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What is a Caesarean Section?

By Garry Crystal
Updated Feb 04, 2024
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A Caesarean section is a medical procedure that involves cutting the abdomen and womb in order to deliver a baby. Around 20% of babies are born through this procedure. Some women choose this procedure as a personal preference, but there are many other reasons a doctor might perform a Caesarean section.

In the majority of cases, there is an urgent medical reason for this type of childbirth. Such reasons may include severe preeclampsia, which is high blood pressure due to the pregnancy. There may also be circumstances in which the baby is not receiving enough oxygen, and a vaginal birth is not an option due to time. If the baby is premature, then a Caesarean section may be warranted to prevent damage to its fragile head.

Labor problems, such as irregularities that cause the baby to move too slowly down the birth canal, may also necessitate a Caesarean section. There may also be a blockage to the exit of the womb caused by the placenta. Sometimes, a baby's head is too big to fit through the pelvic area. Such a procedure may also be performed if the baby's position in the womb is irregular.

A doctor performs a Caesarean section by cutting horizontally along the lower abdomen wall. Another incision is made at the same place in the womb. Cutting along the lower abdomen results in less damage to the womb muscles. It also allows for repeat procedures, if necessary, in the future.

The procedure takes place using an anesthetic, either general, epidural or spinal. A local anesthetic allows the mother to be awake during the birth. The baby is delivered through the incision made in the womb. The placenta detaches from the baby and is removed. The womb wall is then swabbed clean and closed with dissolvable stitches.

Recovery after a Caesarean section is usually quite rapid. It takes around six weeks for the tissue to heal. The mother will be able to provide the baby with basic care, but she should not engage in any heavy lifting.

In any surgical procedure, some complications can arise. A Caesarean section is a major abdominal surgery, and there are a few risks involved. These include womb infections, blood clots and excessive bleeding. However, these procedures have saved the lives of countless mothers and babies. In an emergency, the risks of the procedure are far outweighed by those of not proceeding with a Caesarean section.

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Discussion Comments
By dfoster85 — On May 20, 2011

@jholcomb - I don't disagree with you that moms should try to avoid cesarean sections. But the natural childbirth community tends to make every c-section seem like a failure. I had one myself after a long, stalled labor and trying everything natural and medical to move things along. My recovery was smooth and I have no regrets.

That said, it was definitely major surgery and I wouldn't wish it on anyone. "It's not like an appendectomy," one of my nurses said. I guess an appendectomy is minor abdominal surgery?

By jholcomb — On May 19, 2011

The World Health Organization (WHO) puts the ideal C-section rate at 10-15%. Going higher than that, they say, doesn't save mothers and babies--it harms them. Caesarean section rates in this country are closer to one in three and even higher in some places and practices. Expectant mothers owe it to themselves to educate themselves and do everything possible to avoid a possibly unnecessary surgery. Take a childbirth class, choose your provider carefully, have good labor support. Most importantly, try to avoid as many interventions as possible. Induction of labor, epidurals, Pitocin, etc. all increase your chance of a c-section.

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