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What happens during a caesarean birth

There can be differences in caesarean births. They can vary depending on the level of urgency or the maternity hospital you are in.

Length of time

The entire procedure takes around 45 minutes. It can be quicker or slower depending on the circumstances. Usually your baby will be born in 5 to 10 minutes.

Having your birth partner there

Your birth partner will wear a gown and mask if they attend the birth. They may have to wait outside until the operation has started.

A screen will be placed across your tummy. This means you and your birth partner won't be able to see the operation taking place.

Your birth partner will normally not be allowed in the operating theatre if you have a general anaesthetic. They can wait close by and will be updated as soon as there is news.

The start of the procedure

Most caesarean births take place in hospital operating theatres. All staff wear medical scrubs and hats. Some wear surgical gowns and masks and gloves.

Staff include doctors, midwives, theatre nurses, anaesthetic nurses, porters and care attendants.

You will be brought into the operating theatre on a trolley. You will be moved onto the operating trolley.

Anaesthetic

You will be given an anaesthetic by an anaesthetist (a doctor specialising in anaesthetics, pain medicine and intensive care).

Normally this is an epidural or spinal anaesthetic. This means you are awake, and you get to meet your baby as soon as your baby is born.

You won’t feel pain during the procedure. You may feel pulling or tugging.

Sometimes, particularly in an emergency situation, a general anaesthetic is needed. This means you are put to sleep for the operation.

Catheter tube

A small flexible tube called a catheter is placed in your bladder. This tube is passed through your urethra (the passageway that connects your bladder to the outside).

If you have had the anaesthetic first, you will not feel the catheter being inserted. If not, you may experience some mild discomfort as the tube is being placed.

Position and screen

You will be lying on an operating trolley for the operation. A screen is placed across your tummy so you cannot see the procedure being done.

Testing of anaesthetic

The anaesthetist may touch or spray your chest with something cold. They might repeat this lower down in your tummy area. This is to make sure that the anaesthetic is working.

The spray on your tummy won’t feel cold when the anaesthetic has started to work. If it does still feel cold, the anaesthetic may need more time to work. You may be given slightly more anaesthetic.

The operation

Your tummy will be painted with a disinfectant solution to reduce the amount of germs on your skin. Your obstetrician will make a small cut (10cm to 20cm) in your skin and in your womb. This is usually done horizontally in your bikini line area. The cut creates an opening through which your baby will be born.

The birth

You may feel some tugging or pressure on your tummy at this point. This is a good sign and means that you'll soon be meeting your baby. Your baby is born through the cut in your tummy.

The baby will be lifted up so that you can see. You will normally be told the gender of the baby at this stage.

The placenta (afterbirth) will usually be delivered then. The umbilical cord will be clamped and cut. You may hear your baby's first cry.

After the birth

You'll be given an injection called oxytocin. This is a hormone to help your womb contract and reduce the risk of bleeding. The cut in your womb will be closed with dissolvable stitches.

The cut in your skin will be closed. This is done with dissolvable stitches or stitches or staples that need to be removed after 5 to 7 days.

Your baby

Your baby may be checked by a paediatric doctor (a doctor specialising in children's health).

Babies born by caesarean may need a small amount of oxygen. They may need mucus sucked out of their mouth and nose to help them to cry.

Your midwife will help you and your partner enjoy safe skin to skin contact with your baby when ready.

Related topics

Skin to skin contact with newborns

Epidural

Page last reviewed: 17/09/2018
Next review due: 17/09/2021