giving birth by caesarean section

a pregnancy baby bump

Caesarean births are becoming pretty common, with around one in four pregnant women welcoming their babies into the world this way. This article will give you some helpful tips and general advice about what to expect if you have an elective or emergency caesarean birth.

what is a C-section birth?

A caesarean section is a surgical method of getting your baby out via your tummy instead of through your vagina. The doctor makes a cut just at the top of your bikini line (so the scar will be hidden), reaches into your womb and lifts out your baby. After cutting the cord and taking your placenta out, they'll then stitch you back up. The whole procedure takes less than an hour, and you can usually hold your baby immediately after the birth.

what do I do during a C-section?

Because you're normally given a local anaesthetic you'll be awake, but you won't be able to feel a thing. You won't be able to see either, because the doctor will put a screen in front of you. Your birth partner can have a peek if they want to (if they're not too squeamish!). You'll be given some medicine to settle your stomach, a drip in your arm to keep you hydrated, and a tube inserted into your bladder so you don't have to get up to pee.

when might I need a caesarean section?

Sometimes having a natural birth is a bit too risky, for example if your baby's in breech position (ready to come out feet first) or you have a low-lying placenta. Other risks include high blood pressure which can be an early sign of pre-eclampsia. Sometimes the doctor will decide to give you a C-section after you have started to give birth, this can be for a number of reasons e.g. your labour is taking too long or your baby is getting distressed. The midwife and doctor will fully explain the reasons should this happen to you.

can I choose to have a C-section?

Yes: this is called an elective caesarean and can take place any time from 38 weeks. As it’s a serious surgical procedure, many doctors are wary of doing it unless it’s absolutely necessary for your health or your baby’s. They'll discuss the pros and cons fully with you, and can refer you to a counsellor if you're really anxious about vaginal delivery. If you still want a C-section after these discussions you're well within your rights to ask for one.

how long does it take to recover?

It usually takes longer to get over a C-section than it does a vaginal birth. You'll need to stay in the hospital for a bit longer, usually three or four days instead of one or two. Because the procedure involves cutting through your tummy muscles there are a few activities you should avoid for about six weeks until they heal - one of these is driving, so make sure you have someone to take on chauffeur duty. You'll be given painkillers and you can ask your midwife for a further prescription if you need them.