C-Section (Cesarean Section): Procedure, Risks & Recovery (2023)


What is a C-section?

A C-section, also called a cesarean section or cesarean delivery, is a surgical procedure in which a baby is delivered through incisions in your abdomen and uterus. They're performed when a vaginal delivery is not possible or safe, or when the health of you or your baby is at risk.

When would I need a C-section?

You may need a C-section if you have certain medical conditions or if complications occur during labor in a vaginal delivery. A planned C-section happens when any of the following conditions exist:

  • Cephalopelvic disproportion (CPD): CPD is a term that means that your baby's head or body is too large to pass safely through your pelvis, or your pelvis is too small to deliver an average-sized baby.
  • Previous C-section: Although it’s possible to have a vaginal birth after a previous C-section, it’s not an option for everyone. Factors that can affect this include type of uterine incision used in the previous C-section and the risk of uterine rupture.
  • Expecting multiples: Although twins can often be delivered vaginally, two or more babies might require a C-section.
  • Placenta previa: In this condition, the placenta is attached too low in your uterus and blocks your baby's exit through your cervix.
  • Transverse lie: The baby is in a horizontal, or sideways, position in your uterus.
  • Breech presentation: In a breech presentation, your baby's feet- or bottom-first in your uterus. Some providers may attempt to turn your baby, but a C-section will be necessary if that's unsuccessful.
  • Health conditions: Conditions like heart disease could worsen with labor during a vaginal birth. A C-section is necessary if you have genital herpes at the time of delivery.
  • Obstruction: A large uterine fibroid, a pelvic fracture or you're expecting a baby with certain congenital anomalies may also be reasons for a C-section.

An unplanned C-section delivery might be necessary if any of the following conditions arise during your labor:

  • Labor isn't progressing: Also called prolonged labor, this means your cervix dilates and stops, doesn't efface (or thin) or your baby stops moving down the birth canal.
  • Umbilical cord compression: The umbilical cord is looped around your baby's neck or body or caught between your baby's head and your pelvis.
  • Umbilical cord prolapse: The umbilical cord comes out of your cervix before your baby does.
  • Placental abruption: The placenta separates from the wall of your uterus before your baby is born.
  • Fetal distress: Your baby might develop problems that cause an irregular heart rate during labor. Your obstetrician might decide that the baby can no longer tolerate labor and that a C-section is necessary.

How common are C-sections?

According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), C-sections account for about 30% of all deliveries in the United States.

Procedure Details

What can I expect before a C-section?

If you have a planned C-section, the following procedures will take place:

(Video) Risks and benefits of VBAC and planned caesarean section

  • You'll sign consent forms for the procedure.
  • The anesthesiologist will discuss options for anesthesia. Most often, it's an epidural (or spinal block) that numbs you from your breasts down to your feet.
  • The hair in the area around the incision will be clipped or shaved.
  • A catheter will be inserted to keep your bladder empty.
  • You will have heart and blood pressure monitors applied.
  • You'll get an IV in your hand or arm to give you medicine and fluid.
  • You'll discuss the procedure and what to expect with your obstetrician (if you haven't already).

If you need an emergency C-section, your obstetrician delivers your baby quickly because either the health of you or your baby is at risk. However, there's typically not much time to prepare, and you may need general anesthesia because it works faster.

What actually happens during a C-section?

The first step in a C-section procedure is preparing you for anesthesia. Most planned C-sections use an epidural, so you are awake for the delivery. However, in some cases, you're asleep under general anesthesia.

Your abdomen will be cleaned with an antiseptic, and you might have an oxygen mask placed over your mouth and nose to increase oxygen to your baby. Next, your provider places a sterile drape around the incision site and over your legs and chest. Finally, your providers raise a sterile curtain or drape between your head and your lower body.

The obstetrician will then make an incision through your skin and into the wall of your abdomen. They might use either a vertical or transverse incision. A horizontal incision is also called a bikini incision.

Next, your provider cuts a 3- to 4-inch incision into the wall of your uterus. This incision can also be transverse or vertical. Finally, the obstetrician removes your baby through the incisions. The umbilical cord is cut, the placenta is removed and the incisions are closed with stitches and staples.

