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What is a C-section?

A C-section is an operation that delivers a baby through a cut in your belly and uterus. The uterus (womb) is the muscular organ at the top of the vagina. Babies grow in the uterus, and menstrual blood comes from the uterus.

C-sections can save the lives of newborns and their mothers. They can help prevent problems that may happen if it takes too long for a baby to be born. Delivering the baby by C-section may be safer for both you and the baby.

Most women who go into labor have a normal vaginal delivery. However, you and your healthcare provider should discuss your options early in your pregnancy if there is a possibility that you will need a C-section. This will help you prepare for surgery if it is suddenly necessary.

This procedure is also called a cesarean section or cesarean delivery.

When is it used?

A C-section may be planned before you go into labor, or it may be done in an emergency. It may be done because of a health problem you have or a problem your baby has. Reasons for having a C-section include:

  • The size and shape of your vagina (birth canal) may cause the baby to get stuck during labor.
  • Your cervix (opening to your womb) may not open fully or you may not be able to push your baby far enough into the birth canal for a safe delivery.
  • Waiting to go into labor or having a vaginal delivery may be dangerous because your blood pressure is high. High blood pressure during pregnancy and delivery can lead to seizures, stroke, or dangerous bleeding.
  • The placenta (the organ attached to your womb that provides nutrition for your baby) is covering the opening of your cervix. This can cause severe bleeding during a vaginal delivery.
  • You previously had a C-section with a vertical cut (up and down) in your uterus, or other surgery on your uterus. The scar from your previous operation might open during labor, especially if the cut went through the inside lining of your uterus.
  • You have a tumor that is blocking the birth canal.
  • Your baby is too big for delivery through the birth canal.
  • Your baby is in a breech position when labor starts, which means that your baby's bottom, knees, or feet will come out before the head.
  • Your baby is in distress. If your baby’s heartbeat is too fast, too slow, or too irregular during labor it could mean that continuing labor might hurt the baby.
  • Your baby has a birth defect or a medical problem that would make a vaginal delivery unsafe.

How do I prepare for a C-section?

Your healthcare provider will talk about your choices for treatment and explain the procedure and any risks. You should understand what your healthcare provider is going to do and how long it will take you to recover. You have the right to make decisions about your healthcare and to give permission for any tests or procedures.

If you are planning to have a C-section, ask your healthcare provider if there are instructions you need to follow before surgery. Your instructions may include:

  • Changes to how you take your medicines
  • What you can eat and drink before surgery
  • Quitting smoking if you have been smoking during your pregnancy
  • Getting other tests or procedures
  • Finding people to help you with your day-to-day tasks and the care of your newborn baby for the first week or two after you come home from the hospital
  • Other steps to follow before surgery

Tell your healthcare provider if you have any food or medicine allergies. Also tell your provider about all medicines and supplements that you take.

Talk to your provider about what happens after the procedure, such as:

  • Caring for your surgical wound
  • Taking medicines to relieve pain, prevent infection, or treat other problems
  • Avoiding some activities for a while
  • Symptoms or problems to watch for and what to do if you have them
  • When you can return to your normal activities
  • When you should come back for a checkup

If you are planning to have a C-section and you go into labor or have contractions or bleeding, call your healthcare provider right away.

What happens during the procedure?

The procedure will be done at the hospital.

You will be given medicine called anesthesia to keep you from feeling pain. Depending on the medicine, you may be awake or asleep during the procedure.

Your healthcare provider will make a cut below your belly button and into the lower part of your uterus to remove the baby. Your provider will remove the baby, placenta, and birth sac. Your provider will then close the cuts in your uterus and belly.

What happens after the procedure?

You may stay in the hospital 2 to 4 days after your baby is born.

Your belly will be sore. You may need help with positioning your baby comfortably for feeding. Walking and standing will be uncomfortable for the first few days.

You may have nausea, vomiting, or constipation after the procedure. Your healthcare provider may give you medicine or recommend other ways to treat these problems. Your provider may also give you an antibiotic to take after the surgery to help prevent an infection.

The cut made in the uterus to deliver the baby is usually horizontal (across the womb). This allows the muscles in the womb to safely stretch the next time you give birth. Many women who have had a C-section are able to deliver their next baby through the birth canal.

What are the risks of this procedure?

Your healthcare provider will explain the procedure and any risks. Some possible risks include:

  • You may have problems with anesthesia.
  • You may have infection, bleeding, or blood clots.
  • Your uterus or other parts of your body may be injured during the surgery.
  • Any future children may need to be delivered by C-section.
  • The baby might be hurt during the surgery.

Ask your healthcare provider how these risks apply to you. Be sure to discuss any other questions or concerns that you may have.

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Published by RelayHealth.
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