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Caesarean Birth (C-Section)

Most women labour and give birth vaginally. However, there may be some specific reasons for which your healthcare provider may recommend a Caesarean birth. Although you may have a Caesarean birth scheduled based on your specific health information, often, the need for a Caesarean birth cannot be decided prior to labour. In order to make informed decisions during labour and birth, it’s important for you to learn about the benefits, risks and alternatives of having a Caesarean birth and have a discussion with your healthcare provider to answer any questions before labour begins.


Common deciding factors

Benefits and Risks

Ways to Decrease the Risk of Caesarean

What to Expect During the Procedure

What to Expect After the Procedure

More information, decision aids & tools

Common deciding factors include:


  • Baby’s position6 9
  • Abnormal heart rate6 9


  • Cervix not dilating (opening)6 9
  • Previous Caesarean and a vaginal birth (VBAC) is not advised6 9
  • Placental location (low-lying or covering the cervix)6 9
  • HIV or genital tract herpes6 9
  • Multiple Birth9

These are not all of the possible reasons, but they are the most common.

Benefits and Risks

Caesareans can be performed in two different situations: Prelabour (scheduled and performed before labour begins) and in labour (at some point once labour has begun). Depending on the situation, this can impact the risks for you and your baby. The following are population level benefits and risks. In order to make an informed decision, it's important to speak with your healthcare provider to discuss how these may apply to your individual situation.

Benefits for You:


  • May be life saving


  • Decreased risk of urinary incontinence (leaking urine)1 2
  • Decreased risk of pelvic organ prolapse (uterus or vagina drop down)1 2

Benefits for your Baby:

  • May be life saving

Risks for You:


  • Haemorrhage (too much bleeding) that may require a hysterectomy (removal of the uterus) or blood transfusion2 9
  • Uterine rupture (tearing open)2
  • Complications associated with anaesthetic (general, epidural, analgesic or sedation)2 9
  • Respiratory or cardiac arrest2
  • Acute kidney failure2
  • Mistaken surgical cut (e.g. nicked bladder or bowel)2 4 9
  • Post-operative pain and recovery4
  • Increased risk of not establishing breastfeeding (further increased risk for prelabour/scheduled caesarean)4


  • Blood clots2 9
  • Infection2 6 9
  • Pelvic adhesions (attachment of organs to other organs or structures)2 4
  • Small bowel obstruction (blockage)2
  • Severe &/or long-term pain at the site of the caesarean cut4 9
  • Re-opening of the surgical wound9
  • Ongoing pain in the pelvis area4
  • Increased risk of needing a hysterectomy later in life and increased risk of surgical complications if a hysterectomy is required.3

For future pregnancies:

  • increased difficulty becoming pregnant1 2 4
  • increased risk of miscarriage1 4
  • Increased risk of ectopic pregnancy (pregnancy in the fallopian tubes)1 2 4
  • Increased risk of preterm birth2
  • Increased risk of stillbirth1 2 4
  • Increased risk of uterine rupture (increasing risk with use of prostaglandins for induction)1 2 4
  • Increased risk of hysterectomy1 2 4
  • Increased frequency of bleeding, need for blood transfusion, adhesions, intraoperative surgical injury with increasing number of Caesarean Sections2
  • Increased risk of improper placental placement, growth or detachment:
    • Previa (placenta grows low in the uterus and partly or completely covers the cervix)1 2 4
    • Accreta (placenta grows too deeply into or through the wall of the uterus)1 2 4
    • Abruption (placenta partially or completely separates from the uterus before the baby is born)1 2 4

Risks for your Baby:


  • Increased risk of breathing problems2 6 9
  • Low blood sugar2
  • Less blood flow from the placenta at birth and less iron4
  • Mistaken surgical cut4 9
  • Less skin-to-skin time immediately after the birth9
  • Increased risk of not establishing breastfeeding (further increased risk for scheduled caesarean)4 9
  • Increased risk of needing to supplement breastfeeding with formula4 9
  • Being born preterm if the estimated gestational age was incorrect. A preterm newborn can face many complications9


  • Increased risk of childhood asthma1 2 4
  • Increased risk of obesity1 2 4

Ways to Decrease the Risk of Having a Caesarean:

While caesarean birth is not always avoidable and can save lives, there are some things that you can do to lower your risk and give your body and baby the best chance of having a vaginal birth. It's best to let the process of birth be as undisturbed as possible to minimize the chances of a caesarean birth.

