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 delivery.
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 most often done while the woman is awake. The body is numbed from the chest to the feet using epidural or spinal anesthesia.
1. The surgeon makes a cut across the belly just above the pubic area.
2. The womb (uterus) and amniotic sac are opened.
3. The baby is delivered through this opening.
The health care team clears fluids from the baby's mouth and nose. The umbilical cord is cut. The health care provider will make sure that the infant's breathing is normal and other vital signs are stable.
The mother is awake during the procedure so she will be able to hear and see her baby. In many cases, the woman is able to have a support person with her during the delivery.
The surgery takes about 1 hour.
There are many reasons why a woman may need to have a C-section instead of a vaginal delivery. The decision will depend on your doctor, where you are having the baby, your previous deliveries, and your medical history.
Problems with the baby may include:
Health problems in the mother may include:
Problems at the time of labor or delivery may include:
Problems with the placenta or umbilical cord may include:
A C-section is a safe procedure. The rate of serious complications is very low. However, certain risks are higher after C-section than after vaginal delivery. These include:
A C-section may also cause problems in future pregnancies. This includes a higher risk for:
These conditions can lead to severe bleeding (hemorrhage), which may require blood transfusions or removal of the uterus (hysterectomy).
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:
Vaginal birth after cesarean (VBAC) delivery is very often successful. However, there is a small risk of uterine rupture, which can harm the mother and the baby. Discuss the benefits and risks of VBAC with your health care provider.
The average hospital stay after C-section is 2 to 3 days. Recovery takes longer than it would from a vaginal birth. You should walk around after the C-section to speed recovery. Pain medicines taken by mouth can help ease discomfort.
Abdominal delivery; Abdominal birth; Cesarean birth
Berghella V, Landon MB. Cesarean delivery. In: Gabbe SG, Niebyl JR, Simpson JL, et al, eds. Obstetrics: Normal and Problem Pregnancies. 6th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier Saunders; 2012:chap 20.
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.
Updated by: Cynthia D. White, MD, Fellow American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, Group Health Cooperative, Bellevue, WA. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Isla Ogilvie, PhD, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team.
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