Diseases & Conditions

Abdominal Delivery - C-Section


Overview & Description

A c-section is the delivery of a baby through an incision in the mother's abdomen. C-sections are done when the health of a mother or baby is at risk.

Who is a candidate for the procedure?

A c-section may be done to help the mother if:

  • the baby's head is too large to pass through her pelvis
  • labor has gone on too long without enough progress
  • the baby is in a position that will make a vaginal birth difficult
  • the mother is having medical problems, such as kidney failure or high blood pressure that can signal a dangerous health condition called pre-eclampsia
  • the mother is bleeding internally from a traumatic accident
  • the mother has a history of infertility, especially if she is older than age 40
  • an earlier pregnancy resulted in the birth of a stillborn baby
  • serious health problems, such as cancer or a coma, make it doubtful that a mother can withstand the stress of labor
  • a mother's pelvis is unusually shaped
  • a mother has had two or more previous c-sections
  • a mother's water breaks and her baby is not in a head-down position for delivery
  • A c-section may be done to help the baby if:

  • the baby is not getting enough oxygen
  • the baby's heart rate rises to an unhealthy level due to problems such as a fever in the mother or infection in the baby
  • the heart rate drops too low, possibly because the umbilical cord is wrapped around the baby's neck
  • he or she is part of a multiple birth, such as twins or triplets
  • there is placenta abruptio, where the placenta tears away from the uterus too early
  • there is placenta previa, which happens when the placenta is touching or covering the cervix
  • the baby has defects or health problems that may cause distress during labor
  • the baby has not been growing at a healthy rate, which is called intrauterine growth retardation
  • the mother has an active herpes outbreak in or near her vagina
  • How is the procedure performed?

    The woman is usually awake for a c-section. Spinal or epidural anesthesia may be used to prevent pain in the lower half of the body.

    The surgeon makes an incision just above the pubic hair or cuts through a previous abdominal incision. He or she must cut through many layers of the mother's tissues to get to the uterus. Then the lower portion of the uterus close to the bladder is opened. The baby's head is brought out through this incision, followed by the rest of his or her body. The uterus and all the layers of tissue and skin on top of it are then closed with stitches or staples.


    Preparation & Expectations

    What happens right after the procedure?

    After the c-section, the mother:

  • may try to breastfeed in the recovery room if she and the baby are doing well
  • will probably get antibiotics and intravenous (IV) fluids for 24 hours
  • will be encouraged to walk as soon as possible
  • may be given pain relievers through an IV pump or shots. Once the mother can eat food, she can take pills instead
  • usually stays in the hospital for at least 48 hours, depending on whether she or the baby has any more problems

  • Home Care and Complications

    What happens later at home?

    It takes longer to recover from a c-section than from a vaginal birth. Once she is home, a woman should:

  • try to get some help from friends and family or from paid employees, for the first few days
  • try to use the stairs very little for the first week
  • walk daily to keep blood clots from forming in her legs
  • use a heating blanket on the incision, if needed to provide comfort
  • keep taking prenatal vitamins
  • eat a balanced diet with plenty of fluids to prevent constipation
  • What are the potential complications after the procedure?

    Problems are possible with any surgery that requires anesthesia. These include:

  • problems with the anesthetic, such as breathing problems or drug reactions
  • reactions to medicines, such as antibiotics or pain relievers
  • bleeding
  • a higher risk that blood transfusions will be needed
  • a pelvic or wound infection
  • bladder infection or trauma to the bladder
  • Any new or worsening symptoms should be reported to the doctor.


    Attribution

    Author:Eva Martin, MD
    Date Written:
    Editor:Crist, Gayle P., MS, BA
    Edit Date:09/17/02
    Reviewer:Kathleen A. MacNaughton, RN, BSN
    Date Reviewed:09/15/02