Emergency C-sections follow the same steps; however, the speed at which your baby is removed is different. During a planned C-section, the delivery takes about 10 to 15 minutes. Your provider removes your baby in only a few minutes in an emergency C-section.

If you're awake for your C-section surgery, you will be able to see and hold your baby shortly after it's born.

(Video) What to expect during a C-section | Real Footage

What does a C-section feel like?

You'll be under anesthesia, which should prevent you from feeling any pain. Most people report feeling a tug or pull when their baby is removed from their abdomen.

Are C-sections safe?

Vaginal births are usually preferred, but in some cases, a C-section is the only safe option. For example, a C-section is the safer option when your baby is breech or you have placenta previa (placenta covers part of the cervix). A C-section carries risks and benefits, which should be discussed with your pregnancy care provider.

How long does a C-section surgery take?

The typical C-section takes about 45 minutes from start to finish. After your provider delivers your baby, they'll stitch your uterus and close the incision in your abdomen. Different types of emergencies can arise during a delivery. In some cases, the delivery will happen very quickly, with your baby being delivered in as little as 15 minutes. This is an emergency C-section.

What happens after a C-section?

Like vaginal births, your obstetrician will deliver the placenta after your baby is born. Next, your provider will stitch your uterus and stitch or staple your abdominal muscles. Stitches should dissolve, but staples are removed at the hospital about one week later. Your abdomen will be sore for several days or weeks. In some cases, your provider may prescribe stronger pain medication.

You can expect to limit your activities, take it easy and rely on family and friends once you go home. A typical C-section surgery requires at least two to three days in the hospital.

Risks / Benefits

What are the benefits of a C-section?

The advantages of a C-section depend on your pregnancy. In most cases, the biggest benefit of a C-section is that it's safer for both you and your baby. When a vaginal birth is risky or could hurt your baby, most providers will turn to a C-section to minimize risks. Sometimes C-sections are unplanned. For example, if your baby's heart rate drops to an unsafe level, an emergency C-section is safer than letting your baby's heart rate decline further.

(Video) Cesarean Section: What to Expect

What are the risks involved in a C-section?

Like any surgery, a C-section involves some risks. The risks of complications are slightly higher with C-sections than with vaginal delivery. These might include:

  • Infection.
  • Loss of blood (hemorrhage).
  • A blood clot that may break off and enter your bloodstream (embolism).
  • Injury to the bowel or bladder.
  • A cut that might weaken the uterine wall.
  • Abnormalities of the placenta in future pregnancies.
  • Risks from general anesthesia.
  • Fetal injury.

Other disadvantages of having a C-section are:

  • Recovering from a C-section may be more difficult than a vaginal delivery.
  • C-sections are more likely to cause chronic pelvic pain.
  • You're more likely to have a C-section in future pregnancies.
  • Your baby may have trouble breastfeeding.
  • Your baby may be at greater risk for breathing problems.

Recovery and Outlook

How long does a C-section recovery take?

Once the anesthesia wears off, you’ll begin to feel the pain from the incisions. You might also experience gas pains and have trouble taking deep breaths. Make sure an adult is there to help you get up from bed the first several days following C-section surgery. Most people stay in the hospital between two and three days.

A full recovery can take between four and six weeks. Ask your healthcare provider what you can expect during recovery. Most providers recommend avoiding steps, lifting, exercise and other strenuous activities for several weeks. Ask your friends or partner for help with errands, cooking and cleaning so you can rest and recover. Your provider may put restrictions on driving until you're able to turn your body and apply pressure to the pedals with ease.

You can expect cramping and bleeding for up to six weeks, as well as some discomfort around the incision. Taking over-the-counter pain relievers such as acetaminophen or ibuprofen for pain may help. Avoid sex for at least six weeks or until your healthcare provider gives you the OK.

You will also have a vaginal discharge after the surgery due to the shedding of your uterine lining. The discharge, called lochia, will be red at first and then gradually change to yellow. Be sure to call your healthcare provider if you experience heavy bleeding or a foul odor from the vaginal discharge. Use sanitary pads, not tampons, until you're completely done bleeding.

