Giving birth by caesarean section

There are situations where the safest option for you or your baby is to have a caesarean section. As a caesarean section involves major surgery, it will only be performed where there is a real clinical need for this type of delivery.

About caesarean section

During a caesarean section, your baby is delivered by cutting through your abdomen and then into your uterus. The cut is made across your abdomen. 

If you are expecting twins, triplets or more, it is more likely that you will be advised to have a caesarean section. This will depend on how your pregnancy progresses, the position of your babies and whether the babies share a placenta.

Whenever a caesarean is suggested, your doctor will explain why it is advised and any possible side effects. Do not hesitate to ask any questions you might have.

Urgent (emergency) caesarean

Urgent (emergency) caesarean sections are necessary when complications develop and delivery needs to be quick. This may be before or during labour.

If your midwife and doctor are concerned about you or your baby, they will suggest you have a caesarean right away. Sometimes your doctor or midwife might suggest a caesarean section if your cervix does not fully dilate.

The operation

In the UK, most caesarean sections are performed under epidural or spinal anaesthesia, which minimises risk and means you are awake for the delivery of your baby. A general anaesthetic is sometimes used, especially if the baby needs to be delivered very quickly.

If you have an epidural or spinal anaesthesia, you will not feel pain, just some tugging and pulling as your baby is delivered.  A screen will be put up so you cannot see that is being done. The doctors will talk to you and let you know what is happening.

Planned (elective) caesareans

A caesarean is ‘elective’ if it is pre-planned. This usually happens because your doctor or midwife thinks labour will be dangerous for you or your baby.

It takes about five to ten minutes to deliver the baby and the whole operation takes about 40-50 minutes.

One advantage of an epidural or spinal anaesthetic is that you’re awake for the delivery and can see and hold your baby immediately. Your birth partner can stay with you during the operation.

After a caesarean section

After a caesarean section, you will be uncomfortable and will be offered painkillers. You will usually be fitted with a catheter (a tube connected to your bladder) for up to 24 hours and you may be prescribed daily injections to prevent blood clots called thrombosis.

Depending on the help you have at home, you should be able to leave hospital within two to four days.

You will be encouraged to become mobile as soon as possible and your midwife or hospital physiotherapist will give you advice on postnatal exercises to help your recovery.

As soon as you can move without pain, you can drive, as long as you are able to make an emergency stop. This could be six weeks or sooner, though your insurance company may have specific post-operative conditions.

Future pregnancies

If you have your first baby by caesarean section, this does not necessarily mean any future baby will have to be delivered this way. Vaginal birth after a caesarean can and does happen. You should discuss this with your doctor or midwife.

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