Why Would I Need to Have an Emergency C-Section?

When you’re pregnant, delivering a healthy baby is most likely your biggest concern. And perhaps your birth plan includes a vaginal delivery. However, there are those times when a cesarean section is required.

Sometimes a C-section is the only option because your doctor can quickly deliver your baby through incisions in your abdomen and uterus -- in a just a few minutes if necessary.

Often, C-sections are scheduled in advance for several reasons, such as if you’re expecting multiples. But sometimes they become essential lifesaving procedures during emergencies.

Reasons for an Emergency C-section

If you need an emergency C-section, your doctor has decided that you or your baby are in dire stress and immediate delivery is the only option. Possible reasons for an emergency cesarean include:

  • Fetal or maternal distress
  • Prolapsed umbilical cord (the umbilical cord drops through your cervix into your vagina ahead of your baby)
  • Maternal hemorrhage
  • Placenta abruption (the placenta peels away from the wall of your uterus)
  • Uterine rupture (your uterus tears along a previous C-section scar)

Reasons for an Unscheduled C-section

There is a difference between an unscheduled C-section and an emergency C-section, although people often use the terms interchangeably. Unplanned cesareans are still considered urgent, but typically mother and baby aren’t in life-threatening situations. Common causes for an urgent, unplanned C-section could include:

  • Labor isn't progressing.
  • Contractions are too weak.
  • Baby isn’t tolerating labor.
  • Baby is sideways or breech when labor begins.

C-section Procedure

During an emergency C-section, time is of the essence. The goal is to get your baby out as fast as possible because your life or your baby’s life could be in danger. The time from the beginning of surgery to delivery can be as short as 1 minute.

If you had an epidural while you attempted vaginal delivery, your anesthesiologist may have time to give you enough medicine through your epidural so you’ll be able to be awake during the C-section. If you didn’t have an epidural, then your doctor may have to give you general anesthesia (meaning you won’t be awake) and you’ll meet your baby when you wake up.

Nonemergency C-sections, like one being performed because labor hasn’t progressed normally, usually begin within 30 to 60 minutes of your doctor making the decision. You'll probably get to be awake for this C-section and meet your baby immediately. You’ll get a spinal anesthetic, an epidural, or a combination of the two, called a combined spinal-epidural anesthesia (CSE), so you won’t feel any pain.

Continued

C-section Risks

Emergency cesareans carry different risks compared with scheduled cesareans, including increased chances of severe hemorrhage, complications from rapidly administered anesthesia, and accidental injury to you or your baby.

WebMD Medical Reference Reviewed by Traci C. Johnson, MD on October 16, 2018

Sources

SOURCES:

Northern New England Perinatal Quality Improvement Networks: "Emergency Cesarean Section."

Guidelines for Obstetrics: "Classification of Urgency of Cesarean Section."

Cleveland Clinic: "Treatments and Procedures: Cesarean Birth."

Harvard Health Publications: "Cesarean Section.”

Journal of Healthcare Risk Management: "Is the obstetric guideline of 30 minutes from decision to incision for cesarean delivery clinically significant?"

Mayo Clinic: "Test and Procedures: C-Section Risks."

UpToDate: “Emergency Cesarean Delivery.”

© 2018 WebMD, LLC. All rights reserved.

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