There are many options for childbirth you may discuss with your pregnancy care provider. Vaginal delivery, C-section, VBAC and assisted vaginal delivery are examples of types of delivery.
It’s hard to know exactly what will happen when you give birth. Most people have a plan in mind for how they hope their labor and delivery goes. When it comes to delivering your baby, it’s good to know there are many methods pregnancy care providers use. Types of delivery include:
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A vaginal delivery is the safest and most common type of childbirth. Vaginal deliveries account for about 68% of all births in the United States. Most medical organizations and obstetricians recommend a vaginal delivery unless there is a medical reason for a C-section.
In a vaginal birth, your baby is born through your vagina or birth canal. It’s the most preferred and most common way to deliver a baby because it carries the lowest risk (in most cases). A vaginal delivery occurs most often between weeks 37 and 42 of pregnancy. A vaginal delivery has three stages: labor, birth and delivering the placenta.
Some benefits of a vaginal delivery include:
A vaginal delivery can be spontaneous or induced:
In most cases, once your cervix is fully dilated and your healthcare team is in place, your provider will ask you to push during a contraction. Pregnancy care providers have differing opinions on when to push, how long to push, delayed pushing or waiting until you feel the urge to push.
It’s hard to say what will happen if you don’t or can’t push during a vaginal delivery, because your birthing experience is so unique. However, studies show that resisting the urge to push or delaying pushing (laboring down) can cause complications like infection, bleeding or damage to your pelvis.
It’s best to discuss pushing with your pregnancy care provider ahead of time so you know what to expect during labor.
An assisted vaginal delivery is when your obstetrician uses forceps or a vacuum device to get your baby out of your vagina. Assisted deliveries often happen when:
Assisted deliveries only occur when certain conditions are met.
The procedure your obstetrician recommends will depend on the conditions that arise while you’re in labor. Assisted delivery procedures can include the following:
Vacuum extraction and forceps delivery are similar in their advantages and disadvantages, and often the choice between them comes down to the experience of your obstetrician.
During a C-section birth, your obstetrician delivers your baby through surgical incisions made in your abdomen and uterus. A C-section delivery might be planned in advance if a medical reason calls for it, or it might be unplanned and take place during your labor if certain problems arise. There are about 1.2 million C-section deliveries in the United States each year.
Your provider may recommend a planned cesarean delivery if you:
Sometimes, your labor and delivery changes, and a cesarean birth becomes necessary for the health and safety of you or your baby. An unplanned C-section might be needed if any of the following conditions arise during your labor:
Like any surgery, a cesarean birth involves some risks. In general, there is more risk associated with a C-section than with a vaginal delivery.
These might include:
Some people prefer a C-section birth because it gives them more control on choosing a due date. This is called an elective C-section. Some providers may allow elective C-sections for nonmedical reasons, however, this is usually discouraged. In most cases, a C-section birth occurs because it’s medically necessary. The American Congress of Obstetrics and Gynecologists (ACOG) recommends that scheduled cesareans not be performed before 39 weeks gestation, unless medically indicated.
Some benefits of a C-section as compared to a vaginal delivery are:
If you’ve already had a cesarean birth, you may be able to have your next baby vaginally. This is a VBAC, or vaginal birth after cesarean. Because a surgical cut results in a scar on your uterus, the concern is that the pressure of labor in a vaginal delivery could cause your uterus to open (rupture) along the previous C-section scar. For this reason, certain criteria must be met in order for your obstetrician to attempt a vaginal birth after C-section.
People who have had a cesarean delivery might be able to deliver vaginally in a future pregnancy. If you meet the following criteria, your chances of a successful vaginal birth after cesarean (VBAC) are high:
There are several other terms you should be familiar with in case your pregnancy care provider discusses them during labor and delivery.
An episiotomy is a surgical incision that widens the opening of your vagina. This allows your baby’s head to pass through more easily. Most people will not need an episiotomy.
There are two types of episiotomy incisions: the midline, made directly back toward your anus, and the mediolateral, which slants away from your anus.
An amniotomy is the artificial rupture of the amniotic membranes, or sac, which contains the fluid surrounding your baby. Your pregnancy care provider may artificially rupture your membranes (AROM) to:
Your provider will use an amniohook, which looks like a crochet hook, to rupture the sac. Once the procedure is complete, delivery should take place within 24 hours to prevent infection.
Fetal monitoring is the process of watching your baby’s heart rate during labor. This can be external or internal. Knowing how your baby is handling labor helps your pregnancy care provider decide if labor can continue or if delivery is necessary.
This may come down to personal opinion. There are many factors involved — for example, using pain medication, the type of pain medication or your pain tolerance. You should discuss pain relief with your pregnancy care provider before labor so you know the risks and benefits of each type.
There are two general options: no medication (drug-free or natural delivery) or using pain medications.
A drug-free delivery means you intend to give birth vaginally without any pain medication. You can’t have a C-section without medication.
Your options for pain relief during childbirth could consist of:
Another factor in deciding what type of delivery is most painful is the recovery. Generally, a vaginal delivery is easier to recover from than a C-section delivery.
A note from Cleveland Clinic
Your labor and delivery experience will be unique to you. During pregnancy, it’s a good idea to familiarize yourself with the different types of delivery and other terms associated with childbirth. Your pregnancy care provider will recommend the safest delivery method based on your medical history and pregnancy.
Last reviewed by a Cleveland Clinic medical professional on 10/07/2022.
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