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If you're pregnant or planning to have a baby soon, you may have heard about the possibility of needing a C-section. While vaginal birth is the most common way to deliver a baby, sometimes a C-section is necessary for the health and safety of both parent and baby.
Let's discover everything you need to know about the C-section procedure, from why it's done to what to expect during and after the surgery. Whether you're scheduled for a C-section or just curious about the process, keep reading to learn more.
A C-section, also known as a cesarean section, is a major operation during which a surgical incision is made across your tummy, just below your bikini line. This incision cuts through your abdominal wall and uterus to deliver your baby.
According to the CDC, 32.1% of all deliveries in the USA were by cesarean.
There are certain situations where a C-section is the safest option for either you or your baby.
You may need a cesarean section instead of having a vaginal birth if:
Some people elect to have a C-section for reasons other than those listed above, including anxiety about giving birth or past complications during birth.
And other people choose to have a planned cesarean for non-medical reasons.
If you're unsure about how you'd like your baby to be delivered, it's important to speak to your midwife or obstetrician about the benefits and risks of a cesarean compared with a vaginal birth so that you can make an informed decision.
Although it sounds dramatic, an emergency C-section often isn't as last-minute as the name suggests.
The term emergency C-section is used to describe when a person goes into labor or is close to their due date and expects to give birth vaginally, then finds out they need a cesarean section.
Reasons someone may need an emergency C-section include if:
The best way to recover quickly after a C-section is by preparing beforehand. Let's run through some of the things you can do before your baby arrives to get ready for your C-section.
If you're having a planned C-section, you should include as much information about this as possible in your birth plan. It's a good idea to think about:
Alongside the usual essential items you should pack in your hospital bag, there are some recommended bits and bobs that people who're giving birth by C-section should pack.
After your C-section, you'll need to rest up for a while to give your body time to recover. The following tips can help you prepare your home for when you return from the hospital with your newborn.
C-sections are carried out in a hospital, and if yours is planned ahead of time, you'll be asked to attend a preoperative appointment around a week before the procedure to due to take place. This appointment is your chance to ask any questions you have and also gives your healthcare provider a chance to run some preoperative tests.
On the day of your procedure, you'll be asked to change into a hospital gown, and you'll have a catheter fitted, this will stay in until at least 12 hours after the procedure when you should be able to walk around.
Your obstetrician or midwife will also let you know when you need to stop eating and drinking before your operation – usually a few hours.
When you get to the operating room you'll be given an anesthetic – either spinal or epidural – and this will numb the lower part of your body, but you'll still be awake.
Sometimes a general anesthetic is needed, and this means you won't be awake during the procedure.
Now that we've covered what happens before the operation, let's run through a step-by-step breakdown of the cesarean section procedure – starting with entering the operating theatre and ending with leaving.
The entire process typically takes between 40 to 50 minutes.
Once the C-section is complete, you'll be moved into a recovery room where your medical team will keep an eye on you to make sure you're well as the anesthetic wears off. They will also offer you pain relief, something to eat and drink once you feel ready, and support with breastfeeding if you'd like to breastfeed your baby.
If there are no complications, delivering a baby by C-section takes between 40 and 50 minutes.
Yes, in most cases you will be able to have your birthing partner with you in the room during the procedure. However, some emergency caesareans might mean a partner can't be present, and if you're given a general anesthetic, you won't be able to have your partner present.
Yes, if there are no complications you and your partner will be able to hold your baby as soon as they have been delivered. However, if there are complications, they may need to be treated by a pediatrician before you can have your first cuddle.
By the time you get home, you should be able to hold and carry your baby.
Yes, breastfeeding after a C-section is beneficial for both parent and baby, and you'll be offered support with breastfeeding after the procedure if you want it. While you're recovering in the hospital you'll be able to have regular close contact with your baby so that you can start breastfeeding.
While C-sections are generally very safe, there are some risks, as there are with any major operation.
Some possible risks of having a cesarean are:
The possible risks to the baby during a C-section include:
Some vaginal bleeding following a C-section is normal and you should use sanitary pads rather than tampons to reduce the risk of infection. Don’t hesitate to seek medical support if you're experiencing heavy bleeding.
Over time, your incision will turn into a scar which should fade over time, and it's completely normal to have a C-section scar after the wound has healed. C-section scars are usually around 10-20cm long and sit just below your bikini line.
You should get in touch with your doctor if your wound gets more red, painful, or swollen.
People who have a C-section usually have no problems with future pregnancies and can safely have a vaginal delivery if they wish. This is often called a Vaginal Birth After Cesarean Section or VBAC.
However, some people are advised to have another cesarean if there's a chance that their scar could open, or their placenta could become abnormally attached to their womb wall which can make delivery difficult.
It’s best to speak to your healthcare team if you have any concerns about becoming pregnant and giving birth again after a C-section.
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