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  Pregnancy eMagazine

What to expect from a C-section

While many women plan for and experience vaginal birth, it's good to know what to expect should a Cesarean, or C-section, become necessary.

Reasons for a Cesarean birth

One reason for having a C-section is that the baby's position is not suitable for vaginal birth. The ideal position is head first.

A C-section also may be needed if...

  • your baby doesn't fit through your birth canal
  • your baby experiences a drop in heartbeat or problems with the placenta
  • you're having twins, triplets or more (Multiple babies often are not ideally positioned for birth. For example, twins typically both present head first less than 50 percent of the time.)

The procedure

Cesarean section is considered major abdominal surgery. There is some risk of complications, such as blood loss, infection and damage to other organs.

Before the C-section begins, you will be given an IV in your arm for the anesthesia, and a catheter to drain urine from your bladder.

You may also be given an epidural or spinal block to provide analgesia. Analgesia will allow you to be awake for your child's birth, but keep you from feeling any pain.

Once the analgesia has taken effect, your doctor will make one incision in your abdomen and a second on your uterus. These incisions may be up-and-down (vertical) or side-to-side (horizontal), depending on any prior incisions you have, and the urgency of the birth.

The baby is usually born in a few minutes. After the baby is born, your doctor will remove the placenta, stitch your uterus closed and stitch or staple your abdomen closed. The area will be washed and bandaged.

Recovery after surgery

In most cases, your baby or babies and your partner will be with you as you recover from the surgery.

In the recovery room, your nurse will frequently check your blood pressure, heart rate and temperature; the condition of your uterus and the incision; and the amount of bleeding you are having. He or she will give you pain medication and help you with breastfeeding, if you choose.

If everything is progressing well, after about two hours, the baby may be taken to the newborn nursery and you will be transferred to a regular room for the rest of your stay. In some hospitals, the baby stays in the mother's room all of the time.

Resuming activity

You're likely to experience pain from the incision for the first week or two. Even so, it's a good idea to get up and walk within 12 to 16 hours to prevent possible blood clots in your legs and to avoid the risk of developing respiratory problems like pneumonia. You will be allowed to drink, and to eat gradually as your stomach and intestines begin functioning normally after the surgery.

After you leave the hospital, avoid heavy physical activity (such as lifting) and driving for four to six weeks. You may be given pain medication to take as needed, which is fine to take for a short time if you are breastfeeding. Your doctor may recommend that you not have sexual intercourse until you have had a follow up exam.

Don't hesitate to ask your doctor or other health care provider any questions you might have as you recover from the Cesarean procedure.

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Source: Harvard Medical School

First published: 07/04/2000
Last updated: 10/14/2007

Reviewed by: Michael Slama, MD, Allina Health Mercy Women's Health Clinic