Elective Cesarean: Avoid Vaginal Birth Trauma, Incontinence and Prolapse

Andrew Siegel MD    8/28/2021

I am a urologist–not a gynecologist–and by no means an expert on pregnancy, labor, and delivery.  However, I am fellowship trained and board certified in female urology and provide care for women with bothersome pelvic issues resulting directly from birth trauma.  Although the process of vaginal childbirth will not inevitably change one’s vaginal and pelvic anatomy and function, it does so commonly enough. Undesirable consequences of obstetric “trauma” include urinary incontinence, pelvic organ prolapse, and vaginal laxity. Today’s entry discusses a means of avoiding obstetric trauma and its consequences and reviews the advantages and disadvantages of cesarean versus vaginal delivery. My intent is not to provide medical advice regarding C-section versus vaginal delivery, only to delineate the pros and cons of each.  As much as elective C-section spares one from birth trauma and adverse pelvic consequences, it is a much more involved procedure than vaginal delivery and many women have no ill consequences after vaginal delivery.

Cesarean Section (C-section) is a delivery via an incision in the mother’s lower abdomen. Cesarean delivery is often performed when vaginal delivery would possibly put the baby or mother at risk, although there are many other reasons for choosing this form of delivery. See illustration below.

Blausen.com staff (2014). “Medical gallery of Blausen Medical 2014“. WikiJournal of Medicine 1 (2). DOI:10.15347/wjm/2014.010ISSN 2002-4436.

“Labor” is called so for a genuine reason! The hours one spends pushing and straining are often unkind to pelvic anatomy and function. Vaginal delivery is the ultimate pelvic and vaginal traumatic event. The soft tissues of the pelvis get crushed in the “vise” between the baby’s bony skull and mother’s bony pelvis and are simply no match for the inflexibility of these bones. The vagina, pelvic floor muscles and connective tissues are frequently stretched, if not torn, from their attachments to the pubic bone and pelvic sidewalls, and the nerves to the pelvic floor are often affected as well.

An elective C-section avoids labor and vaginal delivery and affords protection from obstetric trauma. However, prolonged labor culminating in an emergency C-section is equally as potentially damaging to pelvic anatomy and function as is vaginal delivery.

The long-term consequences of vaginal delivery or emergency C-section include stress urinary incontinence (leakage with sneezing, coughing and exertion), pelvic organ prolapse (descent of one or more of the pelvic organs–bladder, uterus, rectum–into the vaginal cavity and sometimes projecting beyond the vaginal lips), and a loose and gaping vagina. Anatomical changes may adversely affect sexual activity, making sexual intercourse less satisfying for affected women and their partners. It may lead to difficulty achieving climax, difficulty retaining tampons, difficulty retaining the penis with vaginal intercourse, vaginal filling with water while bathing, and vaginal flatulence (passage of air).

All of the aforementioned potential consequences may be avoided with elective C-sections.  The World Health Organization considers the ideal C-section rate (to reduce infant and mortality rates) to be 10-15% of all births. In the USA, almost one-third of births are via C-section and in certain countries, the rate is substantially higher. Latin American and Caribbean regions have the highest C-section rates in the world.  In the Dominican Republic the rate is about 60% and in wealthy areas of Brazil the rate is near 90%. Elective C-sections are a status symbol among Brazil’s elite and affluent. Interestingly, many female physicians and other health care personnel choose elective C-section over vaginal delivery.

Vaginal Delivery: Advantages

  • “Natural” form of delivery
  • Intimate, unique and special experience shared between mother and child
  • Earlier contact of newborn with mother
  • No extra scarring, aside from possible episiotomy
  • Shorter hospital stay and recovery
  • Avoids risks of surgery
  • Vaginal pressure on the newborn’s chest squeezes fluid out of the baby’s lungs to help initiate breathing

Vaginal Delivery: Disadvantages

  • Long, physically demanding process
  • Labor is labor
  • Baby’s head often beaten up from delivery through birth canal
  • Possible injury to baby
  • Need for episiotomy
  • Stretching and tearing damage to vaginal and pelvic anatomy possibly resulting in incontinence, prolapse, altered sexual function

Elective C-section: Advantages

  • Avoids labor and unpredictability of natural childbirth
  • Conveniently pick date and time of delivery and have your own obstetrician take care of the delivery, not the doctor in the group who happens to be on call
  • Avoid vaginal and pelvic trauma, keeping anatomy and function intact
  • Can be lifesaving in event of maternal or fetal distress
  • Baby’s head less beaten up than with vaginal delivery

Elective C-section: Disadvantages

  • “Unnatural”
  • Surgical and anesthesia risks: blood loss, infection, bladder or bowel injury, etc.
  • Extra scar, prolonged recovery time, and longer hospital stay
  • Mother misses the birth experience (In the words of Leslie Jamison: the critique of the C-section is that it is “birth without labor, pain, or sacrifice, avoiding the heroic effort of pushing a baby through the birth canal.”)
  • Vaginal delivery in a subsequent pregnancy (VBAC– vaginal birth after C-section) is not always possible and a failed trial of labor after cesarean has more potential complications, including the rare incidence of rupture of the uterus
  • Risks of multiple C-sections include surgical adhesions, increased bleeding and placental issues including placenta accreta (placenta grows too deeply into uterine wall and following birth part or all remains intact causing serious bleeding), placenta previa (placenta lies low in uterus and covers the opening in the cervix) and placental abruption (separation of placental from uterine wall before birth)

Bottom Line:  When it comes to elective C-section versus vaginal delivery, there are pluses and minuses, advantages and disadvantages, and benefits and risks that need to be weighed carefully in order to arrive at an informed choice that should be a shared decision made after collaboration with your obstetrician.  As a urologist, I can state emphatically that it is extremely rare for women who have had elective C-sections to have the adverse pelvic consequences that are not uncommonly seen with women who have had multiple vaginal deliveries.

Wishing you the best of health,

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Dr. Andrew Siegel is a physician and urological surgeon who is board-certified in urology as well as in female pelvic medicine and reconstructive surgery.  He is an Assistant Clinical Professor of Surgery at the Rutgers-New Jersey Medical School and is a Castle Connolly Top Doctor New York Metro Area, Inside Jersey Top Doctor and Inside Jersey Top Doctor for Women’s Health. His mission is to “bridge the gap” between the public and the medical community. He is a urologist at New Jersey Urology, the largest urology practice in the United States.  He is the co-founder of PelvicRx and Private Gym.  His latest book is Prostate Cancer 20/20: A Practical Guide to Understanding Management Options for Patients and Their Families. 

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Video trailer for Prostate Cancer 20/20

Preview of Prostate Cancer 20/20

Andrew Siegel MD Amazon author page

PROSTATE CANCER 20/20 is now available at Audible, iTunes and Amazon as an audiobook read by the author (just over 6 hours). 

Dr. Siegel’s other books:

FINDING YOUR OWN FOUNTAIN OF YOUTH: The Essential Guide to Maximizing Health, Wellness, Fitness and Longevity

PROMISCUOUS EATING— Understanding and Ending Our Self-Destructive Relationship with Food

MALE PELVIC FITNESS: Optimizing Sexual and Urinary Health

THE KEGEL FIX: Recharging Female Pelvic, Sexual, and Urinary Health


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