  • If you are having twins, have a discussion with your healthcare provider about the option of a planned vaginal birth. A large Canadian-led randomized trial showed that caesarean birth did not reduce the risk for babies if the first baby was head down and between 32 and 38 weeks gestation.8

What to Expect During the Procedure:

  • You will need to remove any jewelry or nail polish and put on a hospital gown and hair covering.9
  • You will be transferred to the caesarean section room or the operating room.9
  • An intravenous (IV) will be started if one is not already in place. Antibiotics and medications for nausea and pain may be given through the IV.9
  • You may be asked to drink a liquid antacid. This can make general anesthesia safer if you need it during birth.9
  • A catheter (tube) will be placed in your bladder to remove urine. It keeps your bladder empty and out of the way during the surgery.9
  • An epidural or spinal anaesthesia block to numb the lower part of your body and, in some cases, general anaesthesia may be used.9 Epidural and spinal anaesthesia are the preferred methods. A general anaesthesia is used when you may not be able to have an epidural or spinal or for emergency situations where there isn’t time to wait for a block to be at the highest level (nipple area). If you have laboured and have an epidural in place, the epidural may be used to provide anaesthesia for the surgery. If you do not have an epidural or if your caesarean birth is scheduled, spinal anaesthesia is usually offered.
  • With a spinal or epidural, you will remain awake and your support person may be present with you for the birth of your baby.9 If a general anaesthetic is used, your partner will not be able to stay with you for the birth. In this case, your support person will wait in a nearby area and is usually able to see and hold your baby shortly after birth.
  • The entire operation will take approximately 45 minutes to 1 hour.
  • During this time, the anaesthesia is given, you are covered by sterile drapes, your abdomen is cleaned with an antiseptic wash, an incision is made into both your abdominal wall and uterus, your baby is born, the placenta is removed, and the incisions are closed with dissolving stitches &/or staples. Your abdominal incision will be covered with a sterile dressing.
  • You should not feel pain when the incision is made. You may feel some tugging or pressure when the baby is born. Use breathing techniques, visualization, hold hands, talk gently, and focus on your baby’s birth if you, or your partner, are feeling anxious. Usually, the baby is out in the first few minutes of a caesarean birth.9
  • Discuss the following with your physician and anaesthesiologist before the surgery to see if they can be arranged for you:
    • Lowering the sheet at your head or providing a mirror to see your baby's birth.
    • Delayed cord clamping.
    • Immediately putting your baby skin-to-skin on your chest.

What to Expect After the Procedure

  • Your baby will initially be assessed by the Neonatal Intensive Care Team nearby. Once the assessment has been completed they will bring your baby to you (if you have an epidural or spinal anaesthesia and are awake).
  • If you are able to, hold your baby skin to skin while the team repairs the incision. If you are not able to hold your baby skin-to-skin your partner or support person can do this. You will be able to hold your baby skin-to-skin once you are both stable. Many of the benefits of skin-to-skin can still occur later.9
  • After the surgery is complete, you will be transferred to a recovery room for 1-2 hours. You will be assessed frequently (every 15 minutes). A nurse will:
    • Check your vital signs (i.e., blood pressure, heart rate, breathing rate, temperature, and oxygen level).9 
    • Press on your abdomen to check the firmness of your uterus, observe the amount of bleeding from your vagina, and check the bandage covering your incision regularly. Tell your healthcare provider if you notice any increase in bleeding from your vagina or incision.9
    • Give you oxytocin medication through your IV to make sure that your uterus stays firm and that you do not bleed too much. If needed, you may get medication for nausea or pain through your IV.9
  • You will be given the opportunity to breastfeed your baby during your time in the recovery room. You may need additional support to establish breastfeeding while in hospital and after going home from hospital. For breastfeeding supports see our Breastfeeding webpage.
  • You will be able to drink and eat small amounts of food after the birth if you had spinal or epidural anesthetic. Eating small amounts of food at a time and gradually increasing the amount will help prevent nausea. Try to avoid the use of straws as this can create gas pain9
  • You will be encouraged to get out of bed within hours of giving birth. Your nurse will help you the first time you are up. Walking around can help reduce the risk of blood clots, help you have a bowel movement, and help you feel better. Chewing gum can also help your bowels move sooner.9
  • The catheter will be removed from your bladder approximately 12 – 24 hours after birth.9
  • You will likely go home from hospital on the third or fourth day. You will have the usual postpartum changes as with a vaginal birth, but you will have some pain where you had the abdominal incision. This may last for a few days to several weeks. Give yourself time to heal and avoid strenuous activities. 
  • Once home, you will need plenty of rest and extra support from your partner and family for several weeks.9
  • Caring for your incision at home:
    • While in the hospital, a healthcare provider will remove the bandage covering your incision to inspect your incision. If it is healing well, it will usually be left uncovered. It is okay to get your incision wet in the shower. Always make sure that the incision is dry after you shower, as bacteria can accumulate and cause infection if the area is left wet.9
    • If stitches are used, they are self-dissolving.
    • If staples are used, they are removed after several days following the birth9, or a staple remover is sent home with you so that you can visit your family doctor or midwife to have the staples removed.
    • To prevent your incision from re-opening at home, avoid the following activities in the first six weeks or until your healthcare provider says that it is okay:
      • Lifting anything heavier than your baby.9
      • Carrying your baby in a car seat.9
      • Climbing stairs a lot.9
      • Running, jogging, jumping, or any other high-energy activities.9
      • Sit-ups or other activities that may cause you to strain your abdominal muscles.9
      • Sexual intercourse.9
      • Driving. If you need to brake quickly this could cause your incision to re-open.9

