Since the earliest days of civilisation, much has changed in how we live, socialise, feed ourselves, and educate our communities. But one thing that hasn’t changed all that much is how women birth babies.
Thousands of years down the track from our origin stories, women are still being encouraged to choose vaginal birth over all other birthing options. Why? Because it’s assumed to be what is best. After all, it’s what women have done for generations.
However, at various points in the past, women couldn’t vote or own assets, and if you go far enough back, there was a time when women were considered as the property of their families, and later of their husband. We’ve come a long way since then, so why is childbirth stuck in the past?
For some reason, even though there are risks associated with vaginal delivery, pregnant women are given significantly more information on the potential risk of having a caesarian section. Now that is set to change.
In the United Kingdom, health professionals from the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists are coming together to discuss the place that vaginal birth has as the ‘default’ method of delivery. They will discuss whether it should be a more common practice to discuss the various risks and benefits of both vaginal birth and caesarian sections with pregnant women.
Rates of Caesarean Sections In Australia
Australia has made pretty significant improvements in the safety of both pregnancy and childbirth in the last 100 years. With the exception of people who are of Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander background, of which many more improvements are still needed, Australia is one of the safest places in the world to give birth and to be born.
However, Australia also has quite high rates of birth by caesarean section. The rate of c-sections in Australia was 32.4% in 2012, which is higher than the OECD average of 28%, and much higher than the 10-15% rate recommended by WHO. It is worth noting that the ‘ideal’ rate broadcast by WHO has been the same since 1985, despite many changes occurring in our developing world.
Risks Of Caesarean Section
It’s important to remember that caesarian sections are a surgical procedure, and like all surgeries, there are risks associated with the condition that are relevant to both a mother and her child. For babies, the risks of a caesarian section include breathing problems, particularly a risk of asthma developing in childhood and adulthood, and accidental surgical nicks. For mothers, the risks include endometritis, increased bleeding, anaesthesia reaction, blood clots, wound infection, surgical injury, and an increased risk of complication in further pregnancy.
Now, while these risks certainly do not occur in all cases, they have occurred and therefore are a part of the information given to pregnant women considering c-section. Other information provided to women also informs them that the recovery time for c-sections can be much longer than vaginal birth.
Risk Of Vaginal Birth
Now we come to vaginal birth, and it’s important to differentiate here between ‘assisted’ vaginal births, which use either vacuum extraction or forceps, and ‘spontaneous’ vaginal birth, which don’t. Spontaneous vaginal births tend to have less issues than assisted vaginal births, but a woman experiencing a spontaneous birth may still encounter these issues.
Risks associated with vaginal birth include tears in the perineum that go into, or through, anal muscle, excessive bleeding, infection, painful vaginal area, bowel issues, incontinence (both urinary and anal), haemorrhoids, sexual problems and so on. For the child, the risks of vaginal birth include the potential for the child to get injured during the birth process, which can rise if the labour is a long one.
At the end of the day, it doesn’t matter what a pregnant woman chooses, it matters that she had the opportunity to make an educated choice and give her informed consent. Women shouldn’t be choosing vaginal delivery because of the vocal fetish-isers of natural birth, nor should they feel that their choice for a c-section means they haven’t done birth ‘properly’. Instead, they should be making the choice that they feel is right for them, their child, and their body, after taking into account all the risks and benefits associated with both options.