Risks of having a caesarean

Many babies are born by caesarean birth every day in Ireland with no complications. Like any operation there are some risks to be aware of.

Risks to you from a caesarean birth

These are some of the risks you may face:

  • scarring
  • prolonged pelvic pain
  • infection
  • bleeding
  • blood clots
  • complications in future pregnancies

Scarring

A caesarean birth means the baby is born through a cut in your tummy. It's normal to have a scar afterwards.

This is usually a horizontal scar in the bikini area that's not very noticeable. It may be more noticeable for some women, depending on the way your body forms scar tissue.

In rare cases, a baby will need be born through a vertical cut. The scar from this will be more obvious.

Pain

You may experience some discomfort for several days afterwards. Your doctors will prescribe you some pain relief to help you feel comfortable.

You may have some discomfort at the wound for several months after the caesarean birth.

Infection

Like any surgical wound, there's a risk of infection if germs get into the wound.

Follow the advice of your midwife and obstetrician on caring for your wound. Your women's health physiotherapist will also give you advice to help protect your wound, for example when you cough or move.

When you're caring for a newborn baby, it's easy to forget that you've had surgery. Take time to look after yourself.

If you do develop a wound infection, you may need to go on a course of antibiotics. Wound infections can delay the healing of your wound and can leave you with a more noticeable scar.

Bleeding

It's normal to have some bleeding during the operation. You may bleed more than expected during or immediately after a caesarean birth.

Sometimes this may mean that you need a blood transfusion. A blood transfusion means blood goes into your veins through a drip.

The chance of needing a blood transfusion is reduced if you do not develop anaemia in pregnancy. It is important to take an iron supplement in pregnancy if recommended by your doctor or midwife.

Blood clots

Blood clots can form in your legs after a birth. This is known as deep venous thrombosis or DVT. The risk is higher after a caesarean.

If these clots travel to your lungs, they can be dangerous and even fatal. To prevent this, you will need to wear elastic stockings after the procedure.

Almost all women who have a caesarean birth get heparin injections for up to a week afterwards to prevent blood clots. Some women with extra risk factors will need to take it for longer. Your doctors and midwives will assess your risk and advise you what to do.

When it is safe to do so, try to be as active as possible. This will reduce your risk of blood clots.

Complications in future pregnancies

Women who have a caesarean usually have no problems with future pregnancies.

But in some cases there can be an increased risk of the following complications:

  • placenta previa (low-lying placenta)
  • placenta accreta (placenta gets stuck to your womb)
  • a tear in your womb (rupture) that can sometimes lead to stillbirth

Read more about pregnancy after a caesarean

Risks to your baby from a caesarean birth

There is a very small risk of your baby being accidentally cut during the caesarean section. If this happens, the cut is likely to be small and not very deep. It will heal easily. A small dressing or paper adhesive stitches may be used.

Sometimes the doctors use forceps to help deliver the baby at the caesarean section. This can leave a mark that usually fades quickly.

Babies born by caesarean section can sometimes experience breathing difficulties. Their breathing can be fast and shallow. This is called transient tachypnoea of the newborn (TTN). It is temporary.

Babies with breathing problems may need to be cared for in a special care baby unit (SCBU) or neonatal intensive care unit (NICU).

Read more about neonatal intensive care and special baby care units

Risks to your baby in a future pregnancy

If you have a caesarean there is an increased risk of a tear in your womb (rupture) happening in a future pregnancy.

A tear in the womb can sometimes lead to stillbirth. This is when a baby is delivered after 24 weeks or more and is not alive.

Find out more about stillbirth

Read more about the causes of stillbirth

Reducing the risk of complications

Caesarean birth complications are more common if you're overweight or obese. Try to maintain a healthy weight during your pregnancy and be as fit and active as possible. This will help your recovery.

Read more about healthy weight gain during pregnancy

Read more about exercise during pregnancy

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

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