A caesarean section, also known as a C-section, is an operation where your baby is delivered through a cut in your tummy and womb. It’s a big operation, so is only carried out when necessary and safe for you and your baby by your specialist doctor (obstetrician). About 1 in 4 babies in the UK are delivered in this way.
If the doctor thinks it may be too risky for you to have a natural birth, a caesarean may be planned in advance as an elective procedure. It may also be done as an emergency - this is usually decided during labour if a vaginal birth puts you or your baby at immediate risk.
An elective procedure is usually done from the 39th week and may be planned for if:
You have complications such as pregnancy-related high blood pressure or a low lying placenta (placenta praevia)
You have pre-existing conditions such as genital infections or untreated HIV.
Your baby is in the incorrect position (breech) and has not been able to be turned round.
An emergency C-section may occur if:
Your labour is moving slower than planned, it is not progressing or there is significant vaginal bleeding.
Your baby is not getting enough oxygen or nutrients and they are appearing distressed.
C-sections are generally a very safe procedure but as with any surgery, they do carry a certain amount of risk.
These risks can be both immediate and delayed. Immediate complications include excessive bleeding, damage to any organs nearby like the kidneys or bladder, and damage to the baby when the womb is opened. Delayed complications can be infection, delayed healing of the wound, or blood clots. A caesarean can also result in temporary breathing difficulties in your baby.
You can certainly request to have a caesarean for non-medical reasons but, some hospitals have strict policies to only allow caesarean sections for medical reasons, so it’s worth doing thorough research beforehand. Your midwife or doctor will talk you through your options, concerns, and worries and weigh up the risks and benefits of how you will deliver your baby.
Caesareans are carried out under anaesthesia, a procedure that will make you numb to pain and paralyse your muscles so that the doctors can operate. This is usually done under a spinal or epidural anaesthetic, where you won’t be put to sleep but will still be numb from the back/hip downwards.
A 10-20cm cut is made along your tummy below your bikini line. You won’t be able to see what is happening as you will be separated by a screen but may feel some pulling and tugging. Normally, the whole procedure lasts around 40 to 50 minutes. Your birthing partner will be allowed to be in the operating room with you and as soon as both you and baby are safe, you will both be given your baby to hold.
After a C-section, you may be required to stay in hospital for a few days. It's not unusual to feel some pain in the area for a few days afterward. Most health professionals advise you to abstain from heavy lifting and strenuous exercise or driving for 6 weeks until you have had your postnatal check and your team are confident that you are healing well.
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