Vaginal birth: your options
A vaginal birth is usually the safest way for your baby to be born.
But even if you’re planning a vaginal birth, it’s good to find out about giving birth via caesarean. You might need a planned caesarean because of health problems or pregnancy complications like placenta praevia. Unplanned (emergency) caesareans can happen when there are problems during labour.
It’s also good to talk with your midwife or doctor about your health and your baby’s health, and which kind of birth will be safest for you. Supportive health professionals will be open to discussing your birth options with you.
Common advantages of vaginal birth
Vaginal birth experiences vary a lot, but birthing mothers who have vaginal births generally:
- have shorter hospital stays
- are less likely to need to go back to hospital in the weeks after birth
- have less need for strong pain relief after birth
- recover more quickly from labour and birth
- have a better chance of starting to breastfeed their babies straight away
- are more likely to cuddle their babies and have skin-to-skin contact straight after birth
- are less likely to have medical problems in future pregnancies
- are more physically able to care for their babies (and other children) soon after birth.
Babies born via vaginal birth are less likely to need time in the special care nursery.
Also, babies born vaginally tend to develop stronger immune systems and are less likely to have allergies than babies born by caesarean. This is thought to be because of hormones released during vaginal birth, and the important bacteria babies get through vaginal birth.
Birthing mothers who’ve had a caesarean birth can usually try for a vaginal birth if they have another baby. This is commonly called a vaginal birth after caesarean or VBAC. Ask your doctor or midwife about whether VBAC is an option for you.
Increasing your chances of vaginal birth
Delivering your baby vaginally depends on many things, including your health, your baby’s health and what happens during labour. It’s always a good idea to talk with your health professionals about your birth options.
There are also a few things you can do to increase your chances of having a vaginal birth.
Look for continuity of care in pregnancy
Pregnancy care with just one midwife or a small group of midwives who look after you through your whole pregnancy, labour and birth can increase your chances of vaginal birth. This is called ‘continuity of care’.
Have support people with you
You’re more likely to have a vaginal birth if you have continuous one-to-one labour support from people you feel comfortable with. This might be your partner, family, midwife or a doula.
Stay active and upright during labour
In the birthing suite, staying active and using upright positions might help your labour to progress and improve your chances of vaginal birth. This is because gravity helps move your baby down and relaxes your muscles. This means baby can move through the birth canal more easily.
Mats, beanbags, cushions, water or birth balls might help you find comfortable positions for labour.
Create a calm and positive birth environment
Your birth environment can affect how you labour and give birth to your baby. The ideal labour environment is one where you:
- feel safe, calm and positive
- have access to pain relief
- have privacy
- feel secure and well supported.
With planning and preparation, you can usually create the environment you’d like in the hospital birthing suite or birth centre. For example, you could bring music, aromatherapy, cushions, food, comfortable clothing, relaxing music or other things from home.
This kind of environment will help you stay calm during labour, which means you’re more likely to have a vaginal birth.
Prepare for labour and birth
When you know what to expect during labour and birth, you’re more likely to feel in control and relaxed. Feeling this way might increase your chances of vaginal birth.
Writing a birth plan can also help you prepare for labour and birth. Your birth plan can include things like:
- the people you want at the birth
- your preferences for managing pain
- the things you want in the birth environment
- any procedures you’d like to avoid
- the person who’ll cut the cord.
But keep in mind that your baby’s plan might be different from yours. Also, what you need and want might change on the day, so think of the birth plan as a guide and stay flexible.
Before labour, it’s a good idea to share your birth plan with the midwife or doctor who’ll be looking after you. This will help them understand your preferences and work with you to achieve them.
Being calm during labour can help increase the oxytocin in your blood. Oxytocin makes your uterus contract, so higher levels of oxytocin can mean better contractions during labour and a shorter labour. Staying calm can also decrease the adrenaline in your blood – adrenaline stops oxytocin from working.
Possible disadvantages of vaginal birth
Birthing mothers who have vaginal births might:
- need stitches if their vaginal openings tear or are cut (episiotomy)
- need forceps or vacuum assistance so their babies can be born
- have an increased chance of incontinence or prolapse.
Rarely, a woman might have trouble giving birth to the shoulders of her baby if the baby is large or there are problems with her birth position or the position of her baby.
Sometimes when there are complications during vaginal birth, a woman might need to have an unplanned (emergency) caesarean. An unplanned caesarean can have more problems than a planned (elective) caesarean – for example, an increased risk of infection or risks from using a general anaesthetic.