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What is a cesarean delivery?

A cesarean delivery — also known as a C-section or cesarean section — is the surgical delivery of a baby. It involves one incision in the mother’s abdomen and another in the uterus.

It’s a common procedure that’s used to deliver nearly one-third of babies in the United States, according to the Centers for Disease Control and PreventionTrusted Source.

Cesarean deliveries are generally avoided before 39 weeks of pregnancy so the child has proper time to develop in the womb. Sometimes, however, complications arise and a cesarean delivery must be performed prior to 39 weeks.

Why a cesarean delivery is done

A cesarean delivery is typically performed when complications from pregnancy make traditional vaginal birth difficult, or put the mother or child at risk.

Sometimes cesarean deliveries are planned early in the pregnancy, but they’re most often performed when complications arise during labor.

Reasons for a cesarean delivery include:

  • baby has developmental conditions
  • baby’s head is too big for the birth canal
  • the baby is coming out feet first (breech birth)
  • early pregnancy complications
  • mother’s health problems, such as high blood pressure or unstable heart disease
  • mother has active genital herpes that could be transmitted to the baby
  • previous cesarean delivery
  • problems with the placenta, such as placental abruption or placenta previa
  • problems with the umbilical cord
  • reduced oxygen supply to the baby
  • stalled labor
  • the baby is coming out shoulder first (transverse labor)

The risks of a cesarean delivery

A cesarean delivery is becoming a more common delivery type worldwideTrusted Source, but it’s still a major surgery that carries risks for both mother and child. Vaginal birth remains the preferred method for the lowest risk of complications. The risks of a cesarean delivery include:

  • bleeding
  • blood clots
  • breathing problems for the child, especially if done before 39 weeks of pregnancy
  • increased risks for future pregnancies
  • infection
  • injury to the child during surgery
  • longer recovery time compared with vaginal birth
  • surgical injury to other organs
  • adhesions, hernia, and other complications of abdominal surgery

You and your doctor will discuss your birthing options before your due date. Your doctor will also be able to determine if you or your baby are showing any signs of complications that would require a cesarean delivery.

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