A cesarean birth is the surgical delivery of an infant through incisions made in the mother’s abdomen and uterus. In the United States, one in three infants is delivered by cesarean (also known as a c-section), or more than 1 million births annually.1
A cesarean birth can be performed for many reasons2,3:
If the fetus is in a breech presentation, the health care provider may suggest a procedure to reorient the fetus in the womb, known as external cephalic version (ECV). To perform ECV, the health care provider places his or her hands at certain positions on the pregnant woman’s abdomen, then lifts and turns the fetus. ECV, which is typically performed at 36 weeks or later of pregnancy, increases the chances of the woman having a vaginal birth.4
Some women request a cesarean birth even if a vaginal delivery is possible.5 It is important to realize that a cesarean presents increased medical risks for both the mother and her infant.
Possible risks from a cesarean birth (which are also associated with vaginal birth) include6:
As is true for vaginal births, unless there is a medical necessity, delivery should not occur before 39 weeks of pregnancy are completed. A fetus undergoes a significant amount of development and growth in several key organ systems between the 37th and 39th weeks of pregnancy.7,8
Among women who have one cesarean delivery, more than 90% will deliver their subsequent pregnancies by cesarean.1 The more cesarean births a woman has, the greater risk there is for problems with future pregnancies, including problems with the placenta, the risk of uterine rupture, which can be life threatening for the mother and her unborn child, hemorrhage, and the need for hysterectomy (removal of the uterus) at the time of delivery.
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