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What Actually Happens During a Cesarean Section?

For nine months, you spend every moment growing, nurturing, and planning for your baby. Then, the day comes — and it’s time to meet your beautiful newborn in person.

There are plenty of decisions to make when it comes to welcoming your baby into this world, such as where you deliver, who will be present, and maybe even what music you'll play during the delivery.

One other aspect of your delivery includes whether you will have a vaginal delivery or a cesarean section (C-section).

A C-section is the delivery of a baby through incisions in the mother's abdomen and uterus. While some C-sections are planned, others are emergency surgeries.

Facts About Cesarean Sections


April is Worldwide Cesarean Awareness Month. Whether you're planning on a C-section or not, it’s a good idea to brush up on your C-section basics. Here are some reasons a C-section might be necessary — and what actually happens during the surgery.

What Are Some Reasons to Have a Cesarean Section?

From preparing the nursery to stocking up on diapers to simply taking some time to relax, there are many ways to get ready to welcome your baby into the world.

One of those ways is deciding on what type of delivery to have. Sometimes, a C-section is decided beforehand because of reasons such as:

  • Multiple pregnancies, such as twins or triplets, due to concerns like the babies being born too early or not being in good positions for a vaginal delivery
  • Maternal infections, such as human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) or herpes
  • Maternal medical conditions, such as diabetes or high blood pressure
  • A very large baby

C-sections can also be performed due to unforeseen complications, such as:

  • Failure of labor to progress, including the cervix not opening up enough
  • Concerns for the baby, such as the umbilical cord becoming pinched or abnormal heart rate
  • Breech presentation (when the baby’s feet or buttocks would be born first)
  • Problems with the placenta, like placenta previa (where the placenta is blocking the birth canal)

Risks of a Cesarean Section

Though C-sections are made to keep both mom and baby safe, it’s still major surgery. As a result, it carries risk, including:

  • Infection
  • Blood loss
  • Blood clots in the legs, lungs, or pelvic organs
  • Bowel or bladder injury
  • Reaction to the anesthesia or medications

From Beginning to End: How a Cesarean Section Is Performed

Compared to vaginal delivery, there's a little more involved in preparing for a C-section.

To start, you will get an intravenous (IV) line for fluids and an antibiotic. You will also be given one of the following medications to make the procedure more comfortable:

  • General anesthesia, putting you in a sleep-like state, OR
  • An epidural or spinal block, which both numb the lower half of your body — but you will remain awake during the surgery

Just before a C-section, you will have a catheter inserted into your urethra to drain your bladder and your abdomen will be washed. These are both done to prevent infection.

In order to keep the surgical site clean and sterile, a drape will be placed over your body — separating your upper from your lower body.

What Happens During a Cesarean Section

The procedure itself takes about 20 minutes. During a C-section:

  • A cut is made through your skin and the wall of your abdomen. This will be either horizontal (along the bikini line) or vertical.
  • Your abdominal muscles are separated to allow access to your uterus.
  • Another cut — either horizontal or vertical — is made in the wall of your uterus.
  • Your baby is delivered through these incisions.
  • The umbilical cord is cut and the placenta is removed.

Throughout a C-section, you'll likely feel some pressure twice — when the layers of tissue are stretched to access the uterus and then when the baby is actually delivered. Neither time should hurt, and some women have described the pressure as a pulling sensation.\

Occasionally, some women experience nausea during the surgery due to the pressure and movement of the uterus.

Immediately After a Cesarean Section

Once your baby is checked out by the pediatrician, they can usually be brought to you for skin-to-skin contact, breastfeeding, and taking in the first few moments with your newborn.

Meanwhile, your uterus will be closed with stitches (which will dissolve in the body) and your abdominal skin will be closed using stitches or staples.

What to Expect After Leaving the Hospital

C-sections take longer to recover from than vaginal deliveries. To start, you’ll normally stay in the hospital for between 2 and 4 days. When you go home, you’ll need to be a little more careful as you recover.

Your abdominal incision will likely be sore for the first few days, but your healthcare provider can prescribe medication to make you more comfortable. A heating pad may also alleviate some pain.

You may also experience:

  • Mild cramping (especially if you are breastfeeding)
  • Bleeding or discharge for up to 6 weeks
  • Bleeding with clots
  • Pain at the site of the incision

For a few weeks after a C-section, you'll need to avoid placing anything in your vagina, like a tampon. You should also avoid having sex until your provider gives you clearance. Additionally, there is a chance you may have difficulties having a vaginal birth later on, though some women are still able to do so.

Preparation and Support: The Key to a Successful Cesarean Section

Though many women have C-sections to welcome their baby into the world, there are some added hurdles. As a result, preparing yourself for what to expect — and recognizing that each woman is different — is key.

Be sure to lean on your support system as you recover. Not only is your body healing from major surgery, but you also have a newborn to care for. From relying on your partner to family to close friends, ask for help when you need it.

Having a baby is a special and exciting experience. No matter the delivery type, you’ll be able to hold your baby in your arms for the first time of many.

Do You Have Questions About Having a Cesarean Section Delivery?

Call 610-738-2300 to make an appointment with a Chester County Hospital Ob/Gyn specialist or sign up for our Understanding Cesarean E-Class.

Related Information from Chester County Hospital:

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