Cesarean Birth
(C-Section)

C-Section Introduction

Cesarean delivery, also called c-section, is surgery to deliver a baby. The baby is taken out through the mother's abdomen. Most cesarean births result in healthy babies and mothers. But c-section is major surgery and carries risks. Healing also takes longer than with vaginal birth.

Most healthy pregnant women with no risk factors for problems during labor or delivery have their babies vaginally. Still, the cesarean birth rate in the United States has risen greatly in recent decades.

Public heath experts think that many c-sections are unnecessary, so it is important for pregnant women to get the facts about c-sections before they deliver. Women should find out what c-sections are, why they are performed, and the pros and cons of this surgery.

What Are The Reasons For a C-Section?

Your doctor might recommend a c-section if she or he thinks it is safer for you or your baby than vaginal birth. Some c-sections are planned, but most c-sections are done when unexpected problems happen during delivery. Even so, there are risks of delivering by c-section. Limited studies show that the benefits of having a c-section may outweigh the risks when:

  • The mother is carrying more than one baby (twins, triplets, etc.)
  • The mother has health problems including HIV infection, herpes infection, and heart disease
  • The mother has dangerously high blood pressure
  • The mother has problems with the shape of her pelvis
  • There are problems with the placenta
  • There are problems with the umbilical cord
  • There are problems with the position of the baby, such as breech
  • The baby shows signs of distress, such as a slowed heart rate
  • The mother has had a previous c-section
Medically Reviewed by a Doctor on 2/13/2014

The Truth About C-Sections

Pregnant and thinking about having a C-section?

Ellen Spencer, 40, of Hanson, Mass., is recovering from a cesarean section. With a 1-month old to take care of, and her older toddler underfoot, bouncing back from major surgery isn't easy.

"I knew I was going to have a C-section," Spencer tells WebMD. "I had abdominal surgery a couple of years ago to remove some fibroids in my uterus, and as a result, my doctor thought it was the better option over going natural. But the recovery has been tougher and longer than I thought it would be."

Despite the slow-going recovery, the convenience of knowing exactly when she was going to have the baby made planning easy, especially with a busy job. And for out-of-town family, making the trip to Massachusetts to welcome the newborn was scheduled and coordinated well in advance.

Spencer's situation is increasingly common: Today, C-sections represent 31.8% of all births in the U.S. annually -- that's more than 1.3 million births. And that number continues to rise. In fact, in the last decade, the rate of C-sections in the U.S. has grown by more than 50%.

With the numbers inching upward, it's important for expectant moms to understand what a C-section means for their bodies, and their health. Here, experts explain the pros and cons of C-sections, why the C-section rate is rising, and what recovery from a C-section is really like.