While vaginal birth is the most common way to deliver a baby, about 30% of babies are delivered via Cesarean-section, or C-section for short (surgical removal of a baby through incisions in the abdomen and uterus). Read on to find out why a C-section might be required for a safe birth, and what to expect during and after the procedure.
Reasons for Planned, Unplanned & Emergency C-sections
Your doctor may recommend a C-section for several reasons, including:
- You’ve given birth via C-section before and aren’t considering a VBAC (vaginal birth after cesarean)
- You’re carrying multiples
- You have pregnancy complications
- Labor is not progressing
- Your baby’s vital signs suggest that she may be in distress
- Your placenta is covering the opening of your cervix (placenta previa)
- You have active genital herpes at the time of labor
- Your baby isn’t positioned well for safe vaginal delivery
- Your placenta detaches from the wall of your uterus (placenta abruption)
- Your uterus tears along a previous C-section scar (uterine rupture)
- The umbilical cord enters your vagina ahead of your baby (prolapsed umbilical cord)
Some women want to a have a C-section so they can pick their delivery date or avoid a vaginal birth. The American College Of Obstetricians and Gynecologists recommends careful consideration here, because C-sections involve surgical risks and could create complications in future births.
Stages of a C-section
A C-section can take up to an hour, but in an emergency it may be done in just minutes. Either way, they progress through similar stages:
Stage 1: Preparation
If your C-section is planned, preparation starts at home. Your doctor may ask you to clean your abdomen with antiseptic soap, and you’ll avoid eating or drinking after a certain time the day before the procedure.
Stage 2: Anesthesia
Whether it’s planned or unplanned, a C-section requires anesthesia — usually a spinal block, epidural, or combination of the two — which numb the lower half of your body while allowing you to stay awake during the procedure. For emergency C-sections general anesthesia may be necessary, which puts you to sleep.
Stage 3: Incisions
After you’ve received anesthesia, your doctor will cut through your abdomen and uterus. You will have a screen across your waist, so you won’t see this (or the delivery of your baby). Although you won’t feel pain, you may feel pressure.
Stage 4: Delivery
Once the incisions are made, your doctor will pull your baby from your uterus. Doing this may require pushing organs aside, or even temporarily bringing your uterus out of your body. Shivering at the thought? Weird, for sure, but turns out doctors can safely shuffle organs around and put them back where they belong. You’ll be able to see your little one at this point, but you may have to wait to hold her until you’re in the recovery room. Your partner or another support person can hold her, though (as long as she doesn’t need medical attention), and we recommend they do it skin-to-skin.
Stage 5: Removal of Placenta
Once your baby has been delivered, your doctor will remove your placenta and stitch up your incisions.
A C-section is major surgery, so recovery is more involved than after an uncomplicated vaginal birth. But it’s usually manageable with the help of pain medication and extra hands to share baby-care tasks with you.
The hospital will see you off with home-care instructions, but general C-section recovery guidelines include:
- Keep the incision clean
- Watch for signs of infection, like redness
- Increase daily activities slowly, paying attention to how your body responds
- Wait to drive until you’re finished taking narcotic pain medication AND can hop and twist your body without pain (this may take two weeks, or more)
Everyone’s recovery from a C-section is different, but a rule of thumb is that each day you should feel better than the last (even slightly). If you feel worse or develop a fever, body aches, or abdominal cramping, call your doctor for guidance.