A C-section may either be planned, or may be performed as emergency surgery if complications arise during labour. Whatever the reason for the C-section, the procedure and the results are often the same. You'll have a scar on your lower abdomen, but you'll be holding your newborn in your arms.
The mother is usually fully awake during the operation, but in extreme cases it may be done under general anaesthetic.
Why have a planned C-section?
If the pregnancy in completely normal, a vaginal delivery is generally best for both you and the baby. Among other things, a C-section puts the mother at greater risk of infection or haemorrhage. Some babies delivered by C-section have trouble breathing and may initially need to be kept in an incubator or be given extra oxygen.
There are various reasons for planning a C-section
• The baby is in breech position, i.e. presenting their bottom first.
• The baby is very large.
• Twins or triplets and a complicated pregnancy.
• The placenta is blocking the opening of the uterus, obstructing the baby's way through.
• A very narrow pelvis.
• Past injury or surgery in the pelvic area.
• Early delivery by C-section.
• Strong fear of delivery.
Many C-sections are performed every day. Certain complications are slightly more common with a C-section than ordinary delivery. However, there are usually no complications for either the mother or the baby.
C-sections are usually performed with an epidural
An emergency C-section is performed if there are complications during the delivery and the baby needs to come out urgently, for instance if the baby's head is incorrectly positioned in the woman's pelvis, of if its oxygen supply is cut off.
Most C-sections, including emergency ones, are performed with an epidural as local anaesthetic. An epidural numbs you from your chest to your thighs. You remain conscious during the operation and can take the baby in your arms as soon as it is born.
If a sudden decision is made to perform an emergency C-section, the mother is given general anaesthetic so is asleep when the child is born.
What happens before the operation?
A C-section is a surgical operation and is performed in an operating theatre. Your stomach must be empty before the operation. A drip is inserted in a blood vessel via a tube. If necessary, the pubic area is shaved. A catheter (a small plastic tube) is inserted in your bladder. You are given special clothing to wear during the operation.
You remain awake during the operation
The epidural is performed by an anaesthetist. It numbs you from the chest to the thighs. You remain fully conscious during the operation, but a sheet is put up between your face and your stomach so you can't see what is going on.
The operation starts as soon as the anaesthetic has taken effect. The surgeon usually makes a horizontal incision known as a bikini cut. Then it is only a matter of minutes before the baby comes out.
Your baby is born!
The baby is lifted out of the womb and the labour is over. If the baby is healthy – and provided you are awake – you get to hold the baby and welcome it to the world.
While the baby is lying in your arms, the surgeon sews up the incision.
After the C-section
The catheter is often removed later the same day. The midwife will help you go the toilet and urinate, in order to make sure your bladder is functioning again after the anaesthesia. There will be pain at the operation site, so pain relief is administered after the surgery.
It is important that you get up and move around as soon as possible. Walking can help reduce the pain, speed up the healing process and reduce the risk of blood clots. However, it is important to avoid lifting of any kind.
You usually get to leave the hospital after two to four days, or when you feel ready. The time you get sent home will depend on your clinic and on how well you recover. Read more about returning home after a C-section and about the first days at home with your newborn baby.