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Everything You Need to Know About Childbirth and Delivery Methods

Childbirth can happen naturally, but sometimes a little help and intervention may be needed. Here are some common childbirth and delivery methods to know, so you may be better prepared. 


As you and your partner prepare for pregnancy, you may start having questions about the process of childbirth. 

Of course you know the general idea, but what does the process really entail? What options are available, and what should you do if complications crop up? You wouldn’t want to have to make a serious decision while caught in the throes of labour. Therefore, it is a good idea to prepare yourself before you step foot into the maternity ward. Doing so may also help you get over any apprehension or ease any anxiety about giving birth you may have. 

To help give you a peek behind the (birthing) curtain, this article will introduce some of the common childbirth and delivery methods, what's involved in each, and the pros and cons to note.

 

Vaginal delivery 

Vaginal delivery is a natural process that takes place over several hours, and largely relies on the mother’s own ability to push the baby out. As such, vaginal delivery can be accomplished usually requiring only minimal assistance.  

Some medications may be administered to help the mother manage pain; epidural anaesthesia that numbs the lower body is a safe and widely used option [1], while nitrous oxide gas has been gaining in popularity [2] among mothers as well.

Pros of vaginal delivery

Vaginal delivery has been found to offer several advantages for the health of your baby. 

For one, your baby will be better able to receive beneficial bacteria [3] from you that is crucial in developing a healthy microbiome.

For another, as your baby passes through the birth canal, much of the amniotic fluid that in its lungs is squeezed out (with the rest coughed up or absorbed by your baby’s body). Having too much fluid left in the lungs can lead to your newborn requiring supplemental oxygen [4], so the more fluid is removed, the better. 

And there are benefits for the mother too. Women who undergo vaginal delivery commonly require shorter (and less expensive) hospital stays, and experience quicker recovery from childbirth. There is also little to no impact on future pregnancies [5]. 

Cons of vaginal delivery 

Vaginal delivery is, afterall, the method our bodies have evolved for childbirth, so naturally there aren’t any serious drawbacks to this method. 

That said, giving birth to a baby isn’t exactly a gentle process. There may be trauma to the tissues surrounding the birth canal, heavy bleeding or the risk of infection. 

Longer term effects include weakness in the pelvic muscles, which could lead to incontinence [5].  

 

Caesarean delivery (C-section)

A caesarean delivery is a surgical intervention carried out when complications are encountered during childbirth in order to safeguard the health of the baby and the mother. 

During the procedure, also known as a C-section, an incision is made in the lower abdomen to allow the infant to be taken out. The placenta is then removed, before the opening is stitched closed.

There could be several reasons in which a C-section is required [6], such as the mother having high blood pressure or diabetes, the baby being too large for the birth canal or isn’t in the right position, or due to a medical emergency. A C-section may also be performed when having multiple babies, such as twins, triplets or more.  

Besides those with medical or emergency reasons, healthy mothers may also choose to give birth via a scheduled C-section. The reasons for doing so may range from fear of labour pains, to a desire for greater certainty and control over when the baby is born. 

Pros of Caesarean delivery [7]

Birthing your child via C-section can help lower the risk of foetal distress and birth trauma, as the baby does not need to be pushed out through the birth canal. 

It can also help the mother avoid the risk of incontinence as well as prevent uterus and pelvic prolapse due to weakened pelvic floor muscles.

Cons of Caesarean delivery [7]

After a C-section, you require a longer recuperation period. You may need to remain bed bound for 4 or 5 days, compared to 2 to 3 days for a vaginal delivery.

Also, babies born through C-sections have a higher chance of developing breathing problems, although this is normally transient. There is also a small chance of the baby suffering nicks and superficial cuts during the incision. While it is commonly performed, a C-section carries with it the risks of major surgery, including infection, adverse reaction to anaesthesia, haemorrhage and scarring. 

More importantly, a Caesarean delivery can impact future pregnancies [8], increasing the risk of serious complications involving the placenta, as well as uterus rupture. 

 

Water birthing

Water birthing is a variation of vaginal delivery that includes the use of a water bath. 

In this birthing method, labour and/or delivery takes place with the mother floating in a pool filled with warm water [9]. This is thought to create a more soothing and supportive environment for the mother, while relieving pain and anxiety. Mothers will also find it easier to move about while floating in the water. 

During a water birth, you may choose to give birth directly in the water, or move to a dry bed when the baby is about to be born — that’s when the cervix is fully dilated, and birth contractions begin. 

The popularity of water births have led to them now being offered at birthing centres and or hospitals. You may also choose to do this at home, but only in the presence of someone qualified, such as a doctor, nurse or midwife.

Pros of water birthing [10]

Mothers who have undergone water birthing report the experience as comforting and soothing.

The practice can also shorten labour and reduce or eliminate the need for epidurals and other analgesics, making it an attractive option for mothers wishing to give birth without the use of epidurals and other drugs. 

