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Health & Pregnancy

The Truth About C-Sections

Pregnant and thinking about having a C-section? Learn about the risks, benefits, and recovery.
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Pros and Cons of C-sections continued...

Although C-sections can offer conveniences, they also carry risk.

"Women really need to understand that a C-section is major abdominal surgery," says Jan Kriebs, a certified nurse mid-wife in the University of Maryland Medical Center's obstetrics, gynecology, and reproductive sciences department. "While a team of health care professionals, including an OB, your mid-wife, and nurses work together for a successful outcome, C-sections are very serious."

The procedure involves an incision through the skin, abdomen, muscle, and then into the uterus. From start to finish, including pre- and post-op, a typical C-section lasts 3-4 hours.

"Because we do so many so often, people are lulled into a false sense of security," Hoskins says. "While the process usually works very well, we are cutting into abdomen, adjusting the organs, and making incisions near the bladder and bowel."

As a result, there could be damage to the surrounding organs, excessive bleeding, or an infection, Hoskins says.

For women who have three or more C-sections, the risk rises even further.

"The placenta could be deeply attached to the uterus because of scarring from previous C-sections, and it could be difficult to get out, which means heavy bleeding, therefore a higher chance of needing a blood transfusion, or needing hysterectomy just to save the mother's life," Hoskins says.

He says that 40% or more of women having three or more C-sections will experience these complications, so keeping the procedure limited to those that are medically necessary could be life-saving.

Rising Numbers

Despite the risks, the number of C-sections being performed in the U.S. continues to climb, for several reasons.

"Physician training and willingness to use instruments like forceps and vacuum has decreased," says Katherine Economy, MD, MPH, a maternal fetal medicine specialist in the department of OB/GYN at Brigham and Women's Hospital/Harvard Medical School. "And if you haven't been trained on how to properly use these tools when the situation warrants it, then you're more likely to turn to a C-section."

Also, as the number of primary C-sections rises, so does the number of subsequent C-sections.

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