A cesarean delivery — also called a C-section or cesarean section — is the surgical delivery of a baby. It has to do with one incision in the mother’s abdomen and another in the uterus.
Cesarean deliveries are generally prevented before 39 weeks of pregnancy so the child has proper time to develop in the womb. Sometimes, complications arise and a cesarean delivery must be carried out before 39 weeks.
Why a cesarean delivery is performed?
A cesarean delivery is normally done when complications from pregnancy make traditional vaginal birth difficult, or put the mother or child at risk. Sometimes cesarean deliveries are planned early in the pregnancy, but they’re most often done when issues arise during labor.
Reasons for a cesarean delivery include:
Early pregnancy complications
Baby has developmental conditions
Baby’s head is big for the birth canal
The baby is coming out with both feet first (breech birth)
Mother’s health issues, such as high blood pressure or unsteady heart disease
Mother has active genital herpes that may be passed on to the baby
Previous cesarean delivery
Problems with the umbilical cord
Reduced oxygen supply to the baby
The baby is coming out with the shoulder first (transverse labor)
The risks of a cesarean delivery
A cesarean delivery is becoming a common type of delivery worldwide, but it’s still a major surgery that carries risks for both mother and child. Natural childbirth is still the best option for the lowest risk of complications.
The risks of a cesarean delivery include:
Injury to the child during surgery
Longer recovery time compared with vaginal birth
Surgical injury to other organs
Breathing problems for the child, especially if performed before 39 weeks of pregnancy
Increased risks for future pregnancies
You and your doctor will discuss your birthing options prior to your due date. Your doctor will also be able to determine if you or your baby are showing any signs of complications that would need a cesarean delivery.
How to prepare for a cesarean delivery
If you and your doctor agree that a cesarean delivery is the preferred option for delivery, your doctor will give you full instructions about what you can do to lower your risk of problems and have an itch free cesarean delivery.
As with all pregnancy, prenatal appointments will have to do with a lot of checkups. This will include blood tests and other examinations to know your health for the likelihood of a cesarean delivery.
Your doctor will make sure to record your blood type in case you need a blood transfusion at some stage in the surgery. Blood transfusions are rarely needed during a cesarean delivery, but your doctor will be prepared and ready for any complications.
Even if you are not preparing to have a cesarean delivery, you should always prepare for the unforeseen. At prenatal appointments with your doctor, talk about your risk factors for a cesarean delivery and what you can do to lower them.
How a cesarean delivery is performed
Prior to the surgery, your stomach will be cleaned and you’ll be prepared for receiving intravenous (IV) fluids into your arm. This allows doctors to administer fluids and any type of medicine you may need. You will also have a catheter added to keep your bladder empty during the surgery.
Epidural: a common anesthesia for both cesarean deliveries and vaginal, which is injected into your lower back outside the sac of the spinal cord
Spinal block: anesthesia that’s injected directly into the sac that surrounds your spinal cord, as a result numbing the lower part of your body
General anesthesia: anesthesia that puts you into a painless sleep, and is typically reserved for emergency situations
When you have been accurately medicated and numbed, your doctor will make an incision just above the pubic hairline. This is usually horizontal across the pelvis. In an emergency situation, the incision may be vertical.
Your doctor will first take care of your baby by clearing their nose and mouth of fluids and clamping and cutting the umbilical cord. Your baby will then be handed over to hospital attendant and they will ensure that your baby is breathing very well and prepare your baby to be put into your arms.
If you’re certain you do not want any more children, and have signed the consent, the doctor can tie your tubes (a tubal ligation) at the same time.
Your doctor will fix your uterus with dissolving stitches and close your abdominal incision with sutures.
Following up after a cesarean delivery
At the end of your cesarean delivery, you and your new baby will stay in the hospital for about three days. Directly after surgery, you will be on an IV. This allows for adjusted levels of painkillers to be taken into your bloodstream while the anesthesia wears off.
Your doctor will persuade you to get up and walk around. This can assist prevent blood clots and constipation. A nurse or doctor can teach you how to position your baby for breastfeeding so there’s no extra pain from the cesarean delivery incision area.
Your doctor will give you recommendations for home care after the surgery, but you should expect to:
Go gently and rest, especially for the first few weeks
Use correct posture to support your abdomen
Drink plenty of fluids to replace those lost in the course of your cesarean delivery
Seek for assistant if you experience symptoms of postpartum depression, such as severe mood
Swings or overwhelming fatigue
Avoid sex for four to six weeks
Take pain medications as needed
Contact your doctor if you experience any of these symptoms:
Breast pain that comes with a fever
Foul-smelling vaginal discharge or bleeding with large clots
Pain when urinating
Signs of infection — for instance, fever over 100 °F, redness, swelling or discharge from the incision site.
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