Any mom-to-be will tell you that giving birth to a healthy baby is their number one priority. But managing pain during delivery may run a close second.

For some women, it’s a no-brainer to deliver naturally. Others might want to have an elective cesarean delivery.

So which option is best for you and your baby? You’ll need to consult your doctor for the answer. But here’s what you should know about both options.

Cesarean Delivery

A cesarean delivery is as a surgical procedure. The baby is delivered through incisions in the mother’s abdomen and uterus.

In many cases, a cesarean becomes necessary after labor has already started. Cesarean delivery may be the safest option for you and your baby in the following circumstances.

  • Stalled labor. This happens when your labor isn’t progressing well. It might mean the cervix isn’t opening enough, even with strong, consistent contractions. Or, your baby’s head is simply too big for the birth canal. Stalled labor is one of the most common reasons for a cesarean delivery.
  • Stress on your baby. If there are concerns about how much oxygen your baby is getting, or your doctor is noticing changes to your baby’s heart rate.
  • Position in the womb. A cesarean is often safest when a baby is breech, or positioned so that their feet and bottom will move into the birth canal first. The same is true if the baby is transverse, which means shoulder or side first.
  • You’re expecting multiples.
  • You have placenta previa. If you have this condition, the placenta is covering the opening of your cervix.
  • You’ve had a cesarean before. While a VBAC (vaginal birth after cesarean) can be possible, there may be certain factors that make a repeat cesarean delivery a safer choice.
  • Other health issues. If you have health issues like high blood pressure that require an expedited delivery, or heart problems. The same is true for an infection like HIV or genital herpes that can be transferred to your baby with a vaginal delivery.

Elective Cesarean Delivery

Some women request an elective cesarean delivery, even without a medical need. They might do so because they hope to avoid pain. Or, they want to avoid potential complications of labor like tearing or incontinence.

Some families also like the convenience of scheduling delivery.

While choosing the day your baby arrives might make it easier to plan ahead for maternity leave, the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) advises women to plan for vaginal deliveries when possible.

There are some short-term benefits that may come with a planned cesarean. These can include a decreased risk of hemorrhage, fewer surgical complications, and a reduced risk of urinary incontinence in the first year following delivery.

But the risks of an elective cesarean can outweigh the benefits. They include a longer hospital stay and a greater chance of infant respiratory problems.

Women who deliver by cesarean also might experience complications in future pregnancies like uterine rupture, placental implantation issues, and the medical need for hysterectomy.

Also keep in mind, scheduling a cesarean delivery doesn’t always mean your baby will be born that day. An elective cesarean must be scheduled after 39 weeks, so there’s a chance your baby could come early.

Remember, a cesarean delivery is major surgery. You’ll need to recover while caring for your brand new baby.

Natural Birth

Natural childbirth is when a mother delivers without medications. The mother listens to her body as labor progresses. She is often guided and supported through the stages of labor by a midwife, doula, and/or hospital staff.

Pain relief medications like epidurals aren’t used during a natural birth. The mother might also choose to avoid any medical interventions to speed up labor.

If you have a low-risk pregnancy, choosing a natural childbirth means you can avoid possible side effects and risks associated with pain medications.

In some cases, pain medications can affect labor by:

  • dropping your blood pressure
  • speeding or slowing labor
  • causing nausea
  • making you feel disconnected from the delivery experience

Pain Management

To manage pain during natural childbirth, women can try the following:

  • meditation
  • yoga poses
  • walking
  • massage
  • changing positions
  • soaking in warm water
  • calming music
  • visual imagery
  • focused breathing

While a natural childbirth may be your plan before labor begins, it’s OK to change your mind and request pain medications if you need them.

For many women, the choice to go completely or mostly drug-free is a way to approach the birth experience proactively. It gives them more control over what happens. During labor and delivery, you’re attuned to everything happening in your body.

Many doctors today offer a natural approach to labor and delivery, where medical intervention is offered and available only when it’s needed.

But keep in mind, you may not be a good candidate for a natural childbirth. Or, even if you hope to have a natural birth, a cesarean delivery might still become medically necessary. Speak to your doctor about your options.

The Takeaway

To make the best choice for you and your baby, consider your personal circumstances. Talking over your options with your doctor, while being sure to raise your own wishes and concerns, is the best place to start.