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Caesarean section: why you might need one

A caesarean section is an operation to deliver your baby through a cut made in your abdomen (tummy) and womb. It's also known as a 'C-section'.

The cut is usually made across your tummy, just below your belly button. The operation generally lasts around 45 minutes.

Some caesarean births are planned. Others are emergency caesarean births, when complications happen during labour.

A spinal anaesthetic or epidural is used in most caesarean births. This means you're awake during the operation but you do not feel any pain.

Types of caesarean births

Emergency caesarean birth

An emergency caesarean birth happens when something unexpected happens during labour. The decision to do this instead of a vaginal birth is made during pregnancy or during labour. This could be for your health or for the health of your baby.

The most common reasons for an emergency caesarean birth are:

  • labour is not progressing
  • the baby needs to be born quickly

It can seem like things move very fast after this decision. There are some procedures to prepare you for a caesarean section, such as blood tests and forms to sign. There will be more urgency if your baby might not be getting enough oxygen.

If you were given an epidural before the decision was made to have a caesarean, the medicine in it can be 'topped up'. This means you'll be awake for the birth of your baby.

A general anaesthetic may be needed in an emergency situation because it is quicker. If you have a general anaesthetic, you'll be asleep for the operation.

Elective caesarean birth

An elective caesarean birth is a planned one. You'll normally get a date for your elective caesarean birth.

Common reasons for an elective caesarean birth are:

  • you had 1 or more caesarean births before (a 'repeat' caesarean birth)
  • your baby remains in the breech position
  • your doctor thinks a vaginal birth might be too difficult – for example, because the baby is very big
  • pregnancy complications have arisen – for example, the baby is not growing well or the placenta is too low (placenta praevia)

You will have time to prepare for the procedure. This helps you feel less rushed and may reduce stress about the birth

Page last reviewed: 9 December 2021
Next review due: 9 December 2024

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This project has received funding from the Government of Ireland’s Sláintecare Integration Fund 2019 under Grant Agreement Number 8.