(Video) C-Section (Cesarean Section): Procedure, Risks & Recovery

Can I have a baby vaginally after a C-section?

The majority of people who had a C-section can consider a vaginal delivery in future pregnancies. If you meet the following criteria, your chances of vaginal birth after cesarean (VBAC) are significantly increased:

  • Your provider used a low transverse incision.
  • Your pelvis is not too small to accommodate an average-sized baby.
  • You're not expecting multiples.
  • Your first C-section was only performed because your baby was breech.

When to Call the Doctor

When should I see my healthcare provider?

If you have an infection at your C-section incision, contact your healthcare provider. Watch for signs of infection such as:

  • Red or swollen incision.
  • Pus or leaking discharge from the incision.
  • Fever or worsening pain.

Other signs of a problem include heavy bleeding or severe pelvic pain and cramping.

Additional Details

What is more painful: a C-section or natural birth?

The level of pain you experience during childbirth is unique. For example, if you opt for an unmedicated vaginal birth, you can expect more pain than someone who had an epidural before a vaginal birth. During a C-section delivery, you won't feel much pain. However, recovering from a C-section may be more painful and take longer than recovering from a natural birth. There isn't a right or wrong answer as to what is more painful because every birth is different.

How many C-sections can you have?

The number of C-sections you can have is unique to your medical history and pregnancy. An exact number hasn't been agreed on. The surgery may be slightly more complicated each time due to prior incisions or scarring.

(Video) Primary vertex caesarean section (C-section) | TVASurg

A note from Cleveland Clinic

C-sections are often necessary for the health of you and your baby. If you know you're having a C-section, your obstetrician can walk you through the procedure and discuss the recovery process with you in advance. In the cases where a C-section is unexpected, you may end up feeling upset that your birth plan didn't go as expected. Just know that most providers prefer a vaginal delivery and that the decision to proceed with a C-section was made for you or your baby's wellbeing. The best thing you can do after a C-section delivery is rest and allow others to help you recover.


How long are you at risk after C-section? ›

In general, you should wait at least 6 months before getting pregnant again after a C-section. That's the bare minimum needed; some experts suggest it's better to wait 12 to 15 months, while others say 18 to 24 months.

Is C-section considered high risk? ›

We know that women 35 and older already are at greater risk for maternal morbidity than younger women. And we know that C-section generally carries more risk than vaginal birth. And the bulk of previous research has assessed C-section risks only as related to future pregnancies.

What are the do's and don'ts after C-section? ›

Gentle exercise, such as walking, will help you recover from your c-section. But avoid anything more active until you have no pain and you feel ready. For example, avoid driving, carrying anything heavy, having sex or doing heavy housework, such as vacuuming, until you feel able to.

How long after C-section can you walk? ›

1 day later: You'll be encouraged to walk around within the first 12 hours after delivery to help relieve gas buildup in the abdomen, and to eat something light as soon as you feel able.

What should I avoid after C-section? ›

Things to Avoid:
  • Sexual intercourse until your health care provider tells you that it is safe.
  • The use of tampons or douche.
  • Taking baths until your incision is healed and you are no longer bleeding.
  • Public pools and hot tubs.
  • Lifting anything heavier than your baby.
  • Repeatedly using stairs.

How many hours after C-section can you go home? ›

When can I go home after a c-section? You will usually stay in hospital for 2-4 days after your c-section. If you and your baby are well, and you have someone to help you at home, you may be able to go home after 24 hours.

What happens to your body after C-section? ›

After your C-section, you might look like you're still pregnant. This is normal. Most women lose 13 pounds (6 kilograms) during birth, including the weight of the baby, placenta and amniotic fluid. During your recovery, you'll drop more weight as your body gets rid of excess fluids.

How long does a C-section take? ›

A caesarean section is an operation to give birth to your baby. Caesarean section surgery usually takes 30-60 minutes, although the entire process takes a few hours. There'll be many people in the operating theatre with you.

