Almost 1 in 3 women who give birth in the US have a C-section. While some women know ahead of time they'll have a C-section, many won't know until they're in labor. The most common reason for having a C-section is stalled labor.
Some C-sections are medically necessary and can't be avoided. However, there are some steps you can take to increase your chances of being able to have a vaginal birth.
Reducing your chances of having a C-section in your first pregnancy
If you have a C-section in your first pregnancy, you have about an 87% chance of having one in subsequent pregnancies. Here are some things you can do to reduce your chances of needing a C-section if this is your first pregnancy:
Be careful with weight gain
Gaining more than the recommended amount of weight during pregnancy increases your odds of having a C-section. You should ask your doctor about your specific situation, but general guidelines for weight gain during pregnancy include:
- Women who were underweight before pregnancy should gain 28 to 40 pounds.
- Women who were a normal weight before pregnancy should gain 25 to 35 pounds.
- Women who were overweight before pregnancy should gain 15 to 25 pounds.
- Women who were obese before pregnancy should gain 11 to 20 pounds.
Hire a doula
A doula is someone trained to give you nonmedical support during your labor and delivery. Doulas provide emotional support as well as information about your labor progress. Even if you have a supportive partner or family, you are less likely to have a C-section if you have a doula at your side.
Expect to have a long labor
Stalled labor is the most common reason for C-sections. The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) does not recommend C-sections for prolonged early stage labor. Early stage labor is labor that occurs before you're 6 centimeters dilated. This stage of labor can last over 20 hours, so be prepared for a wait. Expect the pushing stage of labor to last up to 3 hours with your first baby.
Take a childbirth class
Women who take a childbirth class are less likely to have a C-section. Childbirth classes offer other benefits as well. Taking a childbirth class can help you prepare for birth and know what to expect before labor starts. You are more likely to feel empowered and actively participate in your labor process. Childbirth classes can also increase your odds of successfully breastfeeding.
Having a vaginal birth after cesarean (VBAC)
Although your chances of having a repeat C-section are very high, you may be able to have a VBAC if your first delivery was a C-section. If you're a good candidate for VBAC, you have a 60% to 80% chance of having a successful VBAC.
- You have a better chance of having a successful VBAC if:
- You had a low transverse (horizontal) incision with your C-section.
- You've had a previous vaginal delivery, including a successful VBAC.
- You're younger than 35.
- The reason for your C-section wasn't related to your labor process.
You should discuss it with your doctor, but you may not be eligible for a VBAC if:
- You had a classical (vertical or T-shaped) incision with your C-section.
- You've had multiple C-sections.
- Your C-section was because of an abnormally slow or difficult labor.
- You are having a baby who may weigh over 10 pounds.
- You are past your due date.
- You have health problems such as lung disease or a heart defect.
- What Is Avascular Necrosis and How Does It Affect Bones?
- The Arch of the Human Foot Was Key to Upright Walking, Scientists Say
- Worried About Cataracts? Here's What You Need to Know
- FDA Issues Warning About Compounded Versions of Wegovy, Ozempic
- Sick Restaurant Workers Fuel Many Foodborne Illness Outbreaks
- More Health News »
Reasons you may need a C-section
Although C-sections are riskier than vaginal deliveries, they are life-saving in emergencies. They can also help you avoid dangerous complications if your delivery is high-risk. Some reasons you may need a C-section include:
- Your baby is breech (in a feet-first or bottom-first position) and can't be turned.
- Your placenta is too low and is covering your cervix.
- Your baby has a birth defect that makes vaginal delivery dangerous.
- You have a medical condition that could cause vaginal delivery to be dangerous for you or your baby, such as HIV.
- Your labor isn't progressing the way it should.
- Your placenta separates from the wall of your uterus too early.
- The umbilical cord is pinched or enters the birth canal before your baby.
- Your baby is not getting enough oxygen or is otherwise in distress.
- Your baby's head or body is too big to fit through the birth canal.
Health Solutions From Our Sponsors
American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists: "Safe Prevention of the Primary Cesarean Delivery."
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: "Recent Trends in Vaginal Birth After Cesarean Delivery: United States, 2016–2018," "Weight Gain During Pregnancy."
The Cochrane Collaboration: "Continuous support for women during childbirth."
KidsHealth: "Cesarean Sections (C-Sections)."
NJ PRAMS: "The Effect of Childbirth Classes on Nulliparous, Term, Singleton, Vertex (NTSV) Deliveries and Breastfeeding Among New Jersey Mothers (April 2019)."
