Cesarean Section: Everything You Should Know About

Mom-to-be, you might already know about vaginal delivery. But in some cases, doctors might resort to a cesarean section to ensure the safety of you and your baby. Sometimes this type of procedure is planned but there could also be an emergency c-section performed. Therefore, being aware of what a cesarean delivery involves, what the effects are and when the recovery happens from a c-section becomes important for you.

Read on to learn about the most common concerns revolving around c-section.

What Is A C-Section?

A cesarean, also known as a c-section, is when a baby is delivered through an incision in the mom's abdominal wall and uterus, rather than delivered vaginally.

When Is a C-Section Scheduled?

For some moms, cesarean birth is recommended by their doctor as a medical precaution even before they go into labour.

A planned cesarean might be recommended for multiple pregnancies, or if the mom has had a Cesarean before. Other reasons for a scheduled c-section include if the baby is breech (feet or bottom first instead of head down), if the baby is very large, or if the mom has a chronic condition such as heart disease, diabetes, high blood pressure, or kidney disease, any of which would make a vaginal delivery more dangerous.

Some moms-to-be choose to have a c-section; however, doctors generally recommend a vaginal birth if it's a low-risk pregnancy.

When Is an Emergency C-Section Necessary?

Although you might have hoped for a vaginal delivery, there are times when an emergency cesarean is required. Doctors might advise a cesarean delivery late in pregnancy or even during labour. For example, a c-section may be necessary for these situations: if the mom has preeclampsia or placenta previa (where the placenta detaches and comes out first before the baby), if the cervix stops dilating mid-labour, if there is a uterine rupture, or if the mom has an active herpes infection at the time of labour. An emergency c-section may also be recommended if the baby has a poor heart rate, if the baby is in distress, if there is a problem with the umbilical cord, or if the baby doesn't move down the birth canal.

How Do I Prepare for a Cesarean Birth?

Preparation is much the same as for a vaginal birth — for example, you'll need to pack a hospital bag and perhaps create a birth plan. Your physicians will also discuss pain management options with you ahead of time, and if it's a scheduled c-section, you will need to fast the night before. Doctors will usually ask you to sign a consent form.

What Happens During a C-Section?

As with any surgery, you will be medically prepped, hydrated with IV fluids, and washed with an antiseptic solution. An epidural or spinal anaesthetic will be administered in some cases, but for others, such as for some emergency c-sections, you might be put under a general anaesthetic.

During the procedure, the surgeon makes a horizontal incision about four to six inches long along the pubic bone (where your bikini line is). He or she cuts through tissue and separates the abdominal muscles, and then cuts open the uterus. You might feel a slight tugging sensation, as the doctor guides your baby out. Then, the umbilical cord is cut, and the baby is lifted away.

Your partner will usually be able to join you in the operating room wearing the sanitary scrubs provided by the hospital. If you or your partner is squeamish, looking away as the baby arrives may be a good idea, although it is normal for a screening curtain to be placed between your upper and lower body.

After the birth, you will usually be able to see your baby; however, at this point, it may be brief, because staff will need to check your baby's heart rate, colour, and temperature. While your baby's health is being checked, the placenta is removed, and the uterus and abdominal incision are stitched up. You will also be given antibiotics to help prevent infection.

Afterwards, you will be closely monitored for several hours in a recovery room, but while you're in the recovery room, you can hold your baby, try to breastfeed, and enjoy skin-to-skin contact.

Will I Be Awake During the C-Section Procedure?

If it's a planned cesarean, you will most likely be able to have an epidural or spinal block and remain awake during the baby's delivery. Sometimes during an emergency cesarean, the mom will be put to sleep under a general anaesthetic to ensure a safe and fast cesarean delivery of the baby.

How Long Does a Cesarean Surgery Take?

Though every woman's situation is unique, the delivery of a baby via cesarean may take as little as 15 to 20 minutes, with a further 45 minutes needed to stitch up the uterus and abdominal incision.