What can go wrong during cesarean? ›

Reactions to any type of anesthesia are possible. Blood clots. A C-section might increase the risk of developing a blood clot inside a deep vein, especially in the legs or pelvis (deep vein thrombosis). If a blood clot travels to the lungs and blocks blood flow (pulmonary embolism), the damage can be life-threatening.

How do you sleep after C-section? ›

Side sleeping position

For some people, right after back sleeping, side sleeping is the second most comfortable position. For people recovering from abdominal surgery, it's a great option since it doesn't put additional pressure on your incision, and makes getting in and out of bed easier.

How long should I sit after C-section? ›

Get plenty of rest

Expect to stay in the hospital for 2 to 4 days after your delivery. If there are complications, your stay will be longer. Give your body 6 to 8 weeks to fully heal. That's easier said than done.

What helps heal faster after C-section? ›

People can speed up their recovery from a C-section with the following methods:
  • Get plenty of rest. Rest is vital for recovery from any surgery. ...
  • Ask for help. Newborns are demanding. ...
  • Process your emotions. ...
  • Take regular walks. ...
  • Manage pain. ...
  • Watch for signs of infection. ...
  • Fight constipation. ...
  • Get support for breastfeeding.
Oct 2, 2018

Can I drive 2 weeks after C-section? ›

When Can I Drive After a C-Section? You should wait until you're healed—which is typically around two weeks.

Why can't you drive after C-section? ›

Why you need to wait. The concern regarding having a C-section and driving too soon centers around your physical capabilities and the risks associated with being under the influence of pain medication. A C-section is a major surgery, which means it comes with serious risks and aftereffects during the recovery period.

Is it OK to sit after C-section? ›

Always sit well back on a supportive chair, your feet should be able to touch the floor in order to support your posture. Use pillows to support your back and to rest your baby on your lap to bring them into a comfortable feeding position. You can then use pillows to support your own arms.

How long does C-section pain last? ›

You likely won't need any pain medication after those first few weeks. And by 6 to 8 weeks, most people feel much better. “Your overall health, mobility, and support system at home play a major role in easing the pain following C-section delivery,” says Blindt.

How long does it hurt to poop after C-section? ›

In the five-to-six week postpartum period after giving birth, it's common to experience bowel and digestion issues, and that's true whether you had a c-section or vaginal birth.

Can coughing hurt your C-section incision? ›

After a c-section, coughing or sneezing can be painful! Using a small pillow or a folded towel, put gentle pressure on either side of the incision as you cough. This will help to lessen the discomfort. Keep your pillow or towel close by; you never know when you are going to need it!

How many stitches are in a C-section? ›

At the beginning of a caesarean section, six separate layers of the abdominal wall and uterus are opened individually. Once the baby is delivered the uterus is closed with a double layer of stitching.

How many nights stay in hospital after C-section? ›

The average hospital stay after a C-section is 2 to 4 days, and keep in mind recovery often takes longer than it would from a vaginal birth. Walking after the C-section is important to speed recovery and pain medication may be supplied too as recovery takes place.

Do they break your water during C-section? ›

Regardless of the type of skin incision, the uterine incision is made horizontally and low down on the uterus unless the position of your baby or the placenta demands a vertical cut instead. The amniotic sac will be opened and the amniotic fluid will pour out.

Can I hold my baby immediately after C-section? ›

If you are awake, you can usually see and hold your baby straight after your C-section birth. You can begin skin-to-skin contact and possibly breastfeeding. Skin to skin contact is important for you and your baby after birth to enhance bonding and establish breastfeeding.

Why you should avoid C-section? ›

There's no getting around the fact that a C-section is surgery. All surgeries have risks, like infection, injury to blood vessels and organs and serious bleeding. A C-section can also cause problems for babies, like breathing difficulties that need treatment in a newborn intensive care unit.

How much blood do you lose during C-section? ›

The average amount of blood loss for a cesarean birth is approximately 1,000 ml (or one quart).

What organs are affected during C-section? ›

Cesarean birth is associated with a higher rate of injury to abdominal organs (bladder, bowel, blood vessels), infections (wound, uterus, urinary tract), and thromboembolic (blood clotting) complications than vaginal birth. Cesarean surgery can interfere with mother-baby interaction in the birthing room.

