What is a c-section?
A c-section or caesarean section involves making an incision in the abdomen and womb to allow your baby to be born. They’re common in the UK with over 1 in 4 pregnant women having a baby via caesarean section.
At a glance
- May be required for breach or awkwardly positioned babies
- In most cases, you'll be awake & your birth partner will be with you
- You will see your baby as soon as it is lifted out of your womb
Planned or unplanned c-section - get clued up
Some mums plan to have a caesarean delivery, others find their consultants suggesting it in labour if there are complications with how things are progressing.
Caesareans have been given a bad name in the past, with the media quick to judge so-called 'too posh to push' celebrities. However, no mum should ever feel guilty about the choices she has made – or her doctors have recommended – especially when the outcome is the safe and swift arrival of a healthy baby!
Why you might need a planned c-section
Your doctor might suggest a caesarean if your baby is breech or in another awkward position and can't be turned, or if you have placenta previa, a condition where your placenta is low in your womb, covering your cervix and blocking your baby's exit.
They might also recommend one if you have delivered your previous baby or babies this way, but this is by no means a 'rule' and will depend largely on the reasons you had one before. Many mums have straightforward 'VBACs' (vaginal birth after caesarean) and your doctors and midwives can talk you through your options.
Why you might need an unplanned c-section
An unplanned caesarean will usually be as a result of an emergency. This could be due to having a planned caesarean booked, but your waters breaking earlier than expected. You may also have an unplanned caesarean if you or your baby start to experience complications or distress due the pregnancy or labour. Depending on whether the situation is life threatening to you or the baby, it’s possible you could have a caesarean within 30 minutes.
What to expect when having a c-section
For a booked (planned) caesarean, you will usually check into hospital on the day of the surgery, and will begin to be prepped for your baby's delivery. You'll have a catheter inserted to drain away your wee, and a drip put in your arm. In most cases, you will be awake for your caesarean and your birth partner can be with you.
An anaesthetist will set up an epidural or spinal block, and the surgeon will start to deliver your baby. Most mums describe the sensation of the delivery as a bit of tugging or pulling – or like someone doing the washing up in their tummy!
A screen will be set up so you don't see the actual surgery, but you will see your baby the moment they are lifted out of your womb.
The whole procedure usually takes around 40 to 50 minutes from start to finish – but only about five to ten to actually deliver your baby!
Once your baby is out and in your arms, your incision will be stitched up, and you and your partner will return to the ward to bond with your newborn.
You might need some help positioning your baby correctly to breastfeed after a c-section – see our c-section recovery section for tips and advice on this, and looking after yourself after your surgery.