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C-section: Caesarean section

What is a c-section?

A caesarean section or c-section is an operation to deliver a baby by making a surgical cut in a woman’s abdomen and womb.

It can be planned in advance, called an elective caesarean section, usually when there’s a medical need.

It can also be performed as an emergency c-section, when during labour it becomes apparent that the baby needs to be delivered urgently.

Before you give birth your doctor or midwife will discuss the pros and cons of having a caesarean with you depending on your circumstances.

How common is it?

The number of mothers who have a caesarean birth has gone up over the years. Around one in four babies in the UK are born by caesarean section.

Women who have their first baby by caesarean section are more likely to have another caesarean if they become pregnant again. Repeat caesareans account for around 25% of the overall caesarean rate.

Medical reasons why you may have a planned caesarean?

A caesarean section is usually performed when a vaginal (normal) birth could put you or your unborn baby at risk, for example because:

  • You have placenta praevia (when the placenta is low lying in the womb and covering part of the womb entrance)
  • Your baby is in the breech (feet or bottom first) position.
  • You have severe pre- eclampsia
  • You are expecting more than one baby (the babies may be born prematurely and so more safely delivered through c-section, or one of the babies may be in a breech position).
  • You have an infection, like a first attack of genital herpes, and a vaginal birth may risk transferring the virus to your baby
  • Scans may show your baby may not fit through the birth canal, for example if your baby has a large head.
  • You have a medical condition, like diabetes or a heart problem, which may put you at risk during a vaginal delivery.
  • If you have a small or premature baby you may be offered a c-section.

Reasons why you would have an emergency c-section?

In an emergency there may not be time to fully discuss the options of a caesarean section. If vaginal delivery is going to risk your health or your baby’s health, your doctor or midwife will decide a c-section may be the safest option.

  • Your labour is failing to progress naturally causing you or your baby distress.
  • Your baby isn’t getting enough oxygen and a vaginal delivery will take too long and put your baby at risk.
  • Your labour has been induced but you’re not getting the contractions needed to push the baby out.
  • You have some vaginal bleeding during labour.
  • If a baby needs to be delivered very quickly, a caesarean section is often the safest way.
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