A cesarean section was once a relatively rare way to deliver a baby. But today, almost 1 in 3 pregnant women give birth in an operating room. While a C-section may be the safest way to deliver under high-risk circumstances, research indicates that this major surgical procedure is actually more risky to the health of many mothers and babies. What’s more, once a woman has had a C-section, she will most likely need to deliver that way in the future, and her risks increase with every additional C-section.

If you’re pregnant for the first time, here are 10 things you can do to try to prevent a C-section. There are 5 that can help during pregnancy and 5 that’ll come in handy during the final stretch.

During your pregnancy

Don’t go hungry, but try not to overdo it.

Many women gain more weight during pregnancy than is recommended. Studies show that gaining too much weight can increase your risk of C-section. Ask your provider what your weight gain goal should be, and do your best to eat a moderate, nutritious diet throughout your pregnancy.

Get plenty of exercise.

You can safely engage in regular, moderate-intensity physical activity during pregnancy, although you should always consult with your provider before starting a new exercise program. 

Take childbirth classes.

You wouldn't run a marathon without training for it...so why head into childbirth without adequate preparation? Most facilities offer a wide variety of classes, and you should aim to enroll in them. Also, ask your provider about the books and websites they recommend most.

If the baby is breech, take him or her for a spin.

If your baby is breech (feet first) and you’re at least 36 weeks pregnant, you may be a candidate for a procedure called an external cephalic version (ECV). ECV involves applying pressure to the mother's abdomen to turn the baby to a head down presentation. A helpful website, Spinning Babies, also demonstrates various positions to try at home.


Minimize stress with yoga and meditation. Try to avoid the negative “war stories” told by friends and family about their labors. Discuss your fears and concerns with your provider, and remember that you were born to give birth. Trust in what your body can do.

When you’re near the end of pregnancy

Avoid labor induction.

Women who undergo labor induction have higher C-section rates than those who wait for it to begin spontaneously. If you are less than 41 weeks of pregnancy, avoid the temptation to have your labor induced unless your provider has identified a medical reason for it.

Consider a doula or childbirth coach.

A doula (a Greek word that means "a woman who serves") is trained to provide non-medical labor support. Studies show that using a doula can decrease your risk of C-sections. In fact, the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists and the Society for Maternal-Fetal Medicine issued a consensus statement last year that "one of the most effective tools to improve labor and delivery outcomes is continuous labor support from a doula." If you can’t afford to pay a doula, there are some who volunteer this service. Otherwise, a been-there-done-that, supportive friend can make a wonderful labor coach.

Consider waiting on that epidural.

Epidural anesthesia is the most popular method of pain relief during labor. Once an epidural is given, continuous fetal monitoring and IV fluids are required. Although one recent study failed to find a difference in the C-section rates of mothers who have their epidural in early vs. active labor, most providers prefer that you are truly in active labor before receiving one.

Be prepared for the possibility of a long labor, and hang in there.

For most first-time mothers, it takes hours to deliver a baby. It’s natural to become impatient as you anticipate the opportunity to hold your baby. However, your doctor or nurse midwife will do all in their power to make your labor experience a happy and comfortable one. Keep in mind that early labor (when your cervix is less than 6 cm dilated) can sometimes last for more than 20 hours, and it’s normal for some women to push for up to 3 hours. A C-section is never appropriate just because the early stages of labor take a long time. And when intervention is needed during the pushing phase, vacuum extraction and/or forceps used by a skilled and experienced provider can offer a safer alternative to a cesarean section.

Once again...relax.

Remember that it’s best to stay pregnant for at least 39-40 completed weeks. By relaxing and waiting to give birth spontaneously, and then taking your time during what may be a long labor, you give your baby the time he or she needs to get fully ready for life outside the womb. Think positively, remind yourself that you’re in safe, experienced hands, and stay focused and strong. The light at the end of this tunnel is the brightest you’ll ever see.

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