Caesarean Section (C-section)

During your pregnancy, or labour, we may advise a Caesarean section (C-section) for the birth of your baby. A C-section is major surgery and so we will only offer it when it is the safest option for you, your baby or both of you. Around 25% of mothers in the UK will have a C-section, either elective, which is planned in advance, or an emergency. The majority of emergency C-sections will be done during labour if vaginal birth is no longer considered to be the safest option.

Occasionally, one may be offered before labour starts. Either way, you will be fully informed throughout your birth journey of any concerns, as well as why we would be offering you a C-section.

If you are thinking of having a C-section, without a pre-existing medical reason, please talk to your midwife or obstetrician as early in the pregnancy as possible. Our experienced staff will listen to your wishes, be able to answer any questions you have and provide you with the information and support you need in order to make an informed decision. A useful link to refer to can also be found here: RCOG choosing to have a caesarean section.

What happens during a C-section?

Ideally, you will be awake and accompanied by your birth partner or supporter. You won’t feel pain, but you can expect to feel some tugging and pulling. A screen will be put across your chest so that you cannot see what is being done but please be assured that your doctor will inform you of everything that is happening.

Your birth partner is welcome to stay with you and will be directed into a changing room to put on suitable clothes before joining you. To help you relax or distract you, you are welcome to bring some music with you to play on our iPod dock.

Your birth partner will be shown to a relatives’ waiting area just outside the theatre if you are under a general anaesthetic (when you are put into a medically induced coma) where they can wait for you. Our team will keep your partner informed of your progress, and will make sure that they're waiting for your when you awaken in our recovery area.

After two hours in our recovery area, you will be transferred onto a postnatal ward. You will feel some discomfort which is expected after major surgery. For a while, it may be difficult to stand or sit up straight and it can even hurt to laugh, but we will ensure that pain relief options and support are discussed with you before you go home.

Why might I need to have an emergency C-section?

Fetal distress

Sometimes babies become distressed or tired during labour. This can be more likely if you are having a small baby than if your baby is well-grown.

If we think that your baby is becoming distressed, we will closely watch your baby’s heart rate on a monitor. If they are distressed, we would usually offer you a fetal blood sampling to confirm our concerns. This test is done by vaginal examination where a small scratch is made on your baby’s head. A drop of blood is taken to check your baby’s oxygen level. The test will either reassure us to encourage you to continue in your labour, or it may tell us that you need to be offered an emergency Caesarean.

Labour progress is slower than expected

Sometimes the cervix (opening to the neck of the womb or uterus) does not open or dilate well during labour. If you do not make progress or the progress is slow, you may be offered a Caesarean after other options have been explored.

Our Theatre team work across our two operating theatres, with doctors (obstetrician, an anaesthetist and a neonatologist), nursing staff (one who assists the surgeon and one other), an operating department practitioner (who assists the anaesthetist) and your midwife with you during the surgery.