C-section - benefits and risks

As with any type of surgery, there are benefits and risks to having a caesarean section (c-section). Here we explain more about what these are. Your healthcare professional will be able to tell you more about what these mean for you, depending on your circumstances.

Knowing the possible benefits and risks of having a c-section can help you decide how you would like to give birth. What this means for you will depend on several things, such as whether you’re having a planned or emergency c-section, your general health and your baby’s wellbeing.

During your pregnancy, your midwife or doctor will talk to you about the benefits and risks of both caesarean and vaginal birth. They will help you think about your birth options by asking about your wishes, concerns and plans for future pregnancies.  

What are the benefits of a c-section?

If you have not had a c-section before, a planned c-section might reduce the risk of:   

  • pain during the birth
  • injury to the vagina
  • loss of bladder control
  • the womb, vagina, bowel or bladder pushing against the wall of the vagina (pelvic organ prolapse).

These may still happen but your risk is lower than if you had a vaginal birth.

Your risk of bowel problems, pain during sex, depression and breastfeeding problems is the same as for after a vaginal birth. 


Risks of having a c-section

Having a c-section can increase some risks to you and your baby. This does not mean that these things will happen to you, but there may be a higher chance of them happening than if you had a vaginal birth. Speak to your midwife or doctor about how these risks may affect you and your baby.

Possible risks to you include:     

  • urine, womb or wound infection – your doctor will offer you antibiotics before your c-section to help prevent infection
  • needing to stay in hospital for longer after the birth – the average hospital stay is 2 days after a vaginal birth and 4 days after a c-section
  • taking longer to recover from the birth
  • bleeding that leads to a blood transfusion 
  • needing to have your womb removed (hysterectomy) – this is uncommon and may be more likely if you had problems with the placenta or bleeding during pregnancy
  • blood clots
  • problems in future pregnancies, such as low-lying placenta, placenta accreta and damage to the wall of the womb. 

Read more about what to expect after a c-section.

Possible risks to your baby include:     

  • a cut to the skin caused during surgery – this is usually minor and heals quickly
  • breathing problems – these might be more common if your baby is born before 39 weeks of pregnancy.

Most breathing problems get better after a few days but some babies need support in the neonatal unit. Call 999 if your baby is struggling to breathe or their skin turns very pale or blue.

C-sections and links to long-term conditions

There has been some research into how c-sections affect the long-term health of children. There is limited evidence that children born by c-section may have a higher risk of childhood asthma up to the age of 5 and obesity up to the age of 12.

The reason for this increased risk is not clear. One idea is that the baby does not come into contact with bacteria in the mother’s vagina. Babies born vaginally have these bacteria in their guts. Researchers think they may protect babies from childhood asthma and obesity, but there’s still some debate. Other things, such as the mother’s health, may also affect the risk.

Future pregnancies

Most women who have had a previous c-section have no problems in future pregnancies. Having a c-section can increase the chance of having a low-lying placenta, placenta accreta or damage to the wall of the womb. But these problems are not common. 

You can usually choose whether to give birth vaginally or have another c-section. If you’re fit and healthy, the risks involved are very low.  

If you would like to talk to a doctor or midwife about your birth options in future pregnancies, you can ask for a birth planning appointment. This will give you the chance to talk about your medical and pregnancy history to help you decide what’s best for you and your baby.

Read more about pregnancy and giving birth after a c-section.

  1. Keag OE, Norman JE, Stock SJ (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.
  2. NHS. Caesarean section: risks. www.nhs.uk/conditions/caesarean-section/risks/ (Page last reviewed: 27/06/2019. Next review due: 27/06/2022).
  3. NICE (2021). Caesarean birth: NICE guideline 192. National Institute for health and care excellence https://www.nice.org.uk/guidance/ng192   
  4. Royal College of Obstetricians & Gynaecologists (2015) Birth After Previous Caesarean Birth. Green-top Guideline No.45 www.rcog.org.uk/en/guidelines-research-services/guidelines/gtg45/
  5. Sandall J et al (2018) Short-term and long-term effects of caesarean section on the health of women and children. The Lancet 2018; 392(10155): 1349-1357.
Review dates
Reviewed: 16 July 2021
Next review: 16 July 2024