If you’re pregnant, you can increase your chance of having a healthy baby and a normal delivery by getting enough sleep, eating right and keeping fit. But sometimes, no matter how healthy your lifestyle, birth may not always go as planned.
Roughly one-third of babies born in the U.S. are delivered by cesarean section, or C-section. For mother and baby, a C-section can be a life-saving procedure, but it does pose higher health risks than a vaginal birth.
There’s no way to predict who will need a C-section. Prolonged labor, fetal distress or complications during pregnancy are just a few reasons you might need one. Some C-sections are planned, but more often it’s unexpected. There are, however, things you can do to reduce your odds.
Lisa DeLong, a perinatal educator at Sharp Grossmont Hospital, offers these six tips for reducing your risk of a cesarean delivery.
- Keep track of your pregnancy weight gain.
Women who gain too much weight have a heightened risk of a C-section. While weight gain may lead to a larger baby, studies show increased weight gain alone — even with a baby of average size — may increase the chance of having a C-section. Talk to your provider about recommendations for weight gain, a healthy diet and the amount of exercise you need throughout pregnancy to stay healthy.
- Stay active.
Women who exercise regularly throughout their pregnancy lower the chance of C-section by up to 10 percent. This is likely because exercise can help reduce the incidence of excessive weight gain and diabetes, both of which are risk factors. Check in with your practitioner about the right amount of activity you should be getting during your pregnancy.
- Consider working with a doula.
Doulas provide emotional and physical support during a woman’s pregnancy, but are not medical professionals. Nonetheless, evidence suggests that one of the most effective tools for improving birth outcomes is the continuous presence of support, which a doula can offer. Labor support leads to both improved satisfaction for the laboring mom and a decreased risk of C-section. In a review of 22 studies, women who had continuous support during labor were more likely to have a vaginal birth and less likely to need pain medication, and tended to have shorter labor overall.
- Choose your hospital and provider wisely.
Know your hospital’s C-section rate in advance. Although a C-section may be unavoidable, there’s great variation in rates between providers, suggesting differences in practice. Ideally, you want a hospital and provider with a low C-section rate. There are quality organizations that are committed to making this data available to consumers to assist them in making informed choices.
- Take a childbirth class.
One of the best things you can do is learn about the birthing process. For many women, the thought of childbirth can be daunting. Education prepares you, demystifies birth and leads to greater confidence. Evidence suggests that just by attending childbirth education classes you may actually increase the chance of a vaginal birth — one study showed a 20 percent reduction in C-section rates for first-time, low-risk moms. Additionally, classes may decrease the incidence of requested C-sections by reducing anxiety and providing important knowledge about the risks.
- Try relaxation techniques.
Relaxation plays a critical role in a woman’s ability to cope during labor. Childbirth education classes are beneficial to help prepare for the challenges of labor, as well as provide opportunity to practice relaxation techniques such as breathing exercises and guided imagery. Many women also find massage, playing music and aromatherapy to aid in relaxation.
If you have any fears or concerns about childbirth, be sure to discuss them with your health care provider.
Learn more about childbirth preparation at an upcoming class at Sharp Grossmont Hospital or Sharp Mary Birch Hospital for Women & Newborns.
For the news media: To talk with Lisa DeLong about C-section rates and reducing your risk for an upcoming story, contact Erica Carlson, senior public relations specialist, at firstname.lastname@example.org.