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A cesarean birth (C-section) is the delivery of a baby through an incision in the mother's belly.
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Reasons for Procedure
A C-section may be done in these situations:
- Prior C-section birth
- Pregnancy with more than 1 baby
- Failure of labor to progress
- The baby shows signs of distress, such as an abnormal heart rate during labor
- A large baby
- The baby is not in a head-down position
- Health problems in the mother, such as diabetes, high blood pressure, active herpes infection, or HIV infection
- A problem with the position of the placenta
- Changes in the fetus
Problems are rare, but all procedures have some risk. The doctor will go over some problems that could happen, such as:
- Excess bleeding
- Problems from anesthesia, such as wheezing or sore throat
- Blood clots
- Damage to other organs in the belly
- The need for more surgeries, such as a hysterectomy, bladder repair, or repeat C-sections with future pregnancies
Things that may raise the risk of problems are:
What to Expect
Prior to Procedure
C-sections are often unplanned. If you have a scheduled C-section, your health team may meet with you to talk about:
- Anesthesia options
- Any allergies you may have
- Current medicines, herbs, and supplements that you take and whether you need to stop taking them before surgery
- Fasting before surgery, such as avoiding food or drink after midnight the night before
- Arranging a ride to and from surgery
- Tests that may need to be done before surgery
The doctor may give:
- General anesthesia—you will be asleep
- Regional anesthesia—your lower body will be numb
Description of the Procedure
An incision will be made in the belly and uterus. The baby will be delivered. The uterus will be closed with stitches that will dissolve on their own. Staples or stitches will be used to close the incision in the belly.
Immediately After Procedure
The baby will be examined.
How Long Will It Take?
About an hour
Will It Hurt?
Pain is common in the first week. Medicine and home care can help.
Average Hospital Stay
3 to 5 days
Right after the procedure, the staff may:
- Give you pain medicine
- Place the baby on your chest to promote bonding
- Teach you how to feed your baby without putting pressure on your incision
During your stay, staff will take steps to lower your chance of infection, such as:
- Washing their hands
- Wearing gloves or masks
- Keeping your incisions covered
You can also lower your chance of infection by:
- Washing your hands often and reminding visitors and staff to do the same
- Reminding staff to wear gloves or masks
- Not letting others touch your incisions
It will take about 6 weeks to fully heal with a gradual return to normal activity levels.
Call Your Doctor
Call your doctor if you are not getting better or you have:
- Signs of infection, such as fever and chills
- Excess bleeding, redness, swelling, increasing pain, or discharge from the incision
- Pain that you cannot control with medicine
- Swelling and pain in 1 or both legs
- Cough, shortness of breath, or chest pain
- Heavy vaginal bleeding
- Foul-smelling vaginal discharge
- New or worsening symptoms
If you think you have an emergency, call for medical help right away.
American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists http://www.acog.org
American Pregnancy Association http://www.americanpregnancy.org
Canadian Women's Health Network http://www.cwhn.ca
The Society of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists of Canada http://www.sogc.org
American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (College), Society for Maternal-Fetal Medicine, Caughey AB, Cahill AG, Guise JM, Rouse DJ. Safe prevention of the primary cesarean delivery. Am J Obstet Gynecol. 2014 Mar;210(3):179-93, reaffirmed 2016.
Cesarean birth. American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists website. Available at: https://www.acog.org/patient-resources/faqs/labor-delivery-and-postpartum-care/cesarean-birth. Accessed July 21, 2020.
Cesarean procedure. American Pregnancy Association website. Available at: http://americanpregnancy.org/labor-and-birth/cesarean-procedure. Accessed July 21, 2020.
Cesarean section. EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at: https://www.dynamed.com/procedure/cesarean-section . Updated July 6, 2020. Accessed July 21, 2020.
Quinlan J. Cesarian Delivery: counseling issues and complication management; Am Fam Physician. 2015 Feb1;91 (3):178-184
- Reviewer: EBSCO Medical Review Board Elliot M. Levine, MD, FACOG
- Review Date: 03/2020
- Update Date: 03/12/2021