Around 1 in 4 women or birthing people will give birth via caesarean section (aka C-Section). And yet, despite the fact a quarter of all babies are born this way, there is still quite a bit of mystery about what happens during the C-Section procedure.
Never fear, Birthbabe is here to fill you in on all things Plan C and how to make sure it feels extra special for you.
What is a C-Section?
A caesarean section, or C-Section, is a surgical procedure that can be used to deliver baby. It involves a cut being made across the tummy, just above the bikini line, and then lifting baby out. The cut is usually horizontal, however in some cases a vertical cut will be made.
Types of C-Section
There are two types of C-Section: elective (planned) and emergency (unplanned).
Some C-Sections are planned early on in pregnancy and well in advance of labour, others are unplanned but become necessary during labour and others happen very, very quickly in emergency situations.
+ Elective (planned) C-Section
An elective or planned C-Section is – as the name suggests – planned well before labour begins. There will be discussions between the mother and the medical team about the reasons for a C-Section and a date will be agreed for the procedure.
There are lot of reasons why a C-Section might be planned in advance:
- Being advised to do so after having a previous C-Section.
- A medical reason which suggests that its safer to deliver baby via C-Section.
- Choosing to have a C-Section for personal reasons, which may include mental health reasons.
+ Emergency (Unplanned) C-Section
An emergency (or unplanned) C-Section can be less straightforward and is more likely to occur when labour has already started. Some examples of when an unplanned C-Section is required include:
- The progress of labour is happening slowly and both mum and baby are getting very tired.
- Baby’s heartbeat is slowing or there are signs that baby is getting distressed and needs to be delivered quickly.
- It becomes apparent that baby’s head is too big for the pelvis so can’t be delivered vaginally.
In an unplanned, emergency C-Section, there is usually some time (around an hour) to prepare for the procedure. Women and birthing people should be encouraged to discuss all options with the medical team in order to make an informed choice about their body and baby.
In some super urgent situations, the procedure will need to be carried out very quickly after making the decision to have a C-Section (around 15 – 30 minutes). This is because the lives of the mother and / or baby are at immediate risk.
What goes down when the curtain goes up?
The procedure for a planned or unplanned C-Section is pretty much the same but, as you would expect, things may be a little more rushed if baby or mama are in distress. Here’s what goes down:
- The entire procedure takes around 40 – 50 minutes.
- You lie down on an operating table and a screen is placed across your stomach so you won’t be able to see the procedure as it’s being done.
- A 10-20cm cut is made in your stomach and womb – this is usually a horizontal cut just below your bikini line but sometimes a vertical cut is required.
- Baby is delivered through the 10-20cm opening. It can take 5 – 10 minutes for baby to be delivered and some tugging / pulling sensations may be felt during this time.
- Baby will be lifted up so you can see them as soon as they are delivered and then they’ll be brought over and placed on your chest.
- An injection of oxytocin (the love hormone) will be administered to help the womb contract and reduce blood loss.
- The womb is closed with dissolvable stitches. The cut across your stomach is closed with either dissolvable stitches or stitches that need to be removed a few days later.
Who’s in the room?
A lot of people!
There is usually at least 10 medical professionals involved in the procedure but there could be as many as 20 (for example, if you’re having twins or triplets). It can get very crowded and it’s easy to feel confused and overwhelmed about who everyone is and what they’re doing. To help, we’ve broken down who’s likely to be in the room and their role:
- you: well, of course!
- your birth partner: to support you (although this person won’t be able to attend in the very rare case that you’re under general anaesthetic).
- a midwife: to do basic checks on you and your baby once they’re born.
- a consultant obstetrician or registrar: this person performs the surgery.
- the obstetrician’s assistant: to assist the surgery.
- an anaesthetist: to give the drugs to numb you.
- an anaesthetic nurse or operating department assistant: to monitor you whilst the procedure is ongoing.
- a scrub nurse: to help the obstetrician with the instruments for the surgery.
- one or two theatre nurses: to monitor you and assist when needed.
- a paediatrician: this person is required if you are under general anaesthetic or if your baby may need special care once they’re born
- a paediatric resuscitation team: this is only required if your baby may need help straight away.
- medical students or student midwives (with your permission): to observe the procedure and learn.
How can I make it feel extra special for me?
C-Sections are definitely not the easy option but they’re not all doom and gloom either. And even if it’s not your first choice of how you want to deliver your baby, there are still plenty of ways you can make the experience feel unique to you. Here are some ideas:
- Ask for anyone who doesn’t need to be there to leave the room. This might just mean the students leave (as most people present will need to be there) but it’s still your right to ask. If you are having a planned C-Section, you can also ask to meet the medical team in advance.
- You can ask for the lights to be dimmed as much as possible. Operating rooms can be quite bright and this is sometimes necessary. However, some surgeons will agree to have the lights dimmed so baby arrives into a darker room.
- Ask for the curtain to be lowered when baby is born so you can see the magic moment.
- Ask for your arms to be free and for baby to be placed on you immediately for some golden skin-on-skin.
- If you don’t know baby’s sex, you can ask that your partner be the one to share the news with you.
- Baby is usually born in the first 5-10 minutes of a C-Section procedure. You can ask for quiet during that time so you can hear your baby’s first cry.
- You can also ask for music to be playing during the procedure and even pick a favourite song for the exact moment when baby is born.
Remember that some of the above will depend on your individual circumstances but never be afraid to ask. Your body, your baby, your choice.
Birthbabe does not provide medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. The resources on our website are provided for informational purposes only. You should always consult with a healthcare professional regarding any medical diagnoses or treatment options.