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What is an Elective Cesarean?

By J.S. Metzker Erdemir
Updated Feb 13, 2024
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An elective Cesarean section, or elective C-section, is when a mother chooses to deliver her baby surgically, and the procedure is scheduled in advance. Mothers and health practitioners choose elective Cesareans for a variety of reasons, including cases where a vaginal delivery may be too risky, or when a mother is afraid of the pain or after-effects of labor and vaginal birth. Although the safety and benefits of this procedure are controversial, elective Cesareans are increasing in the United States.

Elective Cesarean births are sometimes recommended by doctors because a physical or health condition indicates a woman will be unable to deliver a baby vaginally. Women with high blood pressure or heart problems, or babies that are exceptionally large might have complications during a normal birth that would necessitate an emergency C-section. Doctors might recommend scheduling the procedure because elective Cesareans are considered safer than emergency Cesareans.

Some women opt for an elective Cesarean because they believe the procedure is safer than a normal birth, because they fear the pain and trauma of a vaginal birth, or because they are apprehensive about possible after-effects of a normal delivery, such as sexual dysfunction or incontinence. Other women prefer the convenience of scheduling a birth because it allows them to plan for time off from work, child care for other children, and at-home help.

There is a great deal of controversy surrounding elective Cesareans, particularly in cases where it is medically unnecessary, because of the increased risks to the mother and baby. The procedure is usually scheduled to occur at 39 weeks of pregnancy, but unless the exact date of conception is known, it is possible for a baby to be delivered prematurely which can lead to respiratory and neurological problems because the brain and lungs develop quickly in the final weeks of gestation.

Although there have been great advances in surgical procedures in recent years with better antibiotics and more refined surgical and monitoring techniques, an elective Cesarean is still a major abdominal surgery, and new mothers may find it difficult to both recover from the surgery and care for their infants. There is an increased likelihood of nursing problems with babies delivered by c-section because milk production may not be sufficient for babies delivered too early, and because breastfeeding can be extremely painful for a mother whose abdomen is healing. Additionally, Cesareans for subsequent births are more likely after a woman has had one Cesarean.

WiseGEEK is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.

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