Skip to Main Content

Labor and Giving Birth: C-Sections

Ready to welcome that new baby? With suitcase packed and baby room ready, remember to consider the final stages of labor and giving birth. As the due date approaches, it may be possible that your doctor will recommend a Cesarean section, or C-section.

What is a C-Section?

Cesarean section, or C-section, is the birth of a baby through an incision in the abdominal wall and uterus rather than through the vagina, or birth canal. About 30 percent of all babies born in the United States are delivered by C-section. Regardless of age, one out of every three first-time moms has a C-section. The chance of C-section rises as a woman’s age increases, even if her pregnancy is considered low risk.

Doctors may advise a C-section for one or more of the following reasons, including:

  • Multiple pregnancy
  • The baby is in a breech (bottom or feet first) or transverse (sideways) position.
  • The baby is known to have certain birth defects.
  • The baby is too big to pass through the birth canal.
  • Previous C-section delivery.
  • Existing maternal medical condition, such as HIV or genital herpes.
  • Maternal health condition, such as diabetes or high blood pressure.

Labor and Giving Birth: C-Section Experience

Some women may plan to have a vaginal delivery, but if problems arise during labor, an emergency C-section may be performed to deliver the baby safely. Some reasons for an emergency C-section include:

  • Problems with the placenta, such as placenta previa (when the placenta is below the baby and blocks all or part of the cervix) or placental abruption (when the placenta separates from the uterine wall too soon).
  • If labor stops or does not progress normally.
  • If the baby’s shoulders get stuck in the birth canal.
  • If the umbilical cord is pinched or enters the birth canal before the baby.
  • If the baby is in distress.

A C-section typically takes no more than an hour, and may happen before labor begins. Some women choose to have Cesarean delivery for the convenience of knowing when the baby will be born and for a reduced risk of damage to the pelvic floor that could cause incontinence. However, setting a date for a C-section needs to be close to the predicted delivery date because babies born earlier than 39 weeks can have health problems. 

However, as with any major surgery, there are risks associated with a Cesarean delivery. Complications from abdominal surgery include infection, increased blood loss, adhesions (internal scars), injury to an organ, blood clots or reactions to anesthesia or medication. Compared to a vaginal delivery, women who undergo a C-section typically remain in the hospital longer and experience an extended recovery period.

Whether you deliver by Cesarean section for medical reasons or by choice, carefully consider all the risks and benefits of the surgery. You can still have a vaginal birth later even if you give birth the first time by C-section. To find out more about your delivery options, talk to your doctor.

Find a Doctor

Need a doctor for your care?

Sign Up for Health Tips

Get our advice and upcoming events about weight, pain, heart and more.