A cesarean section (C-section) is a major surgery in which a baby is delivered directly out of the uterus instead of the traditional vaginal method. This is achieved through an incision to the mother’s abdominal wall so the baby may be retrieved. According to the National Institutes of Health, one in four babies are born via C-section in the U.S. Overall, C-sections are on the rise worldwide. This type of surgery is only done if there are potential problems with the health of the mother or baby. While the process might seem simpler than vaginal delivery, the recovery time is usually much longer. It is important to discuss all delivery options with a doctor and to follow recommendations for a healthy baby.
Why a C-Section?
A cesarean section is ordered when there are problems present with either the mother or baby. Below is a list of the most common reasons doctors order C-sections:
- Baby is considered breach (head not facing the cervix). According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, this happens in three out of 100 births in the U.S.
- Cervix is not dilated enough
- Gestational diabetes
- Emergency health problems in mother
- Baby is showing signs of distress
- Lack of oxygen flow to baby due to placental abruption
- Mother is having multiple babies
There is also the assumption that if you had a C-section before, you will have one for any subsequent births. Uterine damage may exist where vaginal delivery may be challenging. While this is the case in some women, the American Pregnancy Association reports that 90 percent of all women who have had cesareans are still candidates for future deliveries. This largely depends on your health after cesarean, as well as the circumstances of subsequent pregnancies.
The thought of having abdominal surgery to deliver your baby can be a frightening prospect, and one which some women regard as feeling too unnatural. However, if there are significant concerns with your or the baby, then C-sections are the best course of action. Keep in mind that cesarean sections are only recommended when the benefits outweigh the risks of delivering vaginally. If the life of the mother or the baby is in question, then a C-section is the only way to go. Part of the reason why the number of cesarean sections have increased is due to the fact that medical professionals are better equipped to detect potential problems.
Overall, a C-section is a relatively quick surgery that usually lasts for about an hour. This is quicker than the average vaginal delivery because the cervix does not have to be dilated in order to cut the mother’s abdomen open to retrieve the baby from the uterus. In fact, some women don’t even experience typical labor pains when the C-section is planned in advance.
The type of anesthesia used depends on the circumstances of the labor. Regional anesthesia is preferable because it allows you to be awake for the procedure. This medication numbs the lower half of your body and carries a lower risk of side effects for the baby. General anesthesia, on the other hand, is used in emergency situations in which the labor may be putting mother or baby in danger. This form of anesthesia causes you to go under during the surgery. A doctor will weigh out the benefits and risks of each.
While cesarean sections are widely regarded as safe, this major surgery doesn’t come without the risk of side effects. Mothers may be privy to effects after the surgery, such as blood loss and infection. Although rare, the chances of death are greater with a C-section compared with vaginal birth. Even after a successful surgery, some mothers may experience post-partum depression associated with the absence of a “natural” birthing experience.
Newborns are also vulnerable to risks associated with C-sections. Babies can have a difficult time breathing on their own, especially when general anesthesia is used for the procedure. According to the American Pregnancy Association, babies born via cesarean have a 50 percent greater chance of getting low APGAR scores. Such scores measure a newborn’s breathing capabilities, heart rate, muscle tone and skin after birth. Furthermore, the Association reports that an estimated two out of every 100 babies are injured during cesarean deliveries.
While most C-sections are successful, the recovery time is much longer compared with a vaginal delivery. Instead of being discharged from the hospital within two days, you may have an extended stay so your doctor can ensure your abdomen is healing properly. When general anesthesia is used, both mother and baby can be sleepy for several hours. Overall, a mother’s recovery time from a cesarean can take up to eight weeks or longer.
C-sections are beneficial in potentially dangerous labors, but they should not be relied upon as a simple alternative to vaginal birth. Understand all the benefits versus the risks of the surgery and be prepared to welcome your new little loved one into the world no matter what method is used.