A cesarean delivery is a surgical procedure in which a fetus is delivered through an incision in the mother's abdomen and uterus.1 According to the CDC, in 2010, almost 33% of births were by cesarean delivery.2 According to the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality, the number of cesarean deliveries between 1997 and 2008 increased by 72%.3
A cesarean delivery may be necessary if1:
Women who have a cesarean delivery may be given pain medication with an epidural block, a spinal block, or general anesthesia. An epidural block numbs the lower part of the body through an injection in the spine. A spinal block also numbs the lower part of the body but through an injection directly into the spinal fluid. Women who receive general anesthesia, often used for emergency cesarean deliveries, will not be awake during the surgery.1
During the procedure, the infant is delivered through cuts in the mother's abdomen and uterus. The uterus is then closed with stitches that later dissolve. Stitches or staples also close the skin on the belly.1
Cesarean delivery is safe, but it is still surgery, with risks and complications to consider. Recovery from a cesarean also often takes longer than from a vaginal delivery. Some women may request a cesarean birth even if vaginal delivery is an option.2 However, cesarean births can raise the risk of medical problems and having difficulties with future pregnancies.1 Also, infants delivered by cesarean delivery may experience more breathing problems than infants born by vaginal delivery.5 More information on this topic can be found in the final statement from a 2006 NIH State-of-the-Science Conference on Cesarean Delivery by Maternal Request.
If a woman has had a cesarean delivery in a past pregnancy, in many cases she can still attempt a vaginal delivery (called a VBAC [vaginal birth after cesarean]) in future pregnancies. According to NICHD research, 75% of deliveries are successful for women who attempt a VBAC in future pregnancies.6
A 2010 NIH Consensus Development Conference on Vaginal Birth After Cesarean evaluated current data on VBAC and issued a statement determining it as a reasonable option for many women.
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