Whether you’ve had a cesarean birth or one might be in your future, shake off any feelings of judgment, because birth is birth. And currently, 41 percent of births in North America are C-sections. Besides, the way a baby comes into the world is not the main event — the new little person in the world is. And if their particular way out of the womb happens to be lifesaving, all the more reason to celebrate. And what better time to dispel myths than April, aka Cesarean Awareness Month? (Yes, that’s a thing.)
Occupational therapist Catherine Brooks knows so much about C-sections she invented a postpartum undergarment for use after the procedure. We spoke with her about some of the awful C-section myths that are still floating around out there. But be warned: Some of these myths (or even the facts) may be frightening to expectant parents. Read on at your own risk.
Myth 1: A woman’s body is perfectly designed to have a vaginal birth
Um, but wait. Don’t women sometimes die during childbirth? (Yes. Yes, they do.) According to the World Health Organization, 830 women die every day from pregnancy or childbirth-related complications. And that rate is down by about 44 percent since 1990. If we’re so “perfectly made” for childbirth, why do so many die? “We may have more cesareans and some questionable uses, but we have more safely delivered babies,” says Brooks. “We are made for having babies, yes. We are also at risk for catastrophic complications.”
Myth 2: You failed
This is just silly. Of course you didn’t fail; you created a human. If anyone tells you the best or only way to be a good mom is by having a vaginal birth — well, feel free to tell them where they can stick it.
Myth 3: Your baby will have a weaker immune system
It’s true that gut bacteria gets transferred from the mother’s vagina to the newborn during the trip down the birth canal. “Gut bacteria isn’t just impacted by delivery though,” Brooks says. “Gestational age, the need for early antibiotics, delivery mode and feeding (breast or bottle) all impact this.” These days, plenty of parents and medical teams are “colonizing” C-section babies with cotton swabs that contain vaginal flora. The secretions are transferred to the baby’s mouth. Gross, but maybe effective.
Myth 4: Your baby has less “fight” in them from being plucked out vs. traveling through the canal
This one is so weird. After all, a feisty personality is no match for a pubic bone (just ask my daughter).
Myth 5: Kids born from C-sections have more allergies/asthma
It’s true a study published in PLOS Medicine showed a correlation between cesareans and diseases such as asthma. But this is one of those instances where correlation doesn’t necessarily equal causation. Mothers with major health issues generally have C-sections: Diabetes, high blood pressure, or many other issues can be cause for a cesarean. That means their babies might be predisposed to health issues. In short, it may not be the cesarean causing the asthma. So, yes, more babies born via C-section have asthma, but that’s because so many mothers with severe asthma had to receive a C-section. It actually hasn’t been conclusively proven that there is a correlation between a C-section and health complications.
Myth 6: C-sections cause autism
Oh, boy. No, they don’t. A review of studies at one point linked a risk of autism with cesareans, but it’s since been discounted according to Medscape. (Sound familiar? The same thing happened with vaccines.) “Follow-up studies of over 2 million babies show that the first study was not correct and more likely was a measure of genetic or environmental clause,” says Brooks. In this day and age, parents are grasping at straws for explanations regarding autism (see: vaccines). But C-sections are not a cause (and neither, let’s just say it again for the back row, are vaccines).
Myth 7: You won’t bleed vaginally postpartum if you have a C-section
This one is just annoying. A baby didn’t come out there, so what’s with the blood? In short, hormones. Unfortunately, you may experience bleeding post-cesarean just like someone who gave birth vaginally.
Myth 8: If your first birth was a C-section, the rest will be too
This isn’t always the case, though of course it depends on your situation and why you needed a C-section. But many women go on to have a VBAC, or vaginal birth after cesarean. If your doctor has OK’d you for a VBAC, statistics are on your side. “Most VBACs are complication-free,” says Brooks, referring to the scariest complication: uterine rupture. However, 1 percent of women who undergo a VBAC experience potentially catastrophic uterine rupture according the Mayo Clinic. “Such a small number, but I wasn’t willing to take a chance of a worse outcome,” says Brooks of her cesarean. “My awesome OB let me consider VBAC, discussed my case with me, and after that, off to schedule the cesarean we went. Knowing my reasons for a cesarean, not everyone else’s helped me. Understanding the numbers and risks helped me to bond, to feel closure, to not feel like a ‘failure.’”
Myth 9: You won’t bond with your baby if they’re born via C-section
Someone even told my friend, “Science has proven that babies born via C-section are less attached to their mothers.” Or maybe you’re worried you’ll miss out on skin-to-skin or breastfeeding if you have a C-section. But none of that is true. You can have skin-to-skin contact immediately after a cesarean just like after a vaginal birth. Brooks points out that if the bonding myth were true, “In the ’50s, ’60s and ’70s when babies were whisked away from moms and placed in a room of plexiglass cribs, entire generations of babies would have had hugely impacted bonding!”
Myth 10: It’s the “easy” option
If you consider major abdominal surgery and a hefty, painful recovery “easy,” then sure! “This is almost funny,” says Brooks. “A 7-centimeter incision to pull an 8-or-so-pound object out of your uterus isn’t easy! Neither is pushing one out of the birth canal. Both methods have pros and cons, and neither are easy.” There are just two ways out of that belly, and neither one is a walk in the park.
Myth 11: You’ll feel cheated by the birth
This one really depends on the individual, but I for one do not feel cheated by my two cesareans. We all came out of it healthy, so I actually feel lucky. “All women have different markers for ‘closure’ and success,” says Brooks. “The real problem is perception and external shame-on-you attitudes perpetuated by others. This is reinforced because most moms don’t have the medical expertise to understand some of the subtle reasons for cesareans.”
Myth 12: OBs will pressure you to have a C-section even if it isn’t necessary
There’s nothing wrong with questioning your doctor or looking at ways to safely reduce surgical births, says Brooks. However, the “high” cesarean rate comes from a few things: better fetal monitoring so doctors know when babies are in distress, avoiding arm damage, breech risks and the potentially complicated VBAC. Brooks also points out that there are fewer forceps and vacuum deliveries (they have their own risks), which ups the C-section rate. “Cesarean delivery just happens to be a way to avoid some of the unknown and high-risk complications like rupture or paralyzed arm or fetal distress.”
The decision of whether to have a C-section can be a delicate one, and societal pressure to have a vaginal birth can be harmful to women. “Even the term ‘natural’ delivery defaults to [C-sections being] ‘unnatural,’” Brooks points out. “And there is certainly something wrong with moms feeling bad about any way they delivery their healthy, beautiful new baby.”
So let’s put these C-section myths to rest and celebrate birth, whatever the method. Because as my OB told me: The actual birth is just one day, but parenthood is a lifetime.