Ultimate guide to C sections
A caesarean section is an operation to deliver your baby through your tummy, we look at everything you need to know about caesarean delivery.
What is a C section?
A C section, also known as a caesarean section or caesarean, is surgical procedure in which a baby is born through an incision (cut) made in the mother’s abdomen and womb.
You can plan in advance to have a caesarean section, which is called a planned C section or elective caesarean. Or, you may need an emergency C section because of complications that develop, which means delivery needs to happen quickly. This may be before or during your labour.
Why are C sections used?
If it's not possible for you to give birth to your baby vaginally, you will need a C section. There are several reasons why you may have a C section delivery.
- Your labour has been going on for some time and isn't progressing.
- Your baby isn't getting enough oxygen, or there’s another problem putting them at risk. This is called fetal compromise or fetal distress.
- The placenta partly or completely covers your cervix (the neck of your womb). This is called placenta praevia.
- You’re expecting more than one baby, for example, twins or triplets.
- Your baby is lying with their feet or bottom first rather than their head downwards (called the breech position), and is not able to be turned by the doctor. This makes giving birth vaginally more difficult or sometimes impossible.
- Your baby is lying sideways and is not able to be turned by the doctor.
- There are complications, such as heavy bleeding or pre-eclampsia.
- You have certain viral infections that may be transmitted to your baby, such as genital herpes.
- You’ve previously had several C-section deliveries.
To meet your individual needs, your care may differ from what’s described here. Your obstetrician will discuss the reason they are recommending a C section with you based on your situation and preferences.
Types of caesarean delivery
There are two main types of C section delivery:
- Lower uterine segment C section is the most common type. A horizontal cut is made across the lower part of your abdomen and womb, usually parallel to your bikini line. There’s usually a smaller amount of blood lost with this type of C section, the cut heals better, and the scar that forms tends to be smaller and stronger.
- A classical caesarean section, which is less common nowadays. The cut to your womb is made vertically. It's likely that you will only need this type of caesarean section in extreme emergencies, or if there are reasons why a lower segment C section can’t be done. For example, your placenta may be in the way at the front (placenta praevia) or your baby is very small.
Preparing for a caesarean delivery
Right before the surgery, you’ll be given a special pair of stockings to wear until after the operation. These will reduce your risk of developing blot clots while you’re not moving around. You may also be given a dose of antibiotics before the surgery starts – this will help prevent you from developing an infection.
Pain relief for a caesarean delivery
The anaesthetist will provide you with the most appropriate form of anaesthesia during the C section operation. This may be an epidural, spinal block or a general anaesthesia. An epidural or spinal block will numb the feeling below your waist and stop you feeling pain, but you will still be awake – this is called regional anaesthesia.
For more information on epidurals check out our Guide to Epidural for childbirth here.
If you have a general anaesthetic, you will be a sleep during the C section operation.
What happens during a caesarean delivery?
Once the anaesthetic has taken effect, your tummy will be cleaned with antiseptic and any hair near the operation site will be shaved. Your surgeon will make a cut through your abdomen and your womb, and your baby will be carefully delivered. If you’ve had a regional anaesthetic, you won’t feel any pain but you may feel some pushing or pulling. Usually, you’ll be able to see and hold your baby immediately after they are born.
Your surgeon will then close your abdomen using stitches or clips and cover your wound with a dressing. Depending on the technique your surgeon uses, you may need to have your stitches taken out, or they may dissolve on their own.
What to expect after a caesarean delivery
Your catheter, drip and wound drain (if you have one) will be removed in the first couple of days, depending on your recovery. Once these have been removed, it’s important to take a gentle walk – a midwife will help you the first time you get out of bed.
It's usual to stay in hospital for about three or five days after having a C section. This can vary between hospitals or if there are problems with your recovery. If you’re recovering well and can have your follow-up care at home, you may be able to leave hospital sooner.
Recovering after a caesarean delivery
When you leave hospital after having a caesarean section, you’ll be given advice about how to manage any pain and discomfort when you get home. Make sure you read the patient information leaflet that comes with your medicine, and if you have any questions, have a chat with your pharmacist.
Make sure you keep your wound clean and dry, and wear loose clothing. Look out for signs of infection (such as redness, pain, swelling or an oozing discharge from the wound) and report these to you doctor or midwife.
Looking after a new baby is hard for all women, but it can be harder when you are recovering from a caesarean section. The length of time it takes to recover fully from a C section will be different for every woman. It's important that you don't try to do too much before you’re ready. This includes lifting and carrying heavy objects, doing vigorous exercise and driving. You can have sex once you have fully recovered from your operation and feel comfortable.
For more information on how to look after yourself after having a C section read our article here.