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Alternate Names

  • cesarean section
  • abdominal delivery
  • abdominal birth


A Cesarean birth, or Cesarean birth, is the delivery of a baby through an incision in the mother's abdomen. A baby is delivered this way if ordinary vaginal delivery would put health of a mother or baby at risk for any of several reasons.

Who is a candidate for the procedure?

A Cesarean birth may be done to help the mother if:
  • the baby's head is too large to pass through her pelvis
  • labor has gone on too long without enough progress
  • the baby is in a position that will make a vaginal birth difficult
  • the mother is having medical problems, such as kidney failure or high blood pressure that can signal a dangerous health condition called pre-eclampsia
  • the mother is bleeding internally from a traumatic event
  • the mother has a history of infertility, especially if she is older than age 40
  • an earlier pregnancy resulted in the birth of a stillborn baby
  • serious health problems, such as cancer or a coma, make it doubtful that a mother can withstand the stress of labor
  • a mother's pelvis is unusually shaped
  • a mother has had two or more previous Cesarean births
  • a mother's water breaks and her baby is not in a head-down position for delivery
A c-Cesarean birth may be done to help the baby if:
  • the baby is not getting enough oxygen
  • the baby's heart rate rises to an unhealthy level due to problems such as a fever in the mother or infection in the baby
  • the heart rate drops too low, possibly because the umbilical cord is wrapped around the baby's neck
  • he or she is part of a multiple birth, such as twins or triplets
  • there is placenta abruptio, where the placenta tears away from the uterus too early
  • there is placenta previa, which happens when the placenta is touching or blocking the outlet of the uterus. An attenpt to deliver a baby naturally under this condition could result in massive bleeding
  • the baby has defects or health problems that may cause distress during labor
  • the baby has not been growing at a healthy rate, a condition known as intrauterine growth retardation
  • the mother has an active herpes outbreak in or near her vagina

How is the procedure performed?

The woman is usually awake for a Cesarean birth. Spinal or epidural anesthesia may be used to prevent pain in the lower half of the body. However, on occasion, general anesthesia must be used—especially in emergency cases.
The surgeon makes an incision just above the pubic hair or cuts through a previous abdominal incision. He or she must cut through many layers of the mother's tissues to get to the uterus. Then the lower portion of the uterus close to the bladder is opened. The baby's head is brought out through this incision, followed by the rest of his or her body, the umbilical cord, and the placenta.
The uterus and all the layers of tissue and skin on top of it are then closed with stitches or staples.

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