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C-section

Definition

A C-section is the delivery of a baby through a surgical opening in the mother's lower belly area. It is also called a cesarean section.

Alternative Names

Abdominal delivery; Abdominal birth; Cesarean section

Description

A C-section delivery is done when it is not possible or safe for the mother to deliver the baby through the vagina.

The procedure is usually done while the woman is awake. The body is numbed from the chest to the feet using epidural or spinal anesthesia.

The surgeon make a cut across the belly just above the pubic area. The womb (uterus) and amniotic sac are opened, and the baby is delivered.

The health care team clears the baby's mouth and nose of fluids, and the umbilical cord is cut. The pediatrician or nurse makes sure that the infant's breathing is normal and that the baby is stable.

The mother is awake, and she can hear and see her baby. The father or another support person is often able to be with the mother during the delivery.

Cesarean section

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Cesarean section

Indications

The decision to have a C-section delivery depends on:

  • Your doctor
  • Where you are having the baby
  • Previous childbirth
  • Your medical history

Some reasons for having C-section instead of vaginal delivery include:

Problems with the baby:

  • Abnormal heart rate in the baby
  • Abnormal position of the baby in the womb, such as crosswise (transverse) or feet-first (breech)
  • Developmental problems such as hydrocephalus or spina bifida
  • Multiple pregnancy (triplets, and sometimes, twins)

Health problems and medical history in the mother:

  • Active genital herpes infection
  • Large uterine fibroids near the cervix
  • HIV infection in the mother
  • Previous C-section
  • Previous uterine surgery
  • Severe illness in the mother, including heart disease, preeclampsia or eclampsia

Problems with labor or delivery:

  • Baby's head is too large to pass through the birth canal
  • Labor that takes too long or stops
  • Very large baby

Problems with the placenta or umbilical cord:

  • Placenta covers all or part of the opening to the birth canal (placenta previa)
  • Placenta prematurely separated from uterine wall (placenta abruptio)
  • Umbilical cord comes through the opening of the birth canal before the baby (umbilical cord prolapse)

Risks

A C-section is a safe procedure. The rate of serious complications is extremely low. However, certain risks are higher after C-section than after vaginal delivery. These include:

  • Infection of the bladder or uterus
  • Injury to the urinary tract
  • Injury to the baby

A C-section may also cause problems in future pregnancies. This includes a higher risk for:

  • Placenta previa
  • Placenta growing into the muscle of the uterus and has trouble separating after the baby is born (placenta accreta)
  • Uterine rupture

These conditions can lead to severe bleeding (hemorrhage), which may require blood transfusions or removal of the uterus (hysterectomy).

All surgeries carry risks. Risks due to anesthesia may include:

  • Reactions to medications
  • Problems breathing

Risks related to surgery in general may include:

  • Bleeding
  • Blood clots in the leg or pelvic veins
  • Infection

Expectations after surgery

Most mothers and infants do well after a c-section.

Women who have a C-section may have a vaginal delivery if another pregnancy occurs, depending on:

  • The type of C-section done
  • Why the C-section was done

Vaginal birth after cesarean (VBAC) delivery is usually successful. However, there is a small risk of uterine rupture, which can harm the mother and the baby. It is important to discuss the benefits and risks of VBAC with your health care provider.

Convalescence

The average hospital stay after C-section is 2 - 4 days. Recovery takes longer than it would from a vaginal birth. You should walk around after the C-section to speed recovery. Pain medication taken by mouth can help ease any pain.

References

Landon MB. Cesarean delivery. In: Gabbe SG, Niebyl JR, Simpson JL, ed. Obstetrics: Normal and Problem Pregnancies. 5th ed. New York, NY: Churchill Livingstone; 2007: Chap.19.

Cunningham FG, Leveno KJ, Bloom SL, et al. Cesarean delivery and peripartum hysterectomy. In: Cunnigham FG, Leveno KL, Bloom SL, et al, eds. Williams Obstetrics. 23rd ed. New York, NY: McGraw-Hill; 2010:chap 25.


Review Date: 9/12/2011
Reviewed By: Linda J. Vorvick, MD, Medical Director, MEDEX Northwest Division of Physician Assistant Studies, University of Washington, School of Medicine; Susan Storck, MD, FACOG, Chief, Eastside Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology, Group Health Cooperative of Puget Sound, Bellevue, Washington; Clinical Teaching Faculty, Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology, University of Washington School of Medicine. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, A.D.A.M., Inc.
The information provided herein should not be used during any medical emergency or for the diagnosis or treatment of any medical condition. A licensed medical professional should be consulted for diagnosis and treatment of any and all medical conditions. Call 911 for all medical emergencies. Links to other sites are provided for information only -- they do not constitute endorsements of those other sites. © 1997- A.D.A.M., Inc. Any duplication or distribution of the information contained herein is strictly prohibited.
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