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What Is Involved in a C-Section Procedure?

By Jacquelyn Gilchrist
Updated May 17, 2024
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A C-section procedure, also called a cesarean section or a cesarean delivery, is surgery to deliver a baby. Some women may know in advance that they will give birth by C-section, but for others it may be an emergency procedure. After administering anesthesia, the surgeon will make an incision in the abdomen and then in the uterus. The baby can then be removed from the uterus and the doctor will close the incisions. There are risks involved for both the mother and the baby, as well a longer recovery time compared to a vaginal birth.

Usually, a woman may expect to have regional anesthesia to block pain during a c-section procedure. She will be awake, but will not feel anything on the lower half of her body. If the patient needs an emergency, unplanned c-section, the anesthesiologist may occasionally administer a general anesthesia to render her unconscious. Other preparations for a c-section procedure include sterilizing the abdomen and inserting a catheter for urine collection. Medications and fluids will be administered intravenously.

Once the preparations are complete, the c-section procedure will proceed with the initial incision in the patient's abdomen. It is typically a horizontal incision, called a low transverse incision. However, sometimes a larger, vertical incision may be needed. Following this, an incision in the wall of the uterus will be made.

The doctor will then reach into the uterus to gently take the baby out. After the c-section procedure, the doctor will clear the baby's airways and cut the umbilical cord. Once the placenta is also removed, the incisions can be sutured. Sometimes, the newborn can appear sluggish for awhile, due to the anesthesia used for the c-section procedure.

Women undergoing a cesarean section can expect a longer recovery time in comparison to a vaginal birth. They will typically stay in the hospital for three days, or possibly longer if there are complications. The patient will be closely monitored and encouraged to get up and walk to help prevent blood clots. A total of four to six weeks may be needed to recover from a c-section procedure and patients will need to carefully follow the doctor's post-operation instructions. If the patient chooses to breastfeed, health care professionals can help her do so comfortably despite the incisions.

Those who plan their c-section procedure ahead of time, rather than in an emergency situation, should discuss the potential risks with their doctors. The mother is at risk for blood clots, infections, and injuries to surrounding organs. A cesarean section can also put the patient at a greater risk for complications during future pregnancies, as well as blood loss and infection of the uterus' membrane. There is also a risk of injury to the baby and the possibility that he will develop breathing problems, particularly if he is delivered prematurely.

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