Cesarean Procedure

A cesarean birth happens through an incision in the abdominal wall and uterus rather than through the vagina. There has been a gradual increase in cesarean births over the past 30 years. In November of 2005, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reported the national cesarean birth rate was the highest ever at 29.1%, which is over a quarter of all deliveries. This means that over 1 in 4 women will experience a cesarean birth.

What can I expect in a Cesarean procedure?

The normal cesarean procedure will take an average of 45 minutes to an hour. The baby is usually delivered in the first 5-15 minutes and the remainder of time is used for closing the incision.

Pre surgery:

Before surgery, you will be given some type of anesthetic (general, spinal, or epidural) if you have not been given one earlier in your labor. General anesthetic is normally only used for emergency cesareans because it is effective immediately and the mother is sedated. The spinal and epidural anesthesia will numb the area from the abdomen to below the waist (sometimes the legs can be numb also), so that nothing can be felt during the procedure. You will probably receive a catheter to collect urine while your lower body is numb.


The health care provider will make an incision in the abdomen wall first. In an emergency cesarean this will most likely be a vertical incision (from the navel to the pubic area) which will allow the health care provider to deliver the baby faster. The most common incision is made horizontally (often called a bikini cut), just above the pubic bone. The muscles in your stomach will not be cut; they will be pulled apart so that the health care provider can get to the uterus.

An incision will then be made into the uterus, horizontally or vertically. The same type of incision does not have to be made in both the abdomen and uterus. The classical incision made vertically, is usually reserved for complicated situations such as placenta previa, emergencies, or babies with abnormalities. A vaginal birth after cesarean (VBAC) is not recommended for women with the classical incision. Another type of incision which is rarely used is the lower segment vertical incision. This would only be used if there were problems with the uterus that would not allow another type of incision to be made. The most common incision made is the low transverse incision. This incision has fewer risks and complications than the others and allows most women to attempt a VBAC in their next pregnancy with little risk of uterine rupture.

The health care provider will suction the amniotic fluid out and then will deliver the baby. Your babies head will be delivered first so that the mouth and nose can be cleaned out to allow for its first breath. Once the whole body is delivered, the baby will be lifted up so that you can meet your newborn. Most health care providers will then pass the baby on to the nurse for evaluation. The last thing to be delivered will be your placenta (you may feel some tugging) and then the surgical team will begin the close up process.

After the Surgery:

Once the surgery is over, you may begin to experience some nausea and trembling. This can be caused by the anesthesia, the effects of your uterus contracting, or from an adrenaline let down. This usually passes quickly and can be followed by some drowsiness. If your baby is healthy, this is usually the time when the baby can rest on your chest and you can begin breastfeeding and bonding. You and your baby will continually be monitored for any complications.

When you are discharged from the hospital you will be advised on the proper post-operative care for your incision and yourself.

What else you should know about Cesarean Birth:

  • Reasons for a Cesarean
  • Risks of a Cesarean
  • Avoiding a Cesarean
  • Making the Most of a Cesarean
  • Care Following A Cesarean
Last Updated: 09/2008

Compiled using information from the following sources:

William’s Obstetrics Twenty-Second Ed. Cunningham, F. Gary, et al, Ch. 25.

Coalition for Improving Maternity Services (CIMS), www.motherfriendly.org

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, www.cdc.gov

American Pregnancy Association, http://www.americanpregnancy.org

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