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Cesarean Birth

What is a C-section?

In a cesarean birth (C-section), the baby is delivered through an incision in the mother's abdomen. In the United States, some estimates suggest almost half of all births are delivered by C-section.

Why C-sections Happen

The following situations may require a C-section:

  • Large baby
  • Pregnancy with twins or more
  • Baby is not in a head-down position
  • Maternal medical conditions, such as diabetes, high blood pressure, active herpes infection or HIV infection
  • Problem with the position of the placenta
  • Failure of labor to progress
  • Baby shows signs of distress, such as an abnormal heart rate during labor
  • Previous cesarean birth
  • Fetal problems

Are C-sections Dangerous?

Like any surgery, C-sections involve risk. The estimated risk of a woman dying after a cesarean birth is extremely small. The risk of death after a vaginal birth is even smaller. Your doctor will review potential problems like:

  • Infection
  • Bleeding
  • Decreased bowel function
  • Damage to other organs in the abdomen
  • Longer hospital stay and recovery time
  • Bad reactions to anesthesia
  • Risk of additional surgeries, including hysterectomy, bladder repair, or repeat C-sections with future pregnancies

Factors that may increase the risk of complications include:

  • Prior cesarean section
  • Prior surgery of the uterus
  • Abnormal placenta
  • Smoking
  • Obesity

Cesarean birth also poses risks to babies. Babies born prematurely have more risks. While the risk of death for premature babies delivered by elective C-section is very small, the risk is higher than it is for premature babies born vaginally. 


The C-Section Experience

C-sections are often unplanned. If you have a scheduled C-section, you may be asked not to eat or drink after midnight before the procedure.

The C-Section Procedure

Anesthesia prevents pain during the surgery. You may feel some pressure and tugging as the uterus is opened and the baby and placenta are removed. Ask your doctor about medication to help manage pain after the procedure. You may be given:

  • General anesthesia — You'll be asleep
  • Regional anesthesia such as epidural or spinal block — An area of your body will be numb, but you'll be awake

Many women prefer regional anesthesia so that they can be awake to see their new baby.

A C-section typically takes 45-60 minutes. Your doctor will make incisions in your abdominal skin and uterus and then remove the baby. Your doctor will then close the uterus with stitches or staples.

After a C-Section

Your doctor will examine your baby. You may be able to hold your baby, depending on the condition of you and your baby.

Your hospital stay may last between 3-5 days.

Recovering at the Hospital

  • Very soon after birth, your baby may be placed on your chest. This skin-to-skin contact may lead to improved breastfeeding success.
  • You may need help learning breastfeeding positions. The correct position will keep you from putting too much pressure on your incision.
  • You may need medication to help with nausea or pain.
  • You will likely experience some uterine cramping and pain.
  • You may be on a clear liquid diet after surgery. You'll advance to a normal diet as you are able.
  • Your bowels will work more slowly than usual. Chewing gum may help speed the process of your bowel function returning to normal.
  • You may be given special compression stockings to help to decrease the possibility of blood clots in your legs.
  • You'll be encouraged to walk very soon after surgery.
  • For lung health, you may be asked to use an incentive spirometer and cough often. These steps will help you breathe deeply.
  • After any delivery, there will be moderate-to-heavy vaginal bleeding. You'll need to use an absorbent sanitary napkin.

At Home After a C-Section

When you return home, do the following to help ensure a smooth recovery:

  • Avoid lifting anything heavier than your baby for the first weeks after surgery.
  • Do not drive until your doctor says it is all right to do so.
  • Ask your doctor when it's safe to shower, bathe or soak in water.
  • Delay having sexual intercourse or putting any objects in the vagina until you have had your 6-week check-up.
  • Breastfeeding is encouraged.

You should heal quickly and completely after a C-section. Talk with your doctor about the type of incisions used during your procedure. It may play a role in decisions about future births.


Call 434.243.3675.


Content was created using EBSCO's Health Library. Edits to original content made by Rector and Visitors of the University of Virginia. This information is not a substitute for professional medical advice.