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Cesarean Birth
What is it? Overview Usage Side Effects and Warnings

Cesarean Birth Overview

Written by FoundHealth.

Click here to view an animated version of this procedure.


In a cesarean birth (C-section), the baby is delivered through an incision in the mother's abdomen. In the US, 15%-40% of all births are delivered by C-section.

Cesarean Delivery
Cesarean Delivery
© 2009 Nucleus Medical Media, Inc.

What to Expect

Prior to Procedure

Having a C-section is often unplanned. If you have a scheduled C-section, you may be asked to not eat or drink after midnight before the procedure.


You may be given:

  • General anesthesia —You will be asleep.
  • Regional anesthesia (eg, epidural or spinal block )—An area of your body will be numb, but you will be awake.

Many women prefer regional anesthesia so that they can be awake to see their new baby.

Description of the Procedure

The doctor will make incisions in the abdominal skin and uterus. There are two different types of abdominal skin incisions: vertical (up and down) or horizontal (side to side). There are three different types of incisions for the uterus:

  • Low transverse incisions—most common type, usually bleed less, form stronger scars, and present less danger of rupture during future labors
  • Classical incisions (high vertical incisions)—associated with the highest risk of bleeding and future rupture of the uterus, used only in emergency situations
  • Low vertical incisions—used to deliver a baby in an awkward position or if the incision may need to become a classical incision

Once the incisions are made, the baby will be delivered. Your uterus will be closed with stitches that later dissolve on their own. Stitches or staples will be used to close the abdomen.

Immediately After Procedure

Your baby will be examined. Depending on the condition of you and your baby, you may be able to hold your baby.

How Long Will It Take?

45-60 minutes

Will It Hurt?

Anesthesia prevents pain during the surgery. You may feel some pressure and tugging as the uterus is opened and the baby and placenta are removed. You will receive pain medicines while you recover to manage pain and discomfort.

Average Hospital Stay

3-5 days

Post-procedure Care

At the Hospital

  • Very soon after birth, your baby may be placed on your chest. This skin-to-skin contact may lead to improved breasfeeding success.
  • You may need some help learning breastfeeding positions. The correct position will keep you from putting too much pressure on your incision.
  • You may need medicine to help with nausea or pain.
  • You will likely experience some uterine cramping and pain.
  • Your bowels will work more slowly than usual. You may need to eat a light diet at first. Chewing gum may help speed the process of your bowel function returning to normal.
  • You may be given special compression stockings. They will help to decrease the possibility of blood clots forming in your legs.
  • For lung health, you may be asked to use an incentive spirometer and cough often. These steps will help you breathe deeply.
  • You will be encouraged to walk very soon after surgery. You will be asked not to lift anything heavier than your baby.
  • After any delivery, there will be heavy vaginal bleeding. You will need to use an absorbent sanitary napkin.
  • You may be on a clear liquid diet after surgery. You will advance to a normal diet as you are able.

At Home

When you return home, do the following to help ensure a smooth recovery:

  • Avoid lifting anything heavier than your baby for the first weeks after surgery.
  • Do not drive until you doctor says it is all right to do so.
  • Showering and/or bathing are usually allowed.
  • Delay having sexual intercourse or putting any objects in the vagina until you have had your 6-week check-up.
  • Breastfeeding is encouraged.
  • Consider joining a support group for new mothers. You can get encouragement and learn new parenting strategies.
  • Be sure to follow your doctor’s instructions .

You should heal quickly and completely after a C-section. Talk with your doctor about the type of incision used. It may play a role in decisions about future births.



American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists

March of Dimes Birth Defects Foundation


The Society of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists of Canada

Women's Health Matters


C-section. Mayo website. Available at: . Updated January 2009. Accessed November 12, 2010.

Cesarean fact sheet. International Cesarean Awareness Network website. Available at: . Accessed June 10, 2008.

Cesarean section. website. Available at: . Accessed June 10, 2008.

7/21/2009 DynaMed's Systematic Literature Surveillance : De Luca R, Boulvain M, Irion O, Berner M, Pfister RE. Incidence of early neonatal mortality and morbidity after late-preterm and term cesarean delivery. Pediatrics. 2009;123:e1064-1071.

10/23/2009 DynaMed Systematic Literature Surveillance DynaMed's Systematic Literature Surveillance : Abd-El-Maeboud KH, Ibrahim MI, Shalaby DA, Fikry MF. Gum chewing stimulates early return of bowel motility after caesarean section. BJOG. 2009;116:1334-1339.

12/4/2009 DynaMed's Systematic Literature Surveillance : Marín Gabriel M, Llana Martín I, López Escobar A, et al. Randomized controlled trial of early skin-to-skin contact: effects on the mother and the newborn. Acta Paediatr.2009 Nov 12. [Epub ahead of print]



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