What is a cesarean section?

A cesarean section is a surgical procedure used to deliver a baby through incisions in a woman’s abdomen and uterus versus vagina. In some women, a cesarean section is a scheduled procedure, while in others, it may be needed due to a complication during vaginal delivery.

Who is a candidate for a cesarean section?

Your doctor may recommend you have a cesarean section if:

  • You are experiencing health issues
  • You are expecting more than one child
  • You are having problems advancing in labor
  • Your baby’s health is in danger
  • Your baby’s size or position in the uterus is concerning

What are the risks of a cesarean section?

Like all surgeries, a cesarean section can lead to complications. Complications associated with a cesarean section may include:

  • Infection in the lining of the uterus or at the incision site
  • Inability to have vaginal birth after a cesarean section
  • Challenges with future pregnancies
  • Severe bleeding after delivery
  • Adverse reactions to anesthesia
  • Increased risk of blood clots in the legs or pelvic organs.
  • Injuries to the bladder or bowel

There are also risks to your child during and after a cesarean section. Risks may include:

  • Trouble breathing
    Babies born via a cesarean section may develop a condition that is characterized by accelerated breathing during the first few days of life.
  • Injuries to the baby
    Your doctor could nick the baby while removing him/her from the uterus.

After a cesarean section, you'll need time to rest and recover. Consider recruiting help ahead of time for the weeks after the birth of your baby.

If you don't plan to deliver any more children, you might talk to your health care provider about long-acting reversible birth control or permanent birth control.

What to expect during a cesarean section?

If your cesarean section was scheduled, you will report to the hospital at the scheduled time to prepare for the procedure. Once you are checked in and disrobed, you will be instructed to lie on a table leaning to your left side. Your care team will give you an IV drip to ensure you stay hydrated. You also will need a catheter in your bladder to drain your urine during the procedure.

When ready, your obstetrician will make an incision along your bikini line. Your baby is lifted out of the uterus. There is a screen between your head and lower body, so you can’t see the surgery. But you may be able to see the baby being removed from your uterus. In most cases, your nurse will place the baby on your chest while your doctor removes your placenta and stitches the incisions.

Recovery from a cesarean section

Recovery from a cesarean section is a lengthy process. You will need to stay in the hospital for two to four days after delivery. You will likely be in pain and/or feel fatigued after the surgery.

During the recovery process you will need to follow your doctor’s strict instructions. 

  • Rest
    It is important to rest as much possible in the days/weeks following a cesarean section.
  • Avoid lifting anything heavy
    Do not lift anything heavier than your child for a few weeks after surgery.
  • Pain management
    Your doctor will outline pain management options that are safe for you. Follow these orders closely, especially if you plan to breastfeed.
  • Do not participate in sexual activity
    You should avoid sex for at least six weeks after your cesarean section.
  • Do not drive
    Avoid driving until you do not experience discomfort while pushing on the gas or applying the breaks. This could take as little as one week or as long as four weeks.

If you experience any of the following symptoms while you are recovering from a cesarean section, you should call your doctor right away:

  • You have a swollen, red or are leaking discharge from your incision site
  • You develop a fever
  • You are experiencing severe bleeding
  • Pain that is dramatically intensifying

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