Caesarean section

A caesarean section is an operation where an obstetrician makes a cut in your stomach and womb and lifts your baby out through it.

If you know you will need a caesarean before you go into labour, this is called a planned, or elective, caesarean.

Some women know they will need a caesarean because the baby is in an awkward position, such as breech. Other reasons for a planned caesarean include problems with the placenta, some pregnancies where there is more than one baby, and where there are health complications.

If, during labour, you and your healthcare team decide that a caesarean is the safest way for your baby to be born, it is called an emergency caesarean.

This doesn't necessarily mean that you or your baby are in danger; it just means that the caesarean has not been planned.

What happens during a caesarean?

  • The procedure will be explained and you will be asked to consent.
  • The top part of your pubic hair may be shaved or clipped.
  • You will be given some medicine to settle your stomach.
  • A drip will be put into your arm.
  • An anaesthetist will give you an anaesthetic that numbs your pelvic area but doesn't send you to sleep. This will be an epidural or a spinal anaesthetic, which is similar. You won't feel any pain but you will feel some rummaging and tugging as the operation is done.
  • Sometimes, with an emergency caesarean, you might need a general anaesthetic, which means you will be asleep until after the birth.
  • Once you have had the anaesthetic, the midwife will put a small tube into your bladder to drain urine. This will stay in place until you are able to walk to the toilet.
  • A screen will be put up so you can't see what's happening during the operation.
  • A small cut will be made along the top of your bikini line and your baby will be lifted out.
  • After the placenta is removed, you'll be stitched up.

The whole operation takes about an hour, from making the cut to stitching you up afterwards. Your birth partner can be there with you unless you need a general anaesthetic.

Recovering from a caesarean

It takes time to recover after you've had a caesarean and you will need to stay in hospital for around two to four days. Your stitches will take time to heal and you may need strong painkillers for two or three days.

You may also be on a drip after the operation until you are eating and drinking again. You can still hold and breastfeed your baby though.

You'll probably have stitches that dissolve on their own on the inside and maybe one stitch on the outside that your community midwife will remove in around five days.

It may take about six weeks for the cut to fully heal. You’ll have a scar there but it will fade over time.

If you've been advised to have a caesarean, or are considering opting for one, chat to women who've been there in BabyCentre’s caesarean support group.

Read more

  • A happy mother with her newborn baby.

    Delayed cord clamping (DCC)

    Cutting the cord immediately after the birth has been routine practice for 50-60 years but more recently research is showing that it is not good for the baby.

  • Pregnant woman holding her back.

    What to expect when your waters break

    Your waters can break before you go in to hospital but they are more likely to break during labour, or they can even be broken for you by your midwife to speed up your labour (a process known as artificial rupture of membranes).

  • 5 positive ways to prepare for labour

    Manage your anxieties about giving birth, with some helpful advice from mums who’ve been there.

  • Pregnant woman sitting on exercise mat.

    Exercises to get your baby into a good position for birth

    The final few weeks of pregnancy can be difficult: You’re probably feeling impatient to meet your baby, nervous about labour and also tired of coping with carrying a heavy load - and all the niggles that come with it.

  • Pregnant woman being checked over by doctor.

    What is a membrane sweep?

    The membrane sweep is a drug-free way of helping to bring on labour when you are going past your due date.

  • Woman in hospital bed ready to give birth.

    What to do when labour starts

    The moment has arrived. Your contractions are regular and building up, and your baby is really on his or her way…

  • Woman holding her back in discomfort.

    Symptoms of labour

    Typical signs that your body is getting ready for labour.

  • A plate of spicy curry.

    Can anything bring labour on?

    The waiting game. It can be torturous. Your due date has been and gone, you feel the size of a mothership and you’re oh so tired of waddling to the loo every five minutes.

  • Woman in labour wearing gas and air breathing mask.

    Pain relief in labour and birth

    There are quite a few pain-relief options available and it’s good to know what they are before you go into labour.

  • Woman lying in hospital bed ready to give birth.

    Assisted birth

    Even if labour has got off to a good start, it can sometimes slow down or problems may arise. If so, you may need some help to deliver your baby safely. These procedures are called ‘interventions’.

  • Woman lying on hospital bed ready to give birth.

    Induction of labour

    In most pregnancies, labour will start on its own but in some situations your labour may need to be started artificially. This is called 'induction’ of labour.

  • Woman in labour.

    Monitoring your baby in labour

    Your midwife will check on how your baby is coping during your labour and there are different ways to do this.


  1. NICE (2007) Clinical Guideline 55, Intrapartum care: Care of healthy women and their babies during childbirth, 2007:
  2. NICE (2012) Clinical Guideline 132 Caesarean section,
  3. NHS choices [accessed 29/04/2015] Caesarean section:
Hide details

Last reviewed on April 1st, 2015. Next review date April 1st, 2018.

Was this information useful?

Yes No


  • By Anonymous (not verified) on 21 Apr 2016 - 10:03

    Thank you for all this excellent information on labour and birth.

Add new comment