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If you have had a C-section
and would like information about how a cesarean affects future deliveries, see
Vaginal Birth After Cesarean (VBAC).
What is a cesarean section?
A cesarean section is
the delivery of a baby through a cut (incision) in the mother's belly and
uterus. It is often called a C-section. In most cases,
a woman can be awake during the birth and be with her newborn soon afterward.
See a picture of a
delivery by C-section.
If you are pregnant, chances are good that
you will be able to deliver your baby through the birth canal (vaginal birth).
But there are cases when a C-section is needed for the safety of the mother or
baby. So even if you plan on a vaginal birth, it's a good idea to learn about
C-section, in case the unexpected happens.
When is a C-section needed?
A C-section may be
planned or unplanned. In most cases, doctors do cesarean sections because of
problems that arise during labor. Reasons you might need an unplanned C-section
- Labor is slow and hard or stops
- The baby shows signs of distress, such as a very fast
or slow heart rate.
- A problem with the placenta or umbilical cord
puts the baby at risk.
- The baby is too big to be delivered
When doctors know about a problem ahead of time, they may
schedule a C-section. Reasons you might have a planned C-section
- The baby is not in a head-down position
close to your due date.
- You have a problem such as heart disease
that could be made worse by the stress of labor.
- You have an
infection that you could pass to the baby during a vaginal birth.
You are carrying more than one baby (multiple pregnancy).
- You had a C-section before, and you have the
same problems this time or your doctor thinks labor might cause your scar to
tear (uterine rupture).
In some cases, a woman who had a C-section in the past
may be able to deliver her next baby through the birth canal. This is called
vaginal birth after cesarean (VBAC). If you have had a
previous C-section, ask your doctor if VBAC might be an option this time.
In the past 40 years, the rate of cesarean deliveries has jumped
from about 1 out of 20 births to about 1 out of 3 births.1 This trend has caused experts to worry that C-section is
being done more often than it is needed. Because of the risks, experts feel
that C-section should only be done for medical reasons.
What are the risks of C-section?
Most mothers and
babies do well after C-section. But it is major surgery, so it carries more
risk than a normal vaginal delivery. Some possible risks of C-section
- Infection of the incision or the uterus.
- Heavy blood loss.
- Blood clots in the mother's
legs or lungs.
- Injury to the mother or baby.
- Problems from the
anesthesia, such as nausea, vomiting, and severe headache.
- Breathing problems in the baby if it was delivered before its due date.
If she gets pregnant again, a woman with a C-section scar
has a small risk of the scar tearing open during labor (uterine rupture). She
also has a slightly higher risk of a problem with the
placenta, such as