Can I shower after C-section? ›

You may remove your wound dressing and take showers if stitches, staples, or glue were used to close your skin. Do not soak in a bathtub or hot tub, or go swimming, until your provider tells you it is OK. In most cases, this is not until 3 weeks after surgery.

Should you sleep flat after C-section? ›

According to the Specialty Surgery Center, the best sleeping position after C-section (and most surgeries in general!) is on your back. In most cases, sleeping on your back may be the best option to relieve any pressure on your incision.

Why do you have to wait 6 weeks after C-section? ›

Dr. Puls says most OBs will give the green light for resuming sexual activity after 6 weeks. “In general, we want the uterus to be able to clean itself out and for surgical incisions to heal, so there is less risk of infection,” Dr. Puls said.

What happens if you don't wait 6 weeks after C-section? ›

Rushing into things too quickly and even sex four weeks after a C-section can lead to complications such as infection. Six weeks is the average amount of time it takes the uterus to return to its normal size, cervix to close, and C-section incision to heal.

What happens if you have a baby too soon after C-section? ›

What Are the Risks of Getting Pregnant After a C-Section? Research shows that getting pregnant less than six months after a C-section can increase your risk of complications, such as ruptured uterus or a low birth weight baby.

What are risks after C-section? ›

Some of the main risks to you of having a caesarean include: infection of the wound (common) – causing redness, swelling, increasing pain and discharge from the wound. infection of the womb lining (common) – symptoms include a fever, tummy pain, abnormal vaginal discharge and heavy vaginal bleeding.

Can I go back to work 6 weeks after cesarean? ›

After a C-section, she recommends women take eight weeks off and to avoid heavy activity to prevent complications. “A lot of women still have significant pain at two weeks after,” she said.

Can you get fingered after having a baby? ›

It's best to keep things out of the vagina for a few weeks. That includes tampons, saliva, penises, fingers and toys,” Dr. Zuponcic says.

Can you walk 3 days after C-section? ›

Once you are home from the hospital, you may like to wait until about 10 days post-delivery to try out a short walk around the block. If you had an emergency C-section then you may need to wait a few extra days before you start walking outdoors.

How many nights can you stay in hospital after C-section? ›

The average hospital stay after a C-section is 2 to 4 days, and keep in mind recovery often takes longer than it would from a vaginal birth. Walking after the C-section is important to speed recovery and pain medication may be supplied too as recovery takes place.

How many C-section can a woman have? ›

However, from the current medical evidence, most medical authorities do state that if multiple C-sections are planned, the expert recommendation is to adhere to the maximum number of three.”

How many months should you wait after C-section? ›

Getting pregnant after a c-section

You will need to wait at least 6 months but your doctor or midwife may advise you to wait for 12–18 months. The longer you leave your scar to heal, the stronger it will be.


1. C-Section Surgery
2. C-section (Cesarean Delivery)
(Nucleus Medical Media)
3. A Guide For C Section Pain And Recovery
(Medical Centric)
4. Planned caesarean section at North Bristol NHS Trust
(North Bristol NHS Trust)
5. Anaesthetic procedure for elective caesarean section (C section)
6. Having a planned caesarean section at St Michael's Hospital
(University Hospitals Bristol and Weston NHS FT)
Top Articles
Latest Posts
Article information

Author: Jamar Nader

Last Updated: 02/09/2023

Views: 5366

Rating: 4.4 / 5 (75 voted)

Reviews: 90% of readers found this page helpful

Author information

Name: Jamar Nader

Birthday: 1995-02-28

Address: Apt. 536 6162 Reichel Greens, Port Zackaryside, CT 22682-9804

Phone: +9958384818317

Job: IT Representative

Hobby: Scrapbooking, Hiking, Hunting, Kite flying, Blacksmithing, Video gaming, Foraging

Introduction: My name is Jamar Nader, I am a fine, shiny, colorful, bright, nice, perfect, curious person who loves writing and wants to share my knowledge and understanding with you.