C-Sections: 7 Things Doctors Want You to Know

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    C-Section Delivery and Recovery: What Obstetricians Say
    When you’re pregnant, holding your healthy baby in your arms is the most important thing, hands-down. But how you give birth—whether by vaginal birth or surgical birth, better known as a Cesarean section—matters too. Vaginal birth generally has some physical benefits for both mother and baby. For example, most women will have a smoother recovery following a vaginal birth. As for babies, being squeezed through the birth canal helps expel any lingering amniotic fluid in the lungs. Most women don’t set out to have a C-section, but nearly 1 out of 3 births in the U.S. each year is a Cesarean. Here’s what four obstetricians want you to know about C-sections.




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    1. “C-sections are common, but still major surgery.”
    The fact that C-sections are so common in the United States can make it easy to overlook that they are a major operation. Like any surgery, C-sections carry the risk of complications like infection, blood clots, and excessive bleeding. “I’ve had patients ask if having a C-section is really such a big deal,” says William M. Gilbert, MD, an obstetrician in Sacramento, Calif. “Once I explain what happens, they understand it’s not a trivial procedure.” During a C-section, you’ll typically be given regional anesthesia, meaning you will be awake but unable to feel the lower part of your body. The obstetrician will make a horizontal incision through your abdominal wall, usually just above the pubic hairline. After delivering your baby through this incision, your doctor will remove the placenta and close the incision with stitches and staples, a process that takes longer than the actual birth. You and the baby will need to stay in the hospital for 2 to 3 days to recover.

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    2. “Expect a longer recovery with a C-section.”
    Taking care of a newborn is hard work. Doing it after a C-section is even harder because your body is healing from surgery as well as birth. A C-section delivery comes with a longer hospital stay, and women who have C-sections often require more painkillers than those who delivered vaginally. But some aspects of healing are comparable, no matter how you deliver. For example, all women can expect to have vaginal bleeding for 3 to 4 weeks after giving birth. “The uterus bleeds while it heals over where the placenta was implanted, regardless of how the baby was delivered,” explains Grant Campbell, MD, an obstetrician with Carolinas HealthCare in Charlotte, N.C. And all women should wait for their doctor’s all-clear to resume having sex, which will usually come about 6 to 8 weeks after delivery.




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    3. “Most risk factors are beyond your control.”
    Some risk factors for needing a C-section have to do with the baby and some with the mother. For example, your doctor might recommend a scheduled C-section if your baby is in a breech position or if you’re carrying more than one baby. That’s also true if your placenta has attached to the cervix (placenta previa) or if your pelvis is abnormally shaped. Certain maternal issues make it more likely you’ll need a C-section, too, including diabetes, high blood pressure, and obesity. “The one thing a mother can do to lessen her risk of needing a C-section is to start at a healthy pre-pregnancy weight and limit her pregnancy weight gain to whatever her doctor recommends,” says Dr. Campbell. “And if she does develop gestational diabetes, she can keep her sugars tightly controlled.”




  • USA, Utah, Payson, Pregnant woman in labor at hospital
    4. “Even with good planning, birth is unpredictable.”
    Most C-sections occur because of issues with either the baby or mother during labor. “We will usually recommend a C-section for a laboring patient if they are in active labor, have adequately strong contractions, and there is no cervical change in four or more hours,” says Rebecca Hunt, MD, an obstetrician with Maine Medical Partners Women's Health in Portland, Maine. “We will also do so if the baby looks like it’s in distress based on the fetal heart tracing on the monitor.” Situations can also arise during labor that lead to an emergency C-section. These include umbilical cord prolapse, in which the cord enters the birth canal before the baby’s head, and a sudden spike in the mother’s blood pressure that could indicate preeclampsia, a life-threatening complication.




  • smiling pregnant woman
    5. “If your friend had a C-section, that doesn’t mean you will.”
    Part of the excitement of pregnancy is hearing the birth stories of friends, family, colleagues and sometimes even complete strangers. By the time you’re ready to deliver, you’ll have heard them all. But no matter how similar your pregnancy has been to those of your friends, your birth will be as unique as you are. “Women often listen to stories and end up frightened of giving birth, but it’s important to know your friend’s experience has nothing to do with your experience,” says Carlton Pearse, MD, an obstetrician in Chesterfield, Mo. “On the other hand, your mother’s or sisters’ labors might predict what yours will be like, so I do want to hear about that.”




  • Pregnant woman
    6. “Needing a C-section is not a failure.”
    Some women who end up needing a C-section feel peaceful about the decision. Others find it challenging to accept if they had their hearts set on delivering vaginally. “Needing a C-section is absolutely not a failure. I’d love every woman to have the labor she desires, but sometimes it just isn’t going to happen,” says Dr. Pearse. “Birth can’t always be controlled. It’s a process that has to run its course, and it’s in no way a reflection on the mother or baby if a surgical birth is needed.”




  • Mixed race mother admiring newborn baby son
    7. “A C-section can be as magical as a vaginal birth.”
    Many doctors go out of their way to create a comfortable, friendly atmosphere in the operating room. If the mother wants to watch her baby being born, Dr. Hunt uses a clear surgical drape so the mother can see the delivery. “For patients for whom it is appropriate, we practice delayed cord clamping and early skin-to-skin contact and suckling,” she says. “We are just happy to be part of your special day and to keep everyone as safe as we can.”




Things Doctors Want You To Know About Emergency C-Section & Recovery
Contributors
  • Grant Campbell, MD

    Medical Director at Eastover University OB/GYN and an obstetrician-gynecologist at Carolinas HealthCare System in Charlotte, N.C.

  • William M. Gilbert, MD

    Regional Medical Director of Women's Services at Sutter Health and a professor in the Department of Obstetrics & Gynecology at the University of California, Davis.

  • Rebecca Hunt, MD
    Obstetrics and Gynecology medicine specialist at Maine Medical Center in Portland.
  • Carlton Pearse, MD

    Chief of Obstetrics and Gynecology at St. Luke's Hospital in Chesterfield, Mo.

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Medical Reviewer: William C. Lloyd III, MD, FACS
Last Review Date: 2019 Jun 29
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