Cons of water birthing [9] 

There may be many positive reports of water birthing, but these remain anecdotal. There is insufficient information to draw conclusions regarding the benefits — and indeed, risks — of giving birth in water. Additionally, in an emergency, precious minutes may be wasted moving you out of the birthing pool or tub and to the hospital.

Other concerns regarding delivering in water include higher risk of infection for both mother and child, the newborn breathing in the bath water, or adverse impact on the baby’s body temperature. 

 

Forceps delivery 

A forceps delivery is a form of assisted vaginal delivery, where a pair of spoon-shaped devices is placed around the baby’s head to help facilitate birth [11].

Birthing forceps are designed to fit comfortably and securely on both sides of your child’s head. This allows the doctor to gently guide the baby’s head through the birth canal as the mother continues pushing. 

When necessary, forceps may also be used to help turn the baby in the right position to be born.

Despite the concerning mental images the previous sentences may have conjured, it must be stressed that forceps delivery does not involve pulling the baby out. Rather, think of it as providing some gentle assistance that helps the baby come faster. 

Pros of forceps delivery 

Using forceps to help the baby along can speed up the process, which is surely a godsend for mothers who have been in prolonged labour. 

The skilled and timely use of forceps can also prevent the need for an emergency C-section, which can be complex especially during later stages of labour (when the baby’s head is wedged in the birth canal) [12]. 

Cons of forceps delivery

Using forceps during delivery might create some bruising or small lacerations on your baby, especially if the birth was particularly difficult. There may also be marks left on the skin, and the baby’s head may also appear to be slightly misshapen. However, these are all temporary, and in the vast majority of cases, resolve or heal within a few days [11]. 

For the mother, forceps delivery may require an episiotomy, which would require stitching. There is also an increased risk of blood clots and incontinence [13].

  

Vacuum delivery

Another form of assisted childbirth, vacuum delivery involves the use of a vacuum extractor, or ventouse [13]. 

In this method, a small suction device is placed on the baby’s head, and a vacuum gently created. The device is then used to guide the baby’s head and help it to be pushed out of the birth canal. 

As with forceps delivery, vacuum delivery works in conjunction with the mother’s uterine contractions to achieve a quicker birth [12].

Pros and cons of vacuum delivery

This child birthing method is very similar to forceps delivery — the only difference is the type of device used. 

As such, vacuum delivery has similar pros and cons as forceps delivery.

 

And since we are on the topic of child birthing, mothers-to-be or those TTC should consider adding folic acid to their diet. Not only does it help decrease the chances of birth defects, women who supplement with folic acid were found to experience increased fertility rates [14].

Learn More About twoplus Folic Acid

Sources:
[1] UT Southwestern Medical Centre, 9 Myths About Epidurals - Debunked, https://utswmed.org/medblog/epidurals-myths/
[2] Mayo Clinic Health System, 5 FAQ About Laughing Gas For Pain Relief During Labor, Delivery, https://www.mayoclinichealthsystem.org/hometown-health/speaking-of-health/5-faq-about-laughing-gas-for-pain-relief
[3] Science Daily, Babies' Gut Bacteria Affected By Delivery Method, https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2019/09/190918131447.htm
[4] Healthline, Transient Tachypnea of the Newborn,  https://www.healthline.com/health/transient-tachypnea-newborn
[5] SMG Women’s Health, C-section Vs Natural Birth: What You Need To Know To Choose, https://smgwomenshealth.sg/news-articles/c-section-vs-natural-birth-what-you-need-to-know-to-choose/
[6] March of Dimes, Medical Reasons For A C-section, https://www.marchofdimes.org/pregnancy/c-section-medical-reasons.aspx
[7] Parkway East Hospital, What's Better? Natural Birth, Or A C-Section?, https://www.parkwayeast.com.sg/healthplus/article/natural-delivery-caesarean-delivery
[8] Mayo Clinic, C-section,  https://www.mayoclinic.org/tests-procedures/c-section/about/pac-20393655
[9] WebMD, The Basics Of Water Births, https://www.webmd.com/baby/water-birth
[10] American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, Immersion in Water During Labor and Delivery, https://www.acog.org/clinical/clinical-guidance/committee-opinion/articles/2016/11/immersion-in-water-during-labor-and-delivery
[11] WebMD, What Is A Forceps Birth?, https://www.webmd.com/parenting/what-is-a-forceps-birth
[12] UT Southwestern Medical Center, What Moms Should Know About Forceps And Vacuum Deliveries, https://utswmed.org/medblog/forceps-vacuum-delivery/
[13] NHS, Forceps Or Vacuum Delivery, https://www.nhs.uk/pregnancy/labour-and-birth/what-happens/forceps-or-vacuum-delivery/
[14] European Journal Of Clinical Nutrition, Folic Acid Supplementation And Fecundability: A Danish Prospective Cohort Study, https://www.nature.com/articles/ejcn201594