Your pregnancy can go by in a flash, and once you’ve learned you’re expecting it can seem like no time at all before you’re putting together your birth plan. In the United States, vaginal delivery is the most common method of delivery, but Cesarean delivery — also known as a C-section — is close behind, accounting for about 30% of all babies born in the U.S. Many mothers-to-be might wonder why they would want or need a C-section, if this surgical procedure is the right choice for them, and what to expect if they have a C-section. There are no guarantees that your delivery will go exactly as you expected, but being well-informed on your options is the best way to stay prepared and make the decisions that are right for you. So, what do you need to know about the C-section?
- What is a C-section?
- How are C-sections performed?
- Why would you want or need a C-section?
- What is the aftercare following a C-section?
- Does having a C-section come with any risks?
- Should I ask for a C-section?
What is a C-section?
A C-section is a surgical procedure used to deliver a baby that involves making incisions in the mother’s abdomen and uterus. The procedure has been around for a while — with some records tracing the first C-section back to as early as the year 1500, but the more modern procedure dating back to around 1940 — and has been proven to be safe for both mothers and babies.
How are C-sections performed?
C-sections are usually performed under regional anesthesia, most often a spinal block or an epidural. Regional anesthesia only numbs the lower part of the body, meaning the patient stays awake during the entire process. You may have a catheter inserted to keep your bladder empty. In the operating room, a drape is placed between the patient and the doctor (to keep the area that is being operated on sterile, and also to prevent you from seeing the surgery happening). The surgery begins with the doctor making an incision below the belly button. The doctor will then make an incision into the wall of the uterus, and deliver the baby through this incision. Next, the baby’s umbilical cord is cut, the placenta is removed, and all incisions are closed up.
Why would you want or need a C-section?
You may choose to have a C-section for a variety of personal reasons, like wanting to avoid labor pain or worrying about pelvic floor trauma. A C-section that is planned by choice is also known as an elective C-section. Some C-sections, though, are performed out of medical necessity. There are several medical reasons why a doctor might plan a C-section for their patient or need to perform an emergency C-section during labor, like when a baby is breech (meaning its feet or buttocks are positioned to come out of the vagina first instead of the head), if labor is prolonged, if the baby appears to be in distress or if the mother is having multiples.
What is the aftercare following a C-section?
Immediately after a C-section, you will typically spend 2 to 4 days in the hospital. Once you’re back home, the most important recovery steps are rest and relaxation for as long as 8 weeks after you leave the hospital. With a new baby around, this means you should keep everything you need to care for the baby close by, and ask friends, family, or your partner for help getting things — including the baby! Among other steps for recovery, you shouldn’t lift anything heavier than the baby, should avoid stairs, and should stay away from strenuous exercise, although light walking after surgery is encouraged to help speed the healing process along, prevent blood clots, relieve gas, and encourage bowel movements. With your doctor’s permission, you may be allowed to take certain pain medications to relieve pain at the incision site, like ibuprofen or acetaminophen.
Does having a C-section come with any risks?
Like any surgery, there is a risk of having complications after having a C-section. Some possible risks include infection of the incision site, injury of your bladder or other organs during the procedure, or blood clots. There is also a risk your baby could develop transient tachypnea, a temporary breathing issue that can occur if your C-section is performed before your labor begins — the hormone changes of labor normally help clear your baby’s lungs of natural fluid, but without labor, the baby may have to reabsorb it after birth. Overall, doctors consider C-sections to be very safe for both mothers and babies.
Should I ask for a C-section?
Depending on what you want or need from your delivery, a C-section may or may not be for you. No matter what, it is always important to talk with your doctor about any decision you’re thinking of making. If you’re planning to have a big family, C-sections may not be the best choice, since you may not be able to have a vaginal delivery after having a C-section, and while it’s possible to have multiple C-sections, each repeated C-section comes with a greater risk of complications. But, no one rule applies to everyone. Every person and body is different, so having a trusted medical professional who you can talk through your options with should always be step number 1.
Check out Dr. Sima Baalbaki with UAB Health System answers common C-section questions here.