Take time to process an unplanned caesarean birth.

Mixed emotions following a caesarean birth are normal especially if surgery wasn’t part of your birth plan. When you are ready, talk to your partner, healthcare provider, or a friend about your feelings. Seek help if negative feelings persist and impact how you feel about being a mother.9

Having one caesarean birth does not always mean you will need another caesarean with future pregnancies. It is important to have a conversation with your healthcare provider about whether vaginal birth after caesarean, or VBAC, is appropriate for you.


For more information, decision aids & tools

Ottawa Family Decision Guide
Making Informed Decisions About Your Care - other decision aids & tools

If you have specific questions:

Date of creation: February 20, 2015
Last modified on: June 11, 2019


1Keag, OE, Norman, JE, Stock, SJ (January 23, 2018) Long-term risks and benefits associated with cesarean delivery for mother, baby, and subsequent pregnancies: Systematic review and meta-analysis. PLoS Med 15(1): e1002494. Retrieved from
2Sandall, J, Tribe, RM, Avery, L, Mala, G, Visser, GH, Homer, CS, . . . Temmerman, M. (October 13, 2018). Short-term and long-term effects of caesarean section on the health of women and children. The Lancet Series - Optimising Caesarean Section Use, 392(10155):1349-1357. Retrieved from
3Lindquist SA, Shah N, Overgaard C, Torp-Pedersen C, Glavind K, Larsen T, Plough A, Galvin G, Knudsen A. (December 1, 2017). Association of Previous Cesarean Delivery With Surgical Complications After a Hysterectomy Later in Life. JAMA Surgery. 152(12):1148-1155. Retrieved from
4National Partnership for Women and Families. VBAC (Vaginal Birth After Cesarean). Childbirth Connection. Retrieved from
5Smith H, Peterson N, Lagrew D, Main E. (2016). Toolkit to Support Vaginal Birth and Reduce Primary Cesareans: A Quality Improvement Toolkit. Stanford, CA: California Maternal Quality Care Collaborative. Retrieved from
6Society of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists. Caesarean section (C-section). Society of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists. Retrieved from
7Bohren MA, Hofmeyr GJ, Sakala C, Fukuzawa RK, Cuthbert A. (2017). Continuous support for women during childbirth. Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews, Issue 7. Retrieved from
8Barrett, J. F., Hannah, M. E., Hutton, E. K., Willan, A. R., Allen, A. C., Armson, B. A., . . . Asztalos, E. V. (2013). A Randomized Trial of Planned Cesarean or Vaginal Delivery for Twin Pregnancy. New England Journal of Medicine, 369(14), 1295-1305. Retrieved from
9Best Start Resource Centre. Prenatal Education: Key Messages for Ontario: Caesarean Birth. Health Nexus. Retrieved from