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caesarean birth

Nowadays in the UK nearly a quarter of babies are delivered by caesarean section (or C-section).  Caesarean deliveries are usually recommended when a normal delivery is likely to be particularly risky for you or your baby.  Sometimes a C-section is arranged in advance of labour (an elective or planned C-section) but other times complications during labour may lead to an unplanned caesarean birth.


Reasons for a planned caesarean section include:

  • If your baby is in a breech (feet first) position
  • If you have a low-lying placenta (also known as placenta praevia)
  • If you are pregnant with twins or more
  • If you have severe pre-eclampsia


You may be advised to have an unplanned caesarean section (also known as emergency section) if you go into labour but things don’t go as planned.  There are a few scenarios where delivering your baby by caesarean could be suggested:

  • Your baby is showing signs of distress
  • Your labour is prolonged and you are not progressing as expected
  • You have excessive bleeding


The decision to deliver your baby by caesarean section won’t be taken lightly – it’s a major operation and it has certain risks attached to it. Your medical team will discuss this procedure with you and explain why they feel it’s necessary.


What happens during a caesarean section?

Most mums will be awake during a caesarean delivery, with a spinal anaesthetic or an epidural for pain relief. A screen will be placed across your body so you won’t see what the surgeons are doing. You wont feel any pain because everything will be numbed from the chest down by the spinal anaesthetic, but you might be aware of pulling or tugging sensations.

The doctors will make a cut in the lower portion of your tummy, and into your womb, and deliver your baby. Once your baby has been delivered your birth partner will usually be able to hold her and you’ll be able to see your baby. The doctors will repair the cut in your womb and close the wound. The whole procedure usually takes 40 – 50 minutes.



Immediately after the caesarean you’ll go to the recovery area and you’ll be encouraged to have skin-to-skin time with your baby and offered assistance with feeding your baby. You’ll have a catheter in your bladder as the lower half of your body will be numb and you won’t be able to move your legs for a few hours after the procedure. You should be able to eat and drink something and you’ll have painkillers to help with the pain from the caesarean section.

You’ll probably be able to get up within 12 hours of the procedure and once you’re able to walk to the toilet you’ll have your catheter removed.  In some circumstances you may be able to go home the day after your caesarean but often mums will stay in hospital a bit longer. It really depends on how you and your baby are doing.

Regardless of how many nights you have in hospital, most of your recovery will take place at home. Although you should be able to lift and carry your baby from the start, anything heavier than that may be too much in the first few weeks. Remember that a caesarean section is a significant operation! You won’t be able to drive for at least 4 weeks and you should avoid lifting heavy objects or doing strenuous activity like jogging or aerobics for about 10 – 12 weeks. 


Article By

Dr Emma Scott (MBChB, MRCGP) is a qualified GP and mummy to two young children. She works in a GP practice in Edinburgh and in the out of hours GP service in Livingston and she has experience in both obstetrics & gynaecology and paediatrics.

to read more articles by Dr Emma

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