C-Section Q&A: The Facts and What it Takes to Recover

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Becoming a new parent is an exciting time, and every birth story is a little different. While some women deliver vaginally, other bundles of joy enter the world through cesarean section or C-section. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, nearly one in three women deliver by C-section. OB-GYN Curtis Hoegh, MD, UnityPoint Health, explains C-section facts, including C-section recovery, C-section complications and C-section risk.

When do providers/patients choose to move from a vaginal birth to a C-section?

About 20 percent of the time, labor does not go as planned, which can lead to a cesarean. The most common reason is lack of progress in labor. A baby also not tolerating the stress of labor could lead to a cesarean. Usually, there is adequate time to move to a cesarean promptly, without a scenario turning into a true emergency. 

How long does an average C-section take?

Usually, a cesarean takes about 30-45 minutes.

What kind of anesthesia is used?

A cesarean is done with a spinal block or epidural anesthetic. If you’ve been laboring and a cesarean is needed, you may already have an epidural, so that can be used. If a scheduled cesarean is being done, a spinal is used to provide a faster block for the procedure. A spinal is a one-time shot of anesthesia, while an epidural can provide a continuous push of anesthesia. In either case, you are awake to experience the birth of your baby.

If there is an emergency and no time to do a spinal or epidural, then a general anesthetic is used to get your baby out as quickly and safely as possible. That means a mother is put completely under for the procedure.

How big is the C-section scar?

The cesarean scar is just big enough to get the baby out—about six inches.

Will I be able to hold my baby or do skin-to-skin immediately post C-section?

That is our goal. As long as you and your baby are doing well, we like to get mom, partner and baby bonding as soon as possible.

Will providers take organs out during a cesarean section?

Sometimes, to adequately see during the cesarean, some organs are adjusted but then put back in place.

How long does C-section recovery take?

You’re generally in the hospital three days following a cesarean. You’ll be up and walking around the day after the cesarean and eating a regular diet, if all goes as planned. After going home, you’ll be put on driving, lifting and bathing (shower, not bath) restrictions for the first two weeks. After that, you can gradually resume more activities. By six to eight weeks, you can usually resume all normal activities.

After your anesthesia wears off (12-24 hours), you’ll be give oral medication, such as Percocet, ibuprofen or acetaminophen, to manage C-section pain.

Can you explain C-section complications?

Most cesareans go smoothly, but not always. During the procedure, there could be problems, such as unexpected bleeding. It’s also possible to have an injury to other structures in the abdomen (bowel, bladder, blood vessels). This is more likely if there has been prior abdominal surgery.

During recovery, infection is the greatest risk. This most likely would be an infection at the incision itself or the uterus. Bladder infection and pneumonia can also occur. A deep vein thromboses (DVT) or pulmonary embolus (PE) are dangerous, less likely complications. The risks associated with DVT and PE are reduced, if a patient gets up and moving soon after surgery.

Why do some patients plan a C-section?

There are several reasons to plan a cesarean. The most common is you’ve had a prior cesarean and a repeat is scheduled. Many women can attempt a vaginal birth after cesarean (VBAC), but choose not to due to the risks. Other reasons for a scheduled cesarean would be a breech baby, a suspected large baby (making a vaginal delivery more risky) or a baby with health concern (making labor unsafe). Other indicators during pregnancy can lead to cesarean, including severe pre-eclampsia, placenta previa or heart problems.

Many new moms might feel like they failed, if they result to a C-section or emergency C-section. What do you say to those moms?

The goal is always a healthy baby and healthy mom. Birth is always a success, regardless of route.