Pregnancy Information Center

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C-Section 101: What to Expect from a Cesarean


In case a C-section turns out to be safer for you and baby, here’s what you need to know

By Paula Ford-Martin

After all the planning for delivery day, many women feel let down if their baby ends up being born by Cesarean section, commonly known as C-section, in which an ob/gyn performs surgery to safely remove baby from your womb. But nearly one-third of babies delivered in the US arrive by C-section, so you have plenty of company if baby comes this way. And since labor and delivery can be unpredictable, it’s good to be ready for anything and everything. Here’s your chance to read up on C-section before the big day arrives.

Who Gets a C-Section?

Some women know ahead of time they’re going to have a C-section, called a planned C-section, due to factors ranging from the baby’s position to the position of the placenta. Other women find out much later — during labor, resulting in an emergency C-section. Keep in mind that if your healthcare provider recommends this procedure, it’s because they believe a C-section will provide the best outcome for you and your child. Having surgery doesn’t mean you’ve failed at childbirth — it’s simply a different delivery method.


Preparing for a C-Section

If your C-section is planned, you’ll be given instructions from your ob/gyn. These usually include what time to stop eating and drinking the night before and when to come to the hospital. 

At the hospital, you’ll change into a surgical gown, get hooked up to an IV, and have a chance to talk to your doctor and the anesthesiologist (the doctor responsible for monitoring your body functions and keeping you free of pain during the surgery). “It’s important for a woman to have confidence that she’ll be well taken care of,” says Jeffrey Swisher, MD, chair of the department of anesthesiology at California Pacific Medical Center in San Francisco. Meeting your providers is also positive for practical reasons: “The anesthesiologist is the one who’s making sure that all the other medical considerations the patient has, such as allergies, are known,” Swisher adds.


What Happens During a C-Section

Next, it’s into the operating room. If your surgery is planned, you may walk in. If it’s an unplanned emergency, you may be wheeled into the room on a bed.


    • Getting Ready. A heart rate monitor may be placed on your finger and a blood pressure cuff on your arm. You may also be given some oxygen. The hospital staff may ask you for your name, date of birth, and the procedure you’re having. Don’t be afraid that they don’t know — this is a safety check. If you already have a labor epidural, the anesthesiologist will ready it for surgery. If you need anesthesia, it will be placed now. 


    • Preparing the Area. After the team has made sure your anesthesia is in good shape, they’ll clean your belly with special soap and drape the area. Your arms will be placed to your sides, and may be loosely strapped. This is to keep you from accidentally reaching into the sterile area. If your partner is going with you to the operating room, they’ll be given medical scrubs to wear and a place to sit near your head. 


    • Delivering the Baby. Your ob/gyn will make a cut about 6 inches long from side to side in the lower part of your belly, just below your panty line. You may feel pressure, but you shouldn’t feel any pain. Next, your doctor will deliver your baby through the incision. It’s normal to feel a strong pushing or pulling sensation; again, you shouldn’t feel pain. 


    • Saying Hello. Now for the part you’ve been waiting for: Your doctor will show you your baby! Then, baby is handed off to the pediatric team and taken to a warmer in the same room. Your partner can stay with you or go to the baby to take pictures and report back. They’ll have a chance to trim the umbilical cord while baby is in the warmer (the doctor cuts it before the hand-off).


    • Finishing the Surgery. Once your teams are assured that you’re both safe and healthy, your baby will be taken to you. It can be difficult to hold a little one as the surgery is being completed, but your partner can cradle baby by your side while your ob/gyn makes sure the placenta is completely removed, then closes your incision and dresses it with a bandage. 


    • “Post-Op.” Next, you’ll be taken to a recovery room where your baby can join you. Most hospitals will try to keep you together and delay bathing, shots and exams until you’re ready (the only exception is if your baby is premature or has health issues). You may spend an hour or so in this recovery room being monitored before heading up to your maternity room. 


    • Your Hospital Stay. If you have an uncomplicated C-section, you’ll stay about 3 days. This is a good time to become confident about changing diapers and caring for your baby with the help of the hospital staff. They’re a great source of advice if you choose to breastfeed, too. Once you get home you’ll still need to take it easy. It can take up to 6 weeks to feel fully recovered; perfect for passing the time with your delicious new baby.

Published on December 30, 2015.

Paula Ford-Martin has authored more than a dozen consumer health and parenting books, including the bestselling Everything Pregnancy Book, 4th edition, and The Only Pregnancy Book You’ll Ever Need.

Reviewed by Elisabeth Aron, MD, MPH, FACOG on November 6, 2015.
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