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:
- 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
- C-Section Recovery: What to Expect (Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research) Also in Spanish
- Cesarean Sections (Nemours Foundation) Also in Spanish
- Delivery by Cesarean Section (American Academy of Pediatrics) Also in Spanish
- Having a C-Section (March of Dimes Foundation)
- What Is a Cesarean Delivery? (Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development) Also in Spanish
- Breastfeeding after Cesarean Delivery (American Academy of Pediatrics) Also in Spanish
- Repeat C-Sections: Is There a Limit? (Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research) Also in Spanish
- VBAC: Know the Pros and Cons (Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research)
- What Is Vaginal Birth after Cesarean (VBAC)? (Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development) Also in Spanish
- Why at Least 39 Weeks Is Best for Your Baby (March of Dimes Foundation)
- ClinicalTrials.gov: Cesarean Section (National Institutes of Health)
Journal Articles References and abstracts from MEDLINE/PubMed (National Library of Medicine)
- Article: Group antenatal care compared with standard antenatal care for Somali-Swedish women:...
- Article: Corticosteroids to safely reduce neonatal respiratory morbidity after late preterm and...
- Article: The success of vaginal birth by use of trans-labial ultrasound plus...
- Cesarean Section -- see more articles