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What’s the difference between a C-Section and a vaginal birth?

Doctor using Digital tablet with Pregnant woman

There are many different ways to give birth, and this choice is typically something you make on your own. Sometimes, one way of giving birth may be safer and healthier than others. That’s why you should work with your health care provider to decide what the best plan is for you and your baby.

You can choose your delivery from giving birth through vaginal births, cesarean (C-section) births, midwife births, doula births or water births. So, you may be wondering: What’s the difference between these? Two of the most common ways to give birth are vaginal births and a C-sections.

Having a vaginal birth

If you plan to have a vaginal birth, there are a variety of childbirth options available, so be sure to talk to your health care provider to decide what is right for you. Vaginal childbirth begins with labor to coax the baby through the birth canal. There are three stages of labor for a vaginal birth:

First stage of labor

The first stage of labor is when the cervix dilates (opens) to 10 centimeters and is divided into three phases: early, active and transition. Early labor is characterized by contractions shortening or thinning the cervix. During active labor, contractions are more regular and intense, which may require more coping techniques and pain management. Finally, the last two centimeters of dilation are called transition because it is the transition between the first and second stage of labor.

Second stage of labor

Second stage is the work of pushing your baby through your vagina (birth canal). It is more difficult than the distance suggests because your baby must turn to fit through your pelvis. The cervix thins and dilates during labor.

Third stage of labor

The third stage is the shortest and easiest. It is the birth of the placenta. During this stage, the placenta separates from the uterine wall and is expelled. This typically lasts 3 to 30 minutes after your baby’s birth. Contractions are less intense during this stage.

Having a C-Section birth

C-Sections may be planned in advance or recommended as an emergency procedure if your health care provider determines that the health of you or your baby is at risk.

What to expect

In a Cesarean birth, your baby is born through an incision (surgical cut) in your abdomen. The surgery typically takes about 30 to 40 minutes, and your baby is born 5 to 10 minutes after the surgery begins. The rest of the time is needed to remove the placenta and repair the incision.

Planned Cesarean birth

You may have a planned Cesarean birth. This means that you and your health care provider know before your labor begins that this is the way your baby will be born.

Unplanned Cesarean birth

You may have an unplanned, emergency Cesarean. This might happen because of your baby’s position, size or health, or because of your own health. A decision for an unplanned Cesarean birth can occur over several hours or happen quickly.


No matter what your birth plan is, it’s important to talk to your health care provider to decide what is right for you. If your plan needs to be changed, The Mother Baby Center is here to help you adjust your plan to make sure the delivery is as safe as possible for both you and your baby.