What are the Most Common Reasons for an Emergency C-Section?

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  • Written By: Melanie Smeltzer
  • Edited By: Daniel Lindley
  • Last Modified Date: 02 September 2019
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Although many C-sections (Caesarean sections) are planned, many others are done due to potential complications for the baby, mother, or both. An emergency C-section is commonly performed when the baby is either in an unusual position or is too large to fit through the birth canal. Other common reasons for this operation may include placental abruption, a prolapsed cord, or fetal distress.

When the baby is too large to fit through the birth canal, an emergency C-section may be performed. There is no way to predetermine whether the child will be too large for natural labor to be effective, so this procedure is often performed when labor fails to progress. This is often considered an emergency situation because when the water breaks, the chances for infection of both child and mother increase.

Malpositioning is another common reason for an emergency C-section. The baby may be in a position where the feet or buttocks are facing down, or it may be lying sideways. This is thought to be dangerous to the child, as these positions can potentially cut off the flow of oxygen, which may result in a number of complications. In some cases, malpositioning may be detected prior to labor, and the baby may be repositioned during the pregnancy. When it is not detected, however, emergency surgery is often advised.


Fetal distress, frequently caused by low oxygen levels either before birth or during, is another common reason for an emergency C-section. In some cases, a doctor may feel that low oxygenation is correctable, and take measures to increase the flow of oxygen. Should the situation progress with no improvement, the doctor may deem it necessary to remove the child quickly, which is often done by C-section.

Placental abruption and a prolapsed cord are two other common reasons for an emergency C-section. The placenta forms in the uterus during pregnancy, and is meant to provide nourishment and oxygen to the fetus. When this structure pulls away from the uterus, it can deprive the baby of these life-sustaining essentials and may also cause severe bleeding in the mother. When a portion of the umbilical cord comes out of the cervix ahead of the baby it is called a prolapsed cord. This can cut off the flow of oxygen, which can cause hypoxia or shock.



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