Basic Facts About Cesareans

This article explains what a cesarean is and why it might be needed.

Much controversy exists over whether cesareans are performed too often. However, sometimes a cesarean birth is necessary for the safety of the mother or the baby. Knowing about cesareans ahead of time can help you understand the procedure and the times when it may be needed. It can also help you form reasonable expectations and feelings about the experience.

What is a cesarean?
A cesarean birth means the baby emerges through surgical incisions in the wall of the mother's abdomen and the wall of her uterus. It requires her to have local (spinal or epidural) or general anesthesia. The recovery time for a cesarean is longer than for most vaginal births. The hospital stay is usually four days instead of two, and you may need to recover at home for as long as eight weeks.

Why might a cesarean be needed?
Women have cesareans for three main reasons: problems with the passenger (fetus), passage (pelvic bones and vagina) or power (contractions). Most of the conditions that require a cesarean are relatively rare.

Problems with the fetus include fetal distress, in which some aspect of labor or the baby's environment places the baby at risk. For example, the baby's oxygen supply might be cut off because of abruptio placenta. This not only threatens the baby, it threatens the mother because it can produce a hemorrhage.

A prolapsed cord can also disrupt the flow of oxygen to the baby due to pressure on the cord.

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