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Caesarean births: when they’re needed and what to expect

It is estimated that nearly 1 in 3 Irish babies are now delivered through caesarean births, representing a fourfold increase in the past 30 years. The rise in multiple births from fertility treatments, reduced risks associated with the procedure and an increase in first births amongst older women are all cited as reasons behind the increase.

Also known as a C-section, a caesarean allows the baby to bypass the birth canal by making incisions in the uterus and lower abdomen. Although it is major surgery carried out in an operating theatre, it’s a less daunting procedure than ever before.  

Emergency C-sections

An unplanned caesarean may be required if a standard delivery could endanger either the mother or child. An emergency C-section is often called for when the baby is in the breech position, with their feet or buttocks positioned to be delivered first rather than their head.

Placenta or umbilical cord issues can also be the cause. In other instances, foetal distress, where the child is not getting sufficient oxygen or their heart rate changes suddenly, can be behind the emergency. Occasionally labour may be taking too long to progress, necessitating the surgery.

Elective C-sections

Aside from these unplanned situations, C-sections can also be elective. It introduces an element of control to proceedings, removing some of the unpredictability that surrounds normal childbirth. Provided a birth plan is formed with the midwife and obstetrician to ensure the safest course of action for mother and baby, a set date can give mothers time to prepare for the experience.

Mothers expected to deliver very large babies sometimes opt for a C-section, as well as those carrying twins – or more! If an abnormality has been detected, a planned C-section can help avoid further complications.

What to expect

In the case of a planned C-section or if there is enough time, an epidural or spinal anaesthetic will be provided. This ensures the mother is free from pain but also awake for the birth. In some serious instances where time is of the essence, however, a general anaesthetic will be involved.

A catheter is inserted into the mother’s bladder for at least 12 hours. A screen will be placed around her stomach, preventing her from seeing the operation. Some pressure will be felt as the baby is brought out of the uterus and the cord is cut.

Once the placenta is removed and stitches are put in place, it’s time to meet the new arrival. The average hospital stay is 3-4 days, and a few weeks of taking it easy may be required thereafter.  Strenuous exercise, heavy lifting and driving should also be avoided.

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