Giving birth by caesarean: advantages and risks

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Giving birth by caesarean: advantages and risks
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Nowadays, around 25% of women give birth by caesarean section in the UK. A caesarean section is a surgical intervention, often required in emergencies, which involves making an incision into the abdomen and the uterus to deliver the baby. Although complications are becoming more and more rare with this type of birth, here are the advantages and the risks that future mother should know about. 

The advantages of having a section

When the mother doesn’t have a choice, it is obvious that she cannot decide not to have a caesarean. The doctor is only doing their job: they must save the lives of the baby and the mother, so if they tell you that the operation is necessary, you should trust them.

Expectant mothers are often afraid of having a caesarean that they haven’t chosen themselves, but this is normal, as you may fear potential complications.

When a caesarean is strongly recommended or decided upon in an emergency, if for example the umbilical cord is around the baby’s neck or in the case of other complications, the doctors need to act fast to save the lives of the mother and baby. They don’t have the time, especially in an emergency, to explain all the details of why the caesarean is necessary, nor to outline the risks.

In any case, it may reassure women who give birth by