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C-section

  • A cesarean section is the birth of a baby by surgery.
  • You may need a c-section if there are problems with your pregnancy.
  • Recovery from a c-section is longer than from a vaginal birth.
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Medical reasons for a c-section

Cesarean birth (also called c-section) is surgery in which your baby is born through a cut that your doctor makes in your belly and uterus. For some women and babies, a c-section is safer than vaginal birth. You may need a c-section because of medical reasons that affect your pregnancy.

If your pregnancy is healthy and you don’t have any medical reasons to have a c-section, it’s best to have your baby through vaginal birth.

What are medical reasons for having a c-section?

Your health care provider may suggest that you have a c-section because of complications that make vaginal birth unsafe. For example:

Pregnancy complications

Complications during labor and birth

  • Your baby is too big to pass safely through the vagina.
  • Your baby is in a breech position (his bottom or feet are facing down) or a transverse position (his shoulder is facing down). The best position for your baby at birth is head down. 
  • Labor is too slow or stops. 
  • Your baby's umbilical cord slips into the vagina where it could be squeezed or flattened during vaginal birth. This is called umbilical cord prolapse. The umbilical cord is the cord that connects your baby to the placenta. It carries food and oxygen from the placenta to the baby.
  • Your baby has problems during labor, like a slow heart rate. This is also called fetal distress. 
  • Your baby has a certain type of birth defect. Birth defects are health conditions that are present at birth. Birth defects change the shape or function of one or more parts of the body. They can cause problems in overall health, how the body develops, or in how the body works.

Can you schedule your c-section?

Yes. If there are medical reasons for having a c-section, you and your provider can plan for and schedule it. If you’re scheduling your c-section, talk to your provider about waiting until at least 39 weeks of pregnancy. This gives your baby the time she needs to grow and develop before birth.

Last reviewed June 2013

Medical reasons for a c-section

Frequently Asked Questions

Can I schedule my c-section?

Yes. But more and more c-sections are being scheduled early for non-medical reasons.
Experts are learning that this can cause problems for both mom and baby. If you know you're having a c-section, wait until at least 39 weeks of pregnancy. This helps you make sure your baby has all the time she needs to grow before she's born. You may not have a choice about when to have your baby. If there are problems with your pregnancy or your baby's health, you may need to have your c-section earlier. But if you have a choice and you're planning to schedule your c-section, wait until at least 39 weeks.

What are some reasons to have a c-section?

You may need a c-section if there are medical problems that put you or your baby in danger. For example, you may need a c-section if your baby is too big to pass through the birth canal, or if the baby is in a breech position (feet first) or a transverse position (shoulder first). The best position for your baby is head first. You may need a c-section if your labor is really slow or if the baby's heart rate slows during labor. Other reasons for a c-section include having problems with the placenta or with the umbilical cord, having an infection that you can pass to your baby during birth, and being pregnant with twins or more. If you've had a c-section in a previous pregnancy, you may need to have one in your next pregnancy. If your pregnancy is healthy and there's no medical reason to have a c-section, it's best to plan for a vaginal birth and wait for labor to start on its own. Ask your provider if there are reasons why you may need to have a c-section.

What kind of anesthesia should I get during a c-section?

Most likely you'll have regional anesthesia so you can stay awake for your baby's birth. This kind of anesthesia numbs you from below your breasts all the way down to your toes. If you have an emergency c-section, you may need general anesthesia. General anesthesia makes you go to sleep during the surgery.

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