A Cesarean section, or C-section, is a method of delivering a baby through a surgical incision in the mother’s abdomen. A doctor may determine that a C-section is medically necessary if certain conditions make a natural vaginal birth risky for the mother or baby.
When is a C-Section Necessary?
A C-section is performed to minimize risk to the mother and child during birth. Some conditions increase the risk of harm during vaginal birth. These risky conditions include:
A multiple birth, such as twins or triplets. If the mother is coming into pre-term labor with a multiple pregnancy, or if the positioning of the fetuses is not ideal, the doctor may recommend delivery via C-section. The greater the number of fetuses, the greater likelihood of a C-section delivery.
Size of the baby
An especially large baby compared to the size of the mother.
Breech presentation in the uterus
In breech presentation, the baby is positioned to exit the vaginal canal feet- or buttocks-first. Vaginal birth of a breech baby may force the umbilical cord into an unnatural position, blocking the flow of oxygen to the baby during delivery.
The placenta covering the birth canal or detaching from the uterine wall
Failure to dilate
Failure of the cervix to dilate completely.
Other medical conditions
Medical conditions that may be transferred to the baby during vaginal delivery, such as HIV or genital herpes or conditions that compromise the safety of the mother during vaginal delivery, such as infection heart disease, diabetes, pre-eclampsia or eclampsia.
If you’ve had a C-section in the past, it may be necessary to deliver your next baby via C-section. However, you may be able to deliver vaginally if your doctor determines it is safe.
What Should I Expect in a Cesarean Birth?
A nurse will help you prepare for a C-section by giving you an intravenous line to deliver fluids and medication into your body during the operation. The nurse will wash your abdomen and trim or shave your pubic hair. During abdominal surgery, it’s important to keep the bladder empty. The best way to do this is to insert a catheter into your urethra –a thin tube for draining urine from the bladder.
Cesarean deliveries can be performed under two types of anesthesia:
This is a heavy anesthetic that numbs your entire body and puts you to sleep during the operation.
This is an anesthetic that keeps you awake while numbing you from the waist-down. The medication is delivered directly through your spinal fluid, through a small tube placed in your lower back.
Once you are either asleep or completely numb, the surgeon will make either a horizontal or vertical incision in your abdomen. Your abdominal muscles may or may not need to be cut to get to the uterus. The uterine wall will then be cut and your baby will be lifted out through the incisions. The surgeon will cut the umbilical cord and clear out the placenta, then close the incisions with biodegradable stitches.
All surgeries carry inherent risks of complication. Your surgical staff is highly trained to deal effectively with any complications in order to keep you and your baby safe. Some complications associated with C-section birth include:
- Blood clotting, especially in the pelvis, legs, and lungs
- Adverse reaction to medication
- Injury to abdominal tissue, such as bladder or bowels
What to Expect After a Cesarean Section
The surgeon will clear your baby’s airways, tie the umbilical cord, and check to ensure the baby is healthy. Once you are awake, or if you are already awake, you can typically hold and breastfeed your baby right away.
You’ll be taken to a recovery room and monitored by nursing staff. As with any surgery, you may need to stay in bed and have someone help you get out of bed for the first day or two. You should expect some soreness or cramping, which your doctor can prescribe medication to help manage the pain. A heating pad may also relieve pain.
You may need to stay in the hospital for 2-4 days following a Cesarean section. Avoid putting any objects into your vagina, and refrain from sex or strenuous exercise for 4-6 weeks. During your recovery, you may experience:
- Vaginal discharge, bleeding or clotting for up to 6 weeks
- Pain and soreness at the site of the incision
These symptoms are completely normal. However, if the bleeding is heavy, you have a fever, or if the pain worsens, please call your doctor as these may indicate a serious complication or infection.