What Happens During a C-Section?

When you’re ready to have your baby, will you have to deliver via cesarean section? It’s hard to know. Though many women are certain ahead of time that they’ll have a C-section for different reasons, you may plan to have a vaginal birth only to find that your plan has to change.

During labor or delivery, your doctor might determine that you need to have a C-section right away. This can be a sudden change if your health or your baby’s health takes a turn for the worse and it’s too risky for you to have a vaginal birth.

Even if you don’t think that you’ll have a C-section, it’s smart to learn what one involves, just in case you need to have one. About 30% of all babies in the U.S. are born via C-section, so they’re fairly common.

C-sections are safe for mothers and babies. But it is major surgery, so you shouldn’t take it lightly.

Planned C-section

If you know in advance that your baby will be born via C-section, you’ll know the date and likely won’t even go into labor. Before your procedure, you’ll get an IV so that you can receive medicine and fluids. You’ll also have a catheter (a thin tube) put into place to keep your bladder empty during the surgery.

Most women who have planned C-sections receive local anesthesia -- either an epidural or a spinal block. This will numb you from the waist down, so you won’t feel any pain. This type of anesthesia lets you still be awake and aware of what’s going on. It’s possible your doctor may offer you general anesthesia, which will put you to sleep, but it’s unlikely for most planned C-sections.

Your doctor will place a screen across your waist, so you won’t be able to see the surgery as it happens. He’ll make an incision in your abdomen, then another one in your uterus. You won’t feel anything because of the anesthesia.


You may feel the doctors pushing or pulling on your middle section as they work to remove your baby from your uterus. You may feel nothing, or it may feel like pressure, but it shouldn’t be painful.

Once your baby is born, you should be able to hear and see her. Your doctor should let you hold her right after the C-section is finished, and if you are planning to breastfeed, you may also be able to try feeding her. But not every new mom gets to hold her baby right after a C-section.

Sometimes, babies that are born by C-section have trouble breathing and need help from doctors. If this is the case, you should be able to hold your baby after a doctor decides that she’s healthy and stable.

After your baby is born, your doctor will remove your placenta and stitch you up. The entire procedure should take only about 45 minutes to an hour.

Emergency C-section

During an emergency C-section, a few of the details are different, including the speed and urgency of the surgery. Your doctor can deliver your baby about 2 minutes after he makes the incision in your uterus. (During a planned C-section, this may take 10 or 15 minutes.)

The speed may be necessary: If your baby is having trouble breathing or her heartbeat isn’t steady, doctors want to get her out of your uterus quickly and into the hospital, where they can give her crucial medical help to get her stable.

If you have an emergency C-section, your anesthesiologist may be able to quickly give you medicine through your epidural to make you numb, so you still may be able to be awake during the procedure. If not, you may receive general anesthesia and sleep through the entire surgery. You won’t feel pain or pressure, see or hear your baby being born, or be able to hold your baby right after the birth. But when the anesthesia wears off, you should be able to see, hold, and feed your baby.

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



National Institute of Child Health and Human Development: “What is a cesarean delivery?”

Nemours Foundation: “Cesarean sections (c-sections).”

American Academy of Pediatrics: “Delivery by cesarean section.”

American College of Obstetrics and Gynecology: “Cesarean birth (c-section).”

Cleveland Clinic: “Treatments and procedures: Cesarean birth (c-section).”

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