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Cesarean Section

Also called: C-section

Summary

What is a Cesarean section (C-section)?

A Cesarean section (C-section) is surgery to deliver a baby. The baby is taken out through your abdomen (belly). In the United States, almost one in three babies are born this way. Some C-sections are planned. Others are emergency C-sections, which are done when unexpected problems happen during delivery.

When is a Cesarean section (C-section) needed?

You may need a C-section because:

  • You have health problems, including infection
  • You are carrying more than one baby
  • Your baby is too big
  • Your baby is in the wrong position
  • Your baby's health is in danger
  • Labor is not moving along as it should
  • There are problems with your placenta (the organ that brings oxygen and nutrients to your baby)

Not everyone who has had a C-section before will need another one next time. You may be able to have a vaginal birth after Cesarean (VBAC). Talk to your health care provider about what is right for you.

How is a Cesarean section (C-section) done?

Before the surgery, you will be given pain medicine. Depending on your circumstances, you might get:

  • An epidural block, which numbs the lower part of the body through an injection in the spine.
  • A spinal block, which numbs the lower part of the body through an injection directly into the spinal fluid.
  • General anesthesia, which makes you unconscious during the surgery. This is often used during emergency C-sections.

During the surgery, the surgeon will:

  • Make a cut in your abdomen and uterus. The cut is usually horizontal, but in some cases it may be vertical.
  • Open the amniotic sac and take out your baby.
  • Cut the umbilical cord and the placenta.
  • Close the uterus and abdomen with stitches that will later dissolve.

What are the risks of a Cesarean section (C-section)?

A C-section is relatively safe for you and your baby. But it is still a major surgery, and it carries risks. They may include:

  • Infection
  • Blood loss
  • Blood clots in the legs, pelvic organs, or lungs
  • Injury to surrounding structures, such as the bowel or bladder
  • A reaction to the medicines or anesthesia used

Some of these risks do also apply to a vaginal birth. But it does take longer to recover from a C-section than from a vaginal birth. And a C-section can raise the risk of having difficulties with future pregnancies. The more C-sections you have, the more the risk goes up.

NIH: National Institute of Child Health and Human Development

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The information on this site should not be used as a substitute for professional medical care or advice. Contact a health care provider if you have questions about your health.