because it is possible that they may not have the staff or resources to handle emergency C-sections in case you experience complications during the VBAC.
Another very common way to give birth is through an unmedicated vaginal delivery, meaning there is no medication given for pain management (epidural or others) or to start or speed up labor. Many women who choose this route usually take courses to educate themselves on how to cope with pain, positions that can help, and breathing/meditative techniques to help them through it.
Some benefits of an unmedicated delivery are that the woman has the ability to change birthing positions, since she isn't numbed by the epidural, so she can get up, walk around, and try different things to help her in the delivery process. She also won't have any side-effects of an epidural, she may have a shorter pushing time, potential for less vaginal tearing, and a strong sense of having accomplished something challenging.
Many women who choose to have a natural birth have a doula or midwife with them as a personal coach to help them during the labor process.
An induction happens when your doctor gives you medication (such as Pitocin) or uses other processes (breaking the water in your amniotic sack) to start labor, rather than waiting for it to start on its own.
A doctor will induce labor for a wide variety of reasons. Chief amongst these reasons are a past-due pregnancy, ruptured membranes, a smaller-than-average infant, or high blood pressure in the mother. An induction can also be scheduled ahead of time simply to give have a specific time and date to plan for delivery, however some providers discourage scheduling in induction simply for convenience purposes, so discuss with your doctor what will be best for you and your baby. Many women like this option because it helps them plan and schedule around when the baby will be born.
While plenty of deliveries are induced every day for a variety of reasons resulting in safe and healthy births, it's best to let labor begin on its own if there aren't any medical reasons for starting it with intervention.
Assisted Delivery with Forceps or Vacuum Extraction
Forceps are a tongue-like surgical tool that an obstetrician uses to grasp your baby’s head in order to guide them out of the birth canal. Your doctor may resort to using forceps if labor isn't progressing enough during the final stages, and if either you or your baby are in danger from extended labor. It can be a solution to getting the baby out without having to do a C-section.
According to The Cleveland Clinic, forceps might be needed if:
- Your healthcare provider is trained and experienced in forceps use.
- You have been laboring unsuccessfully for a prescribed length of time (one to four hours, depending on your health conditions).
- Your baby has descended to the halfway point in the birth canal, where it can be accessed.
- Your baby’s heart rate indicates it is in fetal distress and needs to be delivered soon.
Vacuum delivery is similar to forceps delivery. The doctor uses suction to apply a plastic cup to the baby's head and gently pull the baby from the birth canal. With both types of assisted delivery, your doctor may need to perform an episiotomy to help make space for the forceps/vacuum. Most assisted deliveries work after only a few pulls, but if it isn't making progress, you'll most likely need a C-section. Depending on how much the doctor has to pull during your assisted delivery, you may have a little more tearing and may spend a bit longer in the hospital, but you will most likely recover just as quickly as you would from a non-assisted delivery.
Other Options for Giving Birth
Water Delivery: A water birth can occur in the hospital or at a home. In a water birth, you spend the duration of your labor in a waist-deep pool of clean, warm water.
One of the biggest benefits of a water birth is that it greatly reduces the likelihood of needing an epidural to manage the pain. As your cervix dilates, the warm water helps to soothe and relax the body and mind. Some women may choose to leave the tub after the cervix is fully dilated, but many follow through with a true water birth, where the baby is delivered in the tub.
The doctor or midwife will bring the baby’s face up into the air right after birth. Water birth eases the strain on the mother, and the transition for the baby is less of a shock to their system.
At Home or Hospital with Midwife/Doula Assistance: Many women like the idea of having their baby born in their home. It can bring mother a lot of comfort in a familiar environment. Home births may be planned or unplanned and assisted or unassisted and take place at a home rather than a hospital or birth center.
For women who either want to do at home birth or natural birth, it can be very common to have a midwife or doula. Midwives provide medical care for you during pregnancy, birth, and the immediate postpartum period. Doulas provide you and your family with emotional, informational, and physical support during pregnancy, birth, and the immediate postpartum period.
We hope you learned a lot about what your options for delivery can look like. Just remember that sometimes things don't go as planned and sometimes we switch our minds about what we want to do while active labor is happening (been there) and that's totally okay! The most important thing is for you and baby to be safe and healthy.
However you end up giving birth, know that there isn't a right or wrong option, and whatever route you take to motherhood is valid! You are strong and are going to be a terrific mother, and before you know it, your baby will be here and your heart will be even more full of love.
We're sending all the good vibes from us here at The Baby Cubby and congrats on your new bundle of joy!