A C-section is a procedure to deliver a baby through a cut in your belly and uterus. The uterus (womb) is the muscular organ at the top of the vagina. Babies grow in the uterus, and menstrual blood comes from the uterus.
C-sections can save the lives of newborns and their mothers. They can help prevent problems that may happen if it takes too long for a baby to be born. Delivering the baby by C-section may be safer for both you and the baby.
Most women who go into labor have a normal vaginal delivery. However, you and your healthcare provider should discuss your options early in your pregnancy if there is a possibility that you will need a C-section. This will help you prepare for surgery if it is suddenly necessary.
This procedure is also called a cesarean section or cesarean delivery.
When is it used?
A C-section may be planned before you go into labor, or it may be done in an emergency. It may be done because of a health problem you have or a problem your baby has. Reasons for having a C-section include:
The size and shape of your vagina (birth canal) may cause the baby to get stuck during labor.
Your cervix (opening to your womb) may not open fully or you may not be able to push your baby far enough into the birth canal for a safe delivery.
Waiting to go into labor or having a vaginal delivery may be dangerous because your blood pressure is high. High blood pressure during pregnancy and delivery can lead to seizures, stroke, or dangerous bleeding.
The placenta (the organ attached to your womb that provides nutrition for your baby) is covering the opening of your cervix. This can cause severe bleeding during a vaginal delivery.
You previously had a C-section with a vertical cut (up and down) in your uterus, or other surgery on your uterus. The scar from your previous operation might open during labor, especially if the cut went through the inside lining of your uterus.
You have a tumor that is blocking the birth canal.
Your baby is too big for delivery through the birth canal.
Your baby is in a breech position when labor starts, which means that your baby’s bottom, knees, or feet will come out before the head.
Your baby is in distress. If your babyâ€™s heartbeat is too fast, too slow, or too irregular during labor it could mean that continuing labor might hurt the baby.
Your baby has a birth defect or a medical problem that would make a vaginal delivery unsafe.
How do I prepare for a C-section?
Make plans for your care and recovery after you have the procedure. Allow for time to rest and try to find other people to help with your day-to-day tasks and the care of your newborn baby for the first week or two after you come home from the hospital.
You may or may not need to take your regular medicines the day of the procedure. Some medicines (like aspirin) may increase your risk of bleeding during or after the procedure. Tell your healthcare provider about all medicines and supplements that you take. Ask your provider if you need to avoid taking any medicine or supplements before the procedure.
Tell your healthcare provider if you have any food or medicine allergies.
Follow any other instructions your healthcare provider gives you.
Ask any questions you have before the procedure. You should understand what your healthcare provider is going to do. You have the right to make decisions about your healthcare and to give permission for any tests or procedures.
If you smoked during your pregnancy, follow your provider’s instructions about not smoking before and after the procedure. Smokers may have more breathing problems during the procedure and heal more slowly. Itâ€™s best to quit 6 to 8 weeks before the procedure.
Your healthcare provider will tell you when to stop eating and drinking before the procedure. This helps to keep you from vomiting during the procedure.
If you are planning to have a C-section and you go into labor or have contractions or bleeding, call your healthcare provider right away.
What happens during the procedure?
The procedure will be done at the hospital.
You will be given medicine called anesthesia to keep you from feeling pain. Depending on the medicine, you may be awake or asleep during the procedure.
Your healthcare provider will make a cut below your belly button and into the lower part of your uterus to remove the baby. Your provider will remove the baby, placenta, and birth sac. Your provider will then close the cuts in your uterus and belly.
What happens after the procedure?
You may stay in the hospital 2 to 4 days after your baby is born.
Your belly will be sore. You may need help with positioning your baby comfortably for feeding. Walking and standing will be uncomfortable for the first few days.
You may have nausea, vomiting, or constipation after the procedure. Your healthcare provider may give you medicine or recommend other ways to treat these problems. Your provider may also give you an antibiotic to take after the surgery to help prevent an infection.
The cut made in the uterus to deliver the baby is usually horizontal (across the womb). This allows the muscles in the womb to safely stretch the next time you give birth. Many women who have had a C-section are able to deliver their next baby through the birth canal when the cut is horizontal.
Follow your healthcare provider’s instructions. Ask your provider:
How long it will take to recover
If there are activities you should avoid and when you can return to your normal activities
How to take care of yourself at home
What symptoms or problems you should watch for and what to do if you have them
Make sure you know when you should come back for a checkup. Keep all appointments for provider visits or tests.
What are the risks of this procedure?
There is risk with every treatment or procedure. Your healthcare provider will explain the procedure and any risks. Some possible risks include:
You may have problems with anesthesia.
You may have infection, bleeding, or blood clots.
Your uterus or other parts of your body may be injured during the surgery.
Any future children may need to be delivered by C-section.
The baby might be hurt during the surgery.
Ask your healthcare provider how these risks apply to you. Be sure to discuss any other questions or concerns that you may have.
Developed by RelayHealth.
Adult Advisor 2015.1 published by RelayHealth. Last modified: 2014-07-17 Last reviewed: 2014-07-17
This content is reviewed periodically and is subject to change as new health information becomes available. The information is intended to inform and educate and is not a replacement for medical evaluation, advice, diagnosis or treatment by a healthcare professional.
ACOG Practice Bulletin: Vaginal Birth After Previous Cesarean Section, No. 115, August 2010, Reaffirmed 2013.
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