There are several reasons why a C-section — an increasingly common procedure — may be performed.
Also known as a cesarean section, a C-section usually occurs when a baby can't be delivered vaginally and must be surgically removed from the mother's uterus.
Nearly one in three babies is delivered each year via C-section in the United States.
Who Needs a C-Section?
Some C-sections are planned, while others are emergency C-sections.
The most common reasons for a C-section are:
- You are giving birth to multiples
- You have high blood pressure
- Placenta or umbilical cord problems
- Failure of labor to progress
- Problems with the shape of your uterus and/or pelvis
- The baby is in breech position, or any other position that may contribute to an unsafe delivery
- The baby shows signs of distress, including a high heart rate
- The baby has a health problem that could cause vaginal delivery to be risky
- You have a health condition such as HIV or herpes infection that could affect the baby
What Happens During a C-Section?
In an emergency, you will need to have general anesthesia.
In a planned C-section, you can often have a regional anesthetic (such as an epidural or spinal block) that will numb your body from the chest down.
A catheter will be placed in your urethra to remove urine.
You'll be awake during the procedure and may feel some tugging or pulling as the baby is lifted from your uterus.
You'll have two incisions. The first is a transverse incision that is about six inches long low on your abdomen. It cuts through skin, fat, and muscle.
The second incision will open the uterus wide enough for the baby to fit through.
Your baby will be lifted out of your uterus and the placenta will be removed before the doctor stitches up the incisions.
After the operation, fluid will be suctioned out of your baby's mouth and nose.
You'll be able to see and hold your baby shortly after delivery, and you'll be moved to a recovery room and your catheter will be removed soon thereafter.
Most women will be required to stay in the hospital for up to five nights.
Movement will be painful and difficult at first, and you'll most likely be given pain medication initially via an IV and then orally.
Your physical movement will be limited for four to six weeks after surgery.
Complications from a C-section are rare, but they may include:
- Reactions to anesthetic medications
- Blood clots
- Bowel or bladder injuries
Women who have C-sections may be able to deliver vaginally in any subsequent pregnancies in a procedure known as a VBAC (vaginal birth after cesarean).
Too Many C-Sections?
Some critics have charged that too many unnecessary C-sections are performed, especially in the United States.
One in three U.S. women who gave birth in 2011 had the operation, according to the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG).
A 2014 investigation by Consumer Reports found that, at some hospitals, as many as 55 percent of uncomplicated births involved C-sections.
The ACOG released a report in 2014 that established guidelines for performing C-sections, in the interest of preventing unnecessary C-sections.