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Cesarean delivery (C-section) is a surgical procedure used to deliver a baby through incisions in the abdomen and uterus.
A C-section might be planned ahead of time if you develop pregnancy complications or you've had a previous C-section and aren't considering a vaginal birth after cesarean (VBAC). Often, however, the need for a first-time C-section doesn't become obvious until labor is underway.
If you're pregnant, knowing what to expect during a C-section — both during the procedure and afterward — can help you prepare.
Sometimes a C-section is safer for you or your baby than is a vaginal delivery. Your health care provider might recommend a C-section if:
Some women request C-sections with their first babies — to avoid labor or the possible complications of vaginal birth or to take advantage of the convenience of a planned delivery. However, this is discouraged if you plan on having several children. Women who have multiple C-sections are at increased risk of placental problems as well as heavy bleeding, which might require surgical removal of the uterus (hysterectomy). If you're considering a planned C-section for your first delivery, work with your health care provider to make the best decision for you and your baby.
Like other types of major surgery, C-sections also carry risks.
Risks to your baby include:
Risks to you include:
If your C-section is scheduled in advance, your health care provider might suggest talking with an anesthesiologist about any possible medical conditions that would increase your risk of anesthesia complications.
Your health care provider might also recommend certain blood tests before your C-section. These tests will provide information about your blood type and your level of hemoglobin, the main component of red blood cells. These details will be helpful to your health care team in the unlikely event that you need a blood transfusion during the C-section.
Even if you're planning a vaginal birth, it's important to prepare for the unexpected. Discuss the possibility of a C-section with your health care provider well before your due date. Ask questions, share your concerns and review the circumstances that might make a C-section the best option. In an emergency, your health care provider might not have time to explain the procedure or answer your questions in detail.
After a C-section, you'll need time to rest and recover. Consider recruiting help ahead of time for the weeks after the birth of your baby.
If you don't plan to deliver any more children, you might talk to your health care provider about long-acting reversible birth control or permanent birth control.
While the process can vary, depending on why the procedure is being done, most C-sections involve these steps:
Your doctor will use an abdominal incision and a uterine incision to delivery your baby.
If you have regional anesthesia, you'll be able to hear and see the baby right after delivery.
After a C-section, you'll probably stay in the hospital for a few days. Your health care provider will discuss pain relief options with you.
Once the effects of your anesthesia begin to fade, you'll be encouraged to drink plenty of fluids and walk. This helps prevent constipation and deep vein thrombosis. Your health care team will monitor your incision for signs of infection. If you had a bladder catheter, it will likely be removed as soon as possible.
You will be able to start breast-feeding as soon as you feel up to it. Ask your nurse or a lactation consultant to teach you how to position yourself and support your baby so that you're comfortable. Your health care team will select medications for your post-surgical pain with breast-feeding in mind.
Before you leave the hospital, talk with your health care provider about any preventive care you might need. Making sure your vaccinations are current can help protect your health and your baby's health.
During the C-section recovery process, discomfort and fatigue are common. To promote healing:
You might also consider not driving until you are able to comfortably apply brakes and twist to check blind spots without the help of pain medication. This might take one to two weeks.
Check your C-section incision for signs of infection. Pay attention to any signs or symptoms you experience. Contact your health care provider if:
If you experience severe mood swings, loss of appetite, overwhelming fatigue and lack of joy in life shortly after childbirth, you might have postpartum depression. Contact your health care provider if you think you might be depressed, especially if your signs and symptoms don't fade on their own, you have trouble caring for your baby or completing daily tasks, or you have thoughts of harming yourself or your baby.
The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists recommends that postpartum care be an ongoing process rather than just a single visit after your delivery. Have contact with your health care provider within the first three weeks after delivery. Within 12 weeks after delivery, see your health care provider for a comprehensive postpartum evaluation. During this appointment your health care provider will check your mood and emotional well-being, discuss contraception and birth spacing, review information about infant care and feeding, talk about your sleep habits and issues related to fatigue and do a physical exam. This might include a check of your abdomen, vagina, cervix and uterus to make sure you're healing well. In some cases, you might have the checkup earlier so that your health care provider can examine your C-section incision. Use this visit to ask questions about your recovery and caring for your baby.
Last Updated Jun 9, 2018