Every mama-to-be has a vision for how they’ll give birth. For me, I planned to deliver my son vaginally, without pain medication or need for induction. But, because life rarely goes exactly as you imagine, that’s not what happened—not by a long shot.
My son was a week late, so my doctor decided to induce labor. I didn’t have that dramatic oh-my-god-my-water-broke TV moment; instead, I laid back in a hospital bed as a resident poked my amniotic sac. I laid there for hours, waiting for my son to descend. But he wouldn’t move and I wouldn’t dilate.
I needed an emergency cesarean section, which was the one thing I never planned for during pregnancy.
Any cesarean mother will tell you that undergoing a C-section is an intense experience. Not only is it major surgery, but we also face a few short-term risks post-surgery that could make recovery even more difficult. (I still have problems with constipation and my son is almost 3 years old.)
I know this personally—and now new research details the long-term risks and benefits of C-sections.
A study published last week in PLoS Medicine found that women who’ve had a cesarean delivery have decreased risks of urinary incontinence and pelvic prolapse (when a pelvic organ drops and pushes against your vaginal walls) compared to woman who delivered vaginally.
On the flip side, C-sections carry higher risks of miscarriage, placenta previa (when the placenta covers all or part of the cervix) and other serious complications with future pregnancies, according to the findings.
But a cesarean delivery's long-term effects aren’t limited to mama.
Researchers discovered babies born via C-section also face different odds when compared to infants delivered vaginally. Specifically, cesarean babies are more likely to be overweight or obese by 5 years old, and are more prone to developing asthma during childhood. However, they are less likely to have inflammatory bowel disease.
"These findings might help enhance discussions between clinicians and patients regarding mode of delivery,” the researchers write, “meaning that patients will be better informed of the potential long-term risks and benefits of cesarean delivery for themselves, their offspring, and any future pregnancies.”
To reach these findings, a team of Scottish scientists combed through existing research on cesarean deliveries, which have increased significantly over the last two decades. In the United States alone, C-sections now represent 32% of all deliveries, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Globally, they account for 19% of births, up from 6.7% in 1990, a 2016 PLoS One study found.
As a cesarean mama, I know the myths and stigma we face post-birth. It seems the researchers do, too. They make clear in their study that the results of their analysis “should be interpreted with caution”—because the circumstances that lead to C-sections vary for just about every woman and, therefore, so do the risks.
But their research does paint a fuller picture of what it means to deliver via C-section, and that information will be helpful for any mama-to-be.