Caesarean section (C-section) is the delivery of a baby through a cut in the mother's lower abdomen and the uterus. Caesarean births are more common than most surgeries (such as gallbladder removal, hysterectomy or tonsillectomy) because a caesarean section may be life saving for the baby, or mother (or both). Caesarean birth is also much safer today than it was a few decades ago. Hence 'caesarean'; is not something that should scare you, as the ultimate goal is a healthy mother and healthy baby, regardless of the method of delivery. It is important to know a few things about caesarean section in order to be prepared for a caesarean birth if it does happen to you. The following section will help you to understand caesarean births better.
Caesarean section may be an emergency procedure or an elective and hence planned procedure. Peparation for the surgery may be done in the labour room or in the theatre itself. This includes putting a catheter into your bladder to drain urine, and an intravenous line (needle) into a vein in your hand or arm to give your body fluids and medications as required. You may be given an antacid orally, or injections like Perinorm or Ranitidine to reduce the level of acid in your stomach and prevent vomiting. Your abdomen and pubic hair will be shaved, and the area washed with an antibacterial solution. Suitable anaesthesia is given to you so that you are pain-free during the procedure. The doctor makes the skin incision first. This is either a vertical incision in the middle from below the navel up to the pubic bone. A transverse or bikinicut incision (called pfannesteil incision) from side to side just above your pubic hairline.
Different measures may be used for pain relief before, during and after your caesarean.
Before Operation: If you had been in labour, you may have been taking medications for pain relief. If an epidural is already in place, for example when you have been in labour for a while before you needed a caesarean section, it is usually continued for the surgery.
During the surgery: Regional anaesthesia, that is one, which acts to block the pain only at the operative area (and below), is usually preferred. This may be an epidural, typically being continued from labour analgesia.
Another type of regional anaesthesia is spinal anaesthesia, which can be given more quickly, provides better pain relief and is usually preferred if an anaesthetic is not already given. The advantages of regional anaesthesia include the fact that you are not unconscious only the lower half of your body is numb. Hence, you are aware of when your baby is delivered and may even see / hold the baby before he / she is shifted out of the operating room. More than that, some risks of general anaesthesia like aspiration, respiratory complications and delayed breastfeeding are also avoided. It may be possible that a regional anaesthetic cannot be given to you for medical reasons. Another possibility is that, in an emergency caesarean. There may not be enough time to give a regional block. In such cases general anaesthesia is given, where you will be completely unconscious during the surgery. Some women, who are apprehensive about the surgery may infact opt for general anaesthesia as a personal choice. Your doctor, in conjunction with the anaesthesiologist (doctor giving the pain relief) will be the right person to help you decide what is best for you.
Before you can understand the various causes for which caesarean section may be required, you should know that basically there are two broad categories of operation:
Emergency Caesarean Section: Where you may have been in labour for a while before the decision is taken, or some problem develops that makes urgent delivery necessary in the interest of your baby, or your health.
An emergency surgery is always more risky than a planned procedure. This may be because you are not on empty stomach, or there are life threatening problems like severe bleeding or rise in your blood pressure, or complete facilities like experienced anaesthetist / neonatologist / operative team / blood may not be immediately available.
This is one reason why your doctor may suggest a planned or elective caesarean section to you. If there are certain pre-existing conditions, which make it nearly certain that you will not be able to deliver safely vaginally, it may be better to do a planned procedure. This could be for reasons like
Let us now understand some of the reasons for which caesarean births may occur.
Dystocia: (difficult or abnormal labour patterns).
The causes of dystocia are many, but basically the end result is that labour fails to progress, is prolonged excessively, or gets arrested.
Your doctor may try measures like augmenting contractions with oxytocin, or rupturing the amniotic sac to improve the labour pattern. If these fail, however Caesarean section may be the only option.
Foetal distress: Your baby may not be tolerating the forces of labour well, and may show problems like irregularity or slowing of the heart rate, or acid in the blood. Sometimes greenish discolouration of the amniotic fluid (passage of meconium or foetal stools in utero) may be a sign of distress. If vaginal delivery cannot be completed quickly, a caesarean may be the best way to save your baby.
Mal-presentations: Unfavorable positions of the foetus in utero can make vaginal delivery difficult, dangerous or impossible.
Some of these conditions may be corrected before the onset of pains by a procedure called ‘external cephalic version’, by which your doctor attempts to turn the baby to the correct position. This may not be feasible or safe in all cases. Though, for breech, particularly if you have had a normal delivery earlier, it may be possible in some cases to deliver the baby vaginally. However, even without difficulties in delivery, breech babies have a less favorable outcome. Hence many doctors opt for planned caesarean. This is a problem, which needs prior discussion with your doctor.
Placental or cord problem : The placenta is the main connection between the mother and the foetus providing nutrition, oxygen and other essentials to the baby via the umbilical cord. Bleeding occurring from the placenta before delivery can be risky. It may be due to an abnormal location of the placenta ‘placenta praevia'. It may be due to early separation of a normally located placenta called ‘abruption placenta. These can endanger your life or your baby’s health. Hence a Caesarean section may be done. The umbilical cord may prolapse (come out) into the vagina before the baby’s birth. This is more common with malpresentations. Pressure on the prolapsed cord can lead to baby’s death. Hence an emergency caesarean section is usually required.
* A small or contracted pelvis r esulting from previous pelvic injury or fracture.
* A large sized baby where the baby is too big to deliver through the pelvis.
Remember, however, that these are relative terms and can be sometimes overdiagnosed. Proper evaluation of foetal and pelvic relative sizes is best done after 38 weeks or ideally at the onset of labour. Even if mild disproportion is suspected, your doctor may suggest a ‘trial of labour’ where a wait and watch policy is followed to see what the forces of labour can achieve. This may avoid unnecessary caesareans.
These may be the reasons for your doctor suggesting caesarean section.
This is now becoming a very common indication for repeat caesarean section. Most patients with one prior caesarean delivery may deliver safely vaginally in the later pregnancies. This is more likely if the prior caesarean section was for a non-recurrent or temporary condition of that pregnancy, such as:
The options should be discussed by you and your doctor prior to onset of labour. If a vaginal birth trial is opted for certain guidelines need to be followed discussed later in this section.
The type of prior caesarean is also important, as with an incision, the risks of attempting VBAC are more.Other uterine surgeries done in the past such as myomectomy or septum resection may also influence the decision for type of delivery.
Caesarean births are much safer now than they were a few decades ago, In fact, hardly a century ago, having a caesarean was like a death sentence for the mothers. Today, the procedure carries a ‘risk’ of less than 1 in 2500. Yet, this risk is 4 times more than the risk of death after a normal vaginal delivery.
However, when talking about risks, one must keep in mind that statistics show that most people die at home or in bed. That doesn’t mean that by not staying home or not sleeping you can escape the inevitable!
While talking of risks what needs to be seen in the risk-benefit ratio. The ultimate aim is to have a healthy mother and healthy baby. In a given situation, if the benefits offered by caesarean birth to the mother, the baby or both are more than the risks; the procedure needs to be done regardless. Individual medical conditions like uncontrolled blood pressure or profuse bleeding from the placenta may make a vaginal birth more dangerous for the mother.