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


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

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

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

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