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Cesarean Delivery

More than 20 percent of babies born in the United States are delivered by cesarean section, also called c-section. A c-section is the surgical, rather than vaginal, delivery of a baby through a cut in the abdomen and another in the uterus. A c-section is more expensive, more painful, and requires more recovery time than a vaginal delivery, but it can save the life of the mother as well as her baby in some instances.

Doctors commonly choose c-sections for their patients due to:

  • Physical challenges to vaginal delivery such as the mother's abnormal pelvic structure or the baby's position (breech), or if the baby has an exceptionally large head

  • Serious maternal health problems like heart disease, high blood pressure, diabetes, etc.

  • Cord prolapse, when the umbilical cord falls into the vagina

  • Bleeding from the placenta

  • Dystocia, a catch-all term that refers to any form of difficult childbirth

  • Signs of fetal distress such as a slowing of the heart rate or acid in the blood

Some women do elect to have a cesarean delivery because of an earlier and difficult vaginal delivery, a previous c-section, or concern about fetal brain damage during labor or trauma to the pelvic floor. Some experts like the fact that women now have the right and power to research and request a c-section, and they point out that the risks associated with the procedure are minimal for a low-risk patient. But c-sections don't necessarily spare laboring mothers from episiotomies, prolonged labor, or instrumental delivery, and there are risks associated with c-sections.

Potential risks to your baby include premature birth if the conception date was miscalculated and the c-section scheduled too early, breathing problems, low APGAR scores, fetal injury, and depressed activity due to absorption of the anesthesia.

The potential risks to the mothers health include infections in the uterus and nearby organs, double the blood loss as with vaginal birth, decreased bowel function in days following delivery, respiratory complications caused by the general anesthesia, and blood clots in the legs, pelvic organs, and lungs.

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