A caesarean section is an operation to deliver the baby through a cut made in the stomach and uterus (womb). Around a quarter of babies in the United Kingdom are born by caesarean section.
Caesarean section is major surgery and carries a number of risks, so is usually recommended only when it is considered safer than a vaginal birth to deliver the baby.
Risks of a caesarean:
A caesarean is generally a very safe procedure, but like any type of surgery it carries a certain amount of risk.
It's important to be aware of the possible complications, particularly if you're considering having a caesarean for non-medical reasons.
Possible complications include:
- Infection of the wound or womb lining.
- Blood clots.
- Excessive bleeding.
- Damage to nearby areas, such as the bladder or the tubes that connect the kidneys and bladder.
- Temporary breathing difficulties in your baby.
- Accidentally cutting your baby when your womb is opened.
There are 2 types of caesarean section delivery, elective (planned) and emergency.
An elective caesarean section usually takes place after 39 weeks and may be recommended for the following reasons:
- The baby is in the breech position and it has not been possible to turn them to a cephalic (head down) position.
- The placenta is covering the cervix and preventing the baby from entering the birth canal (placenta praevia)
- Certain pregnancy conditions such as severe pre-eclampsia.
- Infections such as untreated HIV or first genital herpes infection that occurs late in pregnancy.
Emergency caesarean sections are unplanned operations which are usually undertaken when there is a risk to the health or safety of mother and baby if labour continues or the pregnancy is prolonged any further. If there is time, a doctor or midwife should take the time to discuss the risks and benefits of caesarean section and vaginal delivery with you to allow you to make an informed decision.
Some women choose to have a planned caesarean section when there are no medical reasons. If you request an elective caesarean section a doctor or midwife will discuss the risks and benefits with you to enable you to make an informed decision. If you are particularly anxious about giving birth you will be invited to meet with a doctor or midwife to discuss your concerns and offer support to you during your pregnancy and birth.
Most caesareans are carried out under spinal or epidural anaesthetic. This mean you'll be awake, but the lower part of your body is numbed so you will not feel any pain.
During the procedure:
- A screen is placed across your body so you cannot see what's being done – the doctors and nurses will let you know what's happening.
- A cut about 10 to 20cm long will usually be made across your lower tummy and womb so your baby can be delivered.
- You may feel some tugging and pulling during the procedure.
- You and your birth partner will be able to see and hold your baby as soon as they have been delivered if they're well – a baby born by emergency caesarean because of foetal distress may be taken straight to a paediatrician for resuscitation.
The whole operation normally takes about 40 to 50 minutes.
Occasionally, it may be necessary to give you a general anaesthetic (where you're asleep), particularly if the baby needs to be delivered more quickly.
Recovery from a Caesarean section:
- Recovering from a caesarean usually takes longer than recovering from a vaginal delivery and you are likely to be less mobile.
- It may be harder to care for your baby and you may need additional help and support.
- The average stay in hospital after a caesarean is around 3 or 4 days, compared with an average of 1 or 2 days for a vaginal birth.
- You may experience some discomfort in your tummy for the first few days. You'll be offered painkillers to help with this.
- When you go home, you'll need to take things easy at first. You may need to avoid some activities, such as driving, until you have had your postnatal check-up with the doctor at 6 weeks.
- The wound in your tummy will eventually form a scar. This may be obvious at first, but it should fade with time and will often be hidden in your pubic hair.
Further information can be found on the NHS website below:
Caesarean section - Information from the NHS about caesarean section.