Cesarean section is considered relatively safe. But it does pose a higher risk of some complications than does a vaginal delivery. If you have a cesarean section, expect a longer recovery time than you would have after a vaginal delivery.
After cesarean section, the most common complications for the mother are:
- Heavy blood loss.
- A blood clot in the legs or lungs.
- Nausea, vomiting, and severe headache after the delivery (related to anesthesia and the abdominal procedure).
- Bowel problems, such as constipation or when the intestines stop moving waste material normally (ileus).
- Injury to another organ (such as the bladder). This can occur during surgery.
- Maternal death (very rare). About 2 in 100,000 cesareans result in maternal death.1
Cesarean risks for the infant include:
- Injury during the delivery.
- Need for special care in the neonatal intensive care unit (NICU).3
- Immature lungs and breathing problems, if the due date has been miscalculated or the infant is delivered before 39 weeks of gestation.3, 4
While most women recover from both cesarean and vaginal births without complications, it takes more time and special care to heal from cesarean section, which is a major surgery. Women who have a cesarean section without complications spend about 3 days in the hospital, compared with about 2 days for women who deliver vaginally. Full recovery after a cesarean delivery takes 4 to 6 weeks. Full recovery after a vaginal delivery takes about 1 to 2 weeks.
Long-term risks of cesarean section
Women who have a uterine cesarean scar have slightly higher long-term risks. These risks, which increase with each additional cesarean delivery, include:5
- Breaking open of the incision scar during a later pregnancy or labor (uterine rupture). For more information, see the topic Vaginal Birth After Cesarean (VBAC).
- Placenta previa, the growth of the placenta low in the uterus, blocking the cervix.
- Placenta accreta, placenta increta, placenta percreta (least to most severe). These problems occur when the placenta grows deeper into the uterine wall than normal, which can lead to severe bleeding after childbirth, and sometimes may require a hysterectomy.