NATURAL DELIVERY - Better birth.
Many moms are opting for elective Caesars in the belief that it's a less traumatic way of bringing baby into the world. Instead of being pushed and squeezed through her mother's pelvis, baby is simply lifted out. The bonus for mom is that she knows what date and time baby will arrive, and her pelvic floor muscles are left intact.
Despite this growing trend, research shows that, provided there are no complications, giving birth as nature intended is better for baby's physical and emotional well-being, and mom reaps benefits too.
As baby twists and turns down the narrow birth canal she gets his first cardiovascular workout, which boosts her blood circulation and primes her for birth. During the birth baby is massaged by the uterus and vaginal muscles and there is increasing evidence that this has long-term benefits for baby's coordination.
Another important benefit of the birth massage is that amniotic fluid is squeezed out of baby's lungs, enabling her to take her first breath at birth. Some hospitals suction out mucus and fluid from the airways after birth to ensure baby is breathing well, but this can damage baby's delicate membranes and traumatize her emotionally says Sister Lilian, renowned pregnancy, birth and parenting expert.
Babies delivered by Caesarean are more at risk of breathing problems that those born vaginally, says Dr Fathima Paruk, a gynae obstetrician at Nelson R Mandela School of Medicine. "If an elective Caesarean is performed early, because the gestation is miscalculated, there may be problems associated with prematurity", she says.
Most maternity units in South Africa carry out elective Caesars two weeks before baby's due date, usually at around 38 or 39 weeks. But, says Sister Lilian, left to their own devices, first babies are often only born at 41 or 42 weeks. "This means that even at 39 weeks baby's lungs may not be mature and she will be at risk of breathing problems".
However, Sister Lilian cautions that if a baby's oxygen is comprised during a vaginal birth she could also suffer form respiratory problems after the birth. To prevent this, caregivers monitor baby's progress down the birth canal (see Monitoring Baby's Progress).
It's well documented that an emergency Caesar is generally more emotionally stressful for mothers than a problem-free vaginal birth because of the high-tech environment of the hospital theatre and fear of undergoing an operation. Sister Lilian says that if the mother is pumping adrenaline baby will receive an adrenaline rush and could become stressed.
"Research shows that Caesar babies are more likely to be restless and have colic, and less likely to sleep well. This is attributed in part to the rapid, unnatural change in environment baby experiences during a Caesar birth", says Sister Lilian.
But birth stress isn't restricted to Caesareans. Many mothers suffer from stress during a vaginal birth and this can have health implications for the baby. According to midwife and acclaimed natural childbirth author, Sheila Kitzinger in Birth Your Way (Dorling Kindersley: R150), "When stress hormones rise abnormally in a woman in labour, her uterus contracts less efficiently, contractions become weaker, dilation is slower, and labour takes longer. The rise in stress hormones will make her more anxious and she'll feel more pain, which in turn increases her stress levels."
A normal amount of stress, during birth can increase oxygen flow to baby during the birth, but if a mother's stress levels are too high, oxygen flow can be restricted. When there's no added stress, though, a mother's excitement energises her so that she's able to meet the challenge of contractions, as they get stronger, longer and closer together.
Sister Lilian believes the ultimate birth experience for both baby and mother is a vaginal birth where the environment - whether at hospital or home - is geared towards a natural rather than a clinical experience. "Dim lights, candles, hushed voices and music will help ensure a good natural birth experience because the mother's stress levels will be lower and she'll be able to "grow" into labour", she says.
A birth partner who's tuned into your needs, a gynae or midwife who can inspire confidence, and a belief in your body' s ability to give birth naturally will also help you to have a natural delivery and avoid an episiotomy or a forceps delivery, especially during a long labour.
A positive natural birth experience will make bonding with baby easier and give her a secure, emotionally confident start to life. Baby is delivered onto mom's stomach and will immediately benefit from the warm comfort of being held. Caesar babies on the other hand are usually only with their mothers for a short while before being whisked away to be warmed up.
Sister Lilian has the final word: "Birth is a natural process and when left to mother nature she usually gets it right" .