Can I Hold My Baby Right After the C-Section Procedure?

Discuss this with your doctor before the procedure, because hospital policies differ. Some hospitals will allow you to meet and kiss your baby almost immediately after the delivery. Then, as soon as you have been stitched up, you will be handed your baby for some important skin-to-skin contact, which has many benefits and helps you bond with your baby.

Can I Breastfeed After a Cesarean?

There isn't any difference between vaginal birth and c-section regarding starting to breastfeed, and milk may or may not have come in at this point. Provided both you and your baby are doing well, your baby can try to latch on for some very nutritious colostrum shortly after delivery.

How Long Does Cesarean Section Recovery Take?

Recovery differs from person to person, but it generally takes longer to recover from a cesarean birth than from vaginal birth. Usually, you will stay in the hospital for a few extra days after a cesarean birth, so your doctors can make sure you are healthy and healing well.

Although it can be challenging with a newborn, try to rest as much as you can. Avoid lifting anything heavier than your baby, follow up with your doctor to have the stitches on your tummy removed (the uterine stitches will dissolve), and regularly clean the scar to avoid infection. Wear loose clothes that don't rub or irritate the scar. Driving and exercise will also be off-limits until your doctor gives you the all-clear, usually it takes around two to four weeks post-birth. Recovery from an uncomplicated cesarean can take four to six weeks.

Can You Choose to Have A C-Section For Personal Reasons?

Some moms-to-be choose to have a caesarean for non-medical reasons. If you are considering this, your doctor will talk to you about the benefits and risks of a caesarean section compared to vaginal birth.

If you need it, you should also ask for support for dealing with any anxiety about birth and labour. Your doctor will be able to point you in the right direction so that you can get this kind of help.

If you still want to opt for a C-section after being given all the information and support, your doctor may either offer you an elective caesarean or refer you to another doctor who is willing to carry out the procedure.

When Is an Emergency C-Section Necessary?

Although you might have hoped for a vaginal delivery, there are times when an emergency caesarean is required. Doctors might suggest a caesarean late in pregnancy or even during labour.

For example, a caesarean might become necessary if:

  • You have pre-eclampsia, a rare but serious pregnancy-related high blood pressure condition

  • Your labour is not progressing as it should, and your little one may be in distress

  • There’s more vaginal bleeding than usual

  • Your baby isn’t getting enough oxygen or nutrients and needs to be delivered immediately

  • Your doctor is concerned about your or your baby’s safety for any other reason.

Can Your Birth Partner Be with You During a Caesarean?

If you have a local (epidural or spinal) anaesthetic, your birth partner can usually be with you during the caesarean procedure, but it’s a good idea to ask your maternity unit beforehand about their policy and/or any temporary or special restrictions that might affect this.

If you have a general anaesthetic, your birth partner usually won’t be allowed into the operating room.

Are There Any Risks of a C-Section?

Having a cesarean delivery is major surgery, and as with any birth, complications are rare but they do exist. Your doctor is the best person to advise on the best delivery option for your medical needs. Doctors always weigh any risks of a c-section against the risks of vaginal delivery, so for peace of mind, always ask why a c-section is being recommended and ask if any alternatives are available at all.

Will I Notice Signs of Labour with a C-Section?

If yours is a scheduled c-section and your cesarean takes place before you go into labour, then you will not notice any signs of labour. However, sometimes it becomes clear that an emergency c-section is required once labour has already started. So whether you're preparing for a c-section or not, it's good to know the signs of labour that you can expect during your third trimester, usually between week 38 and week 42.

The Bottom Line

No matter whether it's a c-section or vaginal birth, remember that the medical team will be doing their best to take great care of you. Following that care, your little one will soon be playing in your arms. Then, it will be you who will be taking great care of your baby, as the process of birth fades into memory. A new chapter filled with parenting tasks like bathing and feeding your baby will open up for you.

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