UT Southwestern Medical Center: "Who is a good candidate for VBAC?"
Top How Do I Know If I Can Have a Vaginal Birth Related Articles
What Are the Advantages and Disadvantages of a Hospital Birth?Many women give birth in a hospital, birthing center, or at home. The advantages of a hospital birth include pain control, access to a NICU, staff support, and availability of interventions. Disadvantages include stress, fewer birthing positions, fewer support people, and you may not be able to choose your delivery doctor.
Pregnancy Discomforts: Common CausesDuring pregnancy, most women will experience discomforts during the 1st, 2nd, and 3rd trimesters. Common causes of discomforts during pregnancy include nausea and vomiting (morning sickness), fatigue, breast swelling and pain, hemorrhoids, stretch marks, mood swings, dizziness, migraines, tooth pain and bleeding gums, and pica. Common causes of pregnancy discomforts include constipation, heartburn, indigestion, reflux, varicose veins, abdominal pain, problems sleeping, congested or bloody nose, and flu like body aches.
Labor Symptoms (Early Signs)Every woman's experience with labor and delivery is unique for each woman, and thus "Normal" labor varies from woman to woman. Some of the common signs and symptoms of normal labor include the "baby dropping," increase urination, back pain, contractions, and diarrhea.
How Long Does Labor Last for First-Time Moms?Labor is the process by which a baby is born. Labor for a first-time moms typically lasts for 12 to 18 hours.
How Long Does it Take for a Vaginal Suppository to Absorb?Vaginal suppositories take between 15 and 30 minutes to dissolve and get absorbed into the body. The absorption of a vaginal suppository depends on several factors, including the type of suppository, active ingredient, pH and moisture level of the vaginal environment, and the size and shape of the suppository. The time for the absorption process of a vaginal suppository to complete can vary widely and is difficult to determine.
Labor and DeliveryEarly and later symptoms and signs of labor and delivery are unique to each woman. Early signs of labor are "lightning" and passing the mucus plug. Later symptoms and signs that labor that labor is are the woman's water breaking, and when contractions begin. There are three stages of labor, stage 1 is the longest and occurs when the cervix begins to thin and dilate. During stage 2 of labor the baby passes through the birth canal and remains there until delivery, and stage 3, is when the baby is delivered.
Ovulation & FertilityBoost fertility and increase your chances to conceive. Learn about ovulation calendars, diet, aging and other factors that can affect pregnancy.
Pregnancy: Multiple Births, Twins, Triplets, and MoreMultiple births occur when a woman bears twins, triplets, or even more babies during pregnancy. More multiples are born today thanks to assisted reproductive technology (ART), including in vitro fertilization using fertility drugs. Women carrying multiples often give birth via C-section.
Pregnancy Myths and Facts QuizBeing pregnant is a delicate time for both mother and baby. Take this pregnancy myths and facts quiz to separate the myths and facts about being pregnant, and learn the truth behind healthy pregnancies!
Pregnancy Diet (Menu Plans)When a woman is pregnant, she needs more vitamins, minerals, and other foods in her diet to stay healthy and deliver a healthy baby. A healthy pregnancy diet menu plan should consist of lots of fruits, vegetables, lean meats (unless you are vegan or vegetarian), and dairy. Examples of healthy pregnancy diet meal plans include holistic pregnancy diet, vegan or vegetarian diet, and low-carb diets. Begin your healthy eating plan around three months before you begin trying to conceive, and follow the same eating plan until after you have stopped breastfeeding. If you are overweight or obese, being pregnant is not the right time to try to lose weight. Discuss your options with your health care professional.
What Foods Should I Eat During My First Trimester of Pregnancy?What to know about diet during the first trimester. Learn more about how to protect and fuel your body and baby during this exciting time.
Stages of Pregnancy: Week by WeekSee pictures on the various stages of pregnancy. See and learn what changes a woman's body goes through and view fetal images of how her baby grows during the 1st, 2nd and 3rd trimesters.
What Are the 4 Stages of Labor?The 4 stages of labor are: dilation of the cervix, delivery of the baby, afterbirth, and recovery. Learn more about what to expect during each stage.
What Are the Warning Signs of Premature Labor?Labor that starts before 37 weeks of pregnancy could put your premature baby at risk. Know the signs of preterm labor and what to do if you notice them.
Why Do Doctors Tell You Not to Push During Labor?Labor is the process that prepares a woman to deliver her baby into the world. Doctors tell a woman not to push during labor because she is not ready, there may be a problem with the baby or she may have had an epidural.