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If you have had a C-section and would like information about how a cesarean affects future deliveries, see the topic 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 include:
- Labor is slow and hard or stops completely.
- 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 vaginally.
When doctors know about a problem ahead of time, they may schedule a C-section. Reasons you might have a planned C-section include:
- 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.