Expecting a new addition to your family is an exciting time. You’re likely putting together a nursery, choosing an outfit for your little one to wear home from the hospital, installing a car seat — and probably thinking about your upcoming delivery.
But what should you know about C-sections?
You may have talked with your medical provider already about having a C-section. But even if you’re planning for a vaginal delivery, it’s a good idea to know what to expect if a cesarean section becomes necessary. This can sometimes occur if the health of the mother or the baby are in danger during labor and delivery.
C-sections, which involve the delivery of a baby through incisions in the abdomen and uterus, are actually incredibly common. According to the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, one in three births are via C-section.
Wondering what to expect if you need a C-section? Read on as we offer answers to some frequently asked questions about this common delivery procedure.
1. How long does a C-section take?
The length of the procedure will vary somewhat, depending on a number of factors. Before the cesarean section is performed, your care team will work to prepare you for the surgical procedure.
Preparation will include placing an IV line in your arm or hand, which will be used to provide you with fluids and medications as needed during the C-section. Your abdomen will be washed and disinfected, a catheter will be placed to keep your bladder drained during the procedure and massaging devices may be placed around your legs to lower the risk of deep vein thrombosis.
Once the actual procedure begins, it typically takes around 45 minutes from the time the initial incisions are made until the incisions are closed back up.
Your medical provider will make an incision in the abdomen and one in the uterus wall, then the amniotic sac is opened and the baby is delivered through that incision. After the baby is removed from the uterus, the umbilical cord will be cut, the placenta will be removed from the uterus and then the uterus will be closed back up.
2. What kind of anesthesia is used for C-sections?
The answer to this question isn’t one-size-fits-all. There are multiple anesthesia options used during C-sections. Your care team, including a specially-trained anesthesiologist, will work with you to determine the best type of anesthesia for your specific needs. This may include the use of:
- An epidural, which is an injection in the spine of your lower back that numbs your lower half
- A spinal block, which is an injection directly into the spinal fluid that numbs the lower half of your body
- A combination of an epidural and a spinal block
- General anesthesia, which puts you to sleep during the birth and is often used during emergency C-sections
3. Where will my C-section incision be and how will it be closed up?
During a C-section, an incision is made through the skin and the wall of the abdomen. There are two types of skin incisions—transverse, meaning the incision goes from side to side, or vertical, meaning the incision goes up and down. Of the two, the transverse incision (sometimes called the “bikini cut”) is most common.
Another incision is made internally, opening up the wall of the uterus. This incision can also be either transverse or vertical, but will not be visible outside the body.
Following your C-section, the incision in the uterus wall will be closed up using dissolvable stitches. The abdominal incision can be closed up using several different methods, including surgical thread, staples or surgical glue.
Wondering how large the incision will be? Most C-section incisions are about six inches in size, just large enough for a baby’s head and body to slip through.
4. How long will I be in the hospital after having a C-section?
Most women stay in the hospital for two to four days following a C-section, but the length of your hospital stay will depend on your specific needs.
When determining how long you need to stay in the hospital after delivery, your care team will look at a number of factors, including how well you’re recovering, the reason you needed a C-section in the first place and any complications or postsurgical symptoms you’re experiencing.
While you’re in the hospital, you’ll be carefully monitored by your medical team. This will include watching for any potential complications, as well helping you manage pain and discomfort related to the surgical procedure and your incisions.
5. What’s the recovery like after a C-section?
Recovery after a C-section can be challenging, and it’s important to take it easy and listen to your body! You may feel like you can get up and back to your normal routines, but in reality, you likely need more rest and time for recuperation than you’d expect.
When you have a C-section, you’re undergoing a surgical procedure. So, afterward, you are recovering from surgery. Be careful to follow all guidance from your medical providers as you recover, paying particular attention to when you can resume certain activities.
During the first days and weeks after you return home, it’s important to avoid lifting anything heavier than your baby – and you should also steer clear of everyday tasks like housework, at least for a while.
Lean in to help from your family members and friends. Pay attention to your body, and report any new or worsening symptoms to your care team. It will take up to six weeks after your C-section to fully heal and recover.
6. How can I avoid complications after a C-section?
Before leaving the hospital, talk with your doctor about what’s normal and what’s not after a cesarean section. As you recover, it’s normal to experience mild cramping, bleeding that may include clots and pain or numbness around your incision.
As you’re recovering at home, watch for signs of complications, including:
- Heavy bleeding
- Leakage or pus from your incision
- Leg pain
- Shortness of breath
- Swelling or redness around the incision
- Worsening pain
While C-sections are common and safe procedures, complications can happen with any type of surgical procedure. In rare cases, you may experience excess blood loss, an infection or blood clots related to a cesarean delivery.
It’s also possible to experience side effects related to the anesthesia used during the surgical procedure, such as a spinal headache caused by an epidural.
To prevent complications, carefully follow your doctor’s instructions during your recovery. Be thoughtful about caring for your incision and taking other steps to prevent infection, such as avoiding baths, not using tampons and avoiding sexual intercourse until given the green light by your provider.
If you experience any symptoms that seem out of the norm or that worsen over time, check in with your care team. They’ll be able to advise about whether treatment is needed or if symptoms should go away on their own.
When you’re in need of OB/GYN care, our team of family medicine OB/GYNs are here to help at Northeast Georgia Physicians Group Family Medicine in Gainesville. In partnership with NGPG OB/GYN, these providers offer you the same expert care you’ve come to trust at NGPG.
Call 770-219-9445 or visit www.ngpg.org/family-med-obgyn to learn more or schedule an appointment.