When I was pregnant with my first son I remember being in a prenatal yoga class where the teacher told us that around 30% of women have c-sections. She told us to look around at our classmates because chances were that at least a third of the class would end up with a cesarean. “There is no way that will be me” I thought. “I’m a Pilates instructor with strong core muscles and I have plans to do this all naturally, there is no way I will need a c-section.”
Fast forward a few months and a breech baby later and I ended up with a c-section.
So when I got pregnant with baby number two I really wanted to try for a VBAC (vaginal birth after cesarean). My reasoning was partly because of the health benefits of giving birth naturally (both for mom and baby). But some of my reasoning was also selfish: I wanted to have the experience of giving birth naturally, I wanted to prove my body was capable, and I wanted to avoid major abdominal surgery and the long recovery that accompanied it.
Going into the birth of my first son, I was somewhat naïve. I wasn’t really aware that different practitioners had different policies on pregnancy and birth and that some have higher cesarean rates than others. I also hadn’t done much to prepare myself for a natural birth, and I remember panicking in the last few weeks about how I was going to get the baby out.
This time around I wanted to make sure I was well prepared so I did a lot of work during my pregnancy to ensure a successful VBAC. And I was successful! I had baby Pierce on May 10, 2016. I wanted to share what I did in case it could help you or someone you know:
1. Education- I did a lot of reading this time around on how to have a successful VBAC. The two books I would recommend are Ina May Gaskin’s Guide to Childbirth and Natural Childbirth After Cesarean. Both books really opened my eyes to how the modern medical system tends to push unnecessary c-sections and how to set myself up for success in spite of that.
2. Hire a Doula- My doula, Michelle Cohen, was worth every penny I paid her and I am sure she was a huge factor in the success of my VBAC. Why? Michelle was not only a wealth of resources to help me prepare for the birth, but she was invaluable during the labor, using massage and other techniques to help ease the pain and always offering encouragement.
3. Exercise – I changed up my exercise plan since the first time I got pregnant. The first time around I did not modify and did not really listen to my body. I also overworked my abdominals, which I think may have been part of the reason my baby was breech. This time around I took the Fit For Birth pre/postnatal corrective exercise specialist course and learned how to safely work out during my pregnancy. I stopped working my rectus abdominis muscles (six pack), started focusing on my breathing, and listened to my body. I worked out hard when I felt good and took a break when I didn’t. I also avoided exercises done lying on my back because in addition to compressing a major blood vessel, it can encourage the heaviest part of the baby (the spine) to orient toward your back which can result in a harder labor.
4. Nutrition- Healthy eating has always been my thing, so I made sure that continued during pregnancy. While I didn’t count calories, I did try to fuel myself with minimally processed foods and to focus on getting an adequate amount of protein. While it may be tempting to let pregnancy become a long term binge, eating healthy helps prevent things like macrosomia, preeclampsia, and gestational diabetes, all of which put you at a higher risk for a c-section.
5. Fetal positioning- Since my first son was delivered by c-section due to being breech, getting the baby in the right position for labor was really important for me. A few things that I felt helped with this were seeing a chiropractor experienced in the Webster technique, focusing more on good posture, belly breathing, spending time on hands and knees via prenatal yoga and avoiding lying on my back for long periods of time (which as I mentioned, can encourage the baby to present posterior and result in a more painful labor.) You can also check out the spinning babies website for more tips.
6. Mental prep- One of the things I realized while preparing for labor is how much the mind affects the body. In Ina May Gaskin’s book, she talks about how a laboring woman’s cervix can literally start to close when she is scared or embarrassed. Because of this, I spent a lot of time “getting my head in the game.” I read or listened to positive birth stories or podcasts. I colored pages from this awesome birth affirmation coloring book, and I listened to relaxation and affirmation tracks from the hypnobirthing program.
7. Supportive care provider- This might be one of the biggest factors in having a successful VBAC. My original OB told me she would only let me go to 40 weeks and then I would be automatically scheduled for a c-section. If I had stayed with her I would have had a c-section because I ended up going past 41 weeks. Be ware of care providers who “act” supportive but use scare tactics or limit the amount of time you have to go into labor. A truly supportive care provider will make you aware of risks without scaring you, and will allow you time to go into labor naturally. Don’t be afraid to switch care providers either. I didn’t want to hurt my OB’s feelings so I waited a long time before switching, but the truth is switching providers was relatively painless and one of the best things I did! Even if you are late in your pregnancy it is possible to switch. I was in the beginning of my 3rd trimester when I made the move to Midwifery Care Associates, and they were wonderful.
While I totally support moms in however they choose to have their baby, having my successful VBAC was important to me and it was one of the best moments of my life. I can’t describe the sense of joy, relief and pride that I felt after delivering my baby naturally. The recovery was also a breeze compared to my recovery from my c-section. If you are considering having a VBAC, I hope you find these tips helpful!
If you are pregnant and looking for a trainer to help prepare you for natural child birth through nutrition and exercise, I’d love to work with you!