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A Cesarean section (C-section) is surgery to deliver a baby. The baby is taken out through the mother's abdomen.  Some C-sections are planned, but many are done when unexpected problems happen during delivery. A C-section is typically performed when complications from pregnancy make traditional vaginal birth difficult, or puts the mother or child at risk. The surgery is relatively safe for mother and baby. Still, it is major surgery and carries risks. It also takes longer to recover from a C-section than from vaginal birth. It can raise the risk of having difficulties with future pregnancies. Some women may have problems attempting a vaginal birth later. Still, many women are able to have a vaginal birth after cesarean (VBAC).

Why a C-Section Is Done

Reasons for a C-section delivery include:

  • baby has developmental conditions
  • baby’s head is too big for the birth canal
  • the baby is coming out feet first (breech birth)
  • early pregnancy complications
  • mother’s health problems, such as high blood pressure or unstable heart disease
  • mother has active genital herpes that could be transmitted to the baby
  • previous C-section delivery
  • problems with the placenta, such as placental abruption or placenta previa
  • problems with the umbilical cord
  • reduced oxygen supply to the baby
  • stalled labor
  • the baby is coming out shoulder first (transverse labor)

The Risks of a C-Section

A C-section is becoming a more common delivery type, but it is still a major surgery that carries risks for both mother and child. The risks of a C-section include:

  • bleeding
  • blood clots
  • breathing problems for the child, especially if done before 39 weeks of pregnancy
  • increased risks for future pregnancies
  • infection
  • injury to the child during surgery
  • longer recovery time compared with vaginal birth
  • surgical injury to other organs

You and your doctor will discuss your birthing options before your due date. Your doctor will also be able to determine if you or your baby are showing any signs of complications that would require a C-section delivery

How a C-section Is Performed

Plan to stay in the hospital for three to four days while you recover from your surgery.

Before the surgery, your abdomen will be cleaned and you’ll be prepared for receiving intravenous (IV) fluids into your arm. This allows doctors to administer fluids and any type of medications you may need. You will also have a catheter put in to keep your bladder empty during the surgery.

There are three types of anesthesia offered to delivering mothers:

  • spinal block: anesthesia is injected directly into the sac that surrounds your spinal cord, thus numbing the lower part of your body
  • epidural: a common anesthesia for both vaginal and C-section deliveries, anesthesia is injected into your lower back outside the sac of the spinal cord
  • general anesthesia: the anesthesia that puts you into a painless sleep, and is usually reserved for emergency situations

When you have been properly medicated and numbed, your doctor will make an incision just above the pubic hairline. This is typically horizontal across the pelvis. Later, the scar is usually easily coverable, even, for example, in a bikini.

In emergency situations, the incision may be vertical.

Once the incision into your abdomen has been made and the uterus is exposed, your doctor will make an incision into the uterus. This area will be covered during the procedure so you won’t be able to see the procedure.

Your new baby will be removed from your uterus after the second incision is made.

Your doctor will first tend to your baby by clearing their nose and mouth of fluids and clamping and cutting the umbilical cord. Your baby will then be given to hospital staff and they will prepare your baby to be put into your arms.

Meanwhile, your doctor will repair your uterus with dissolving stitches and close your abdominal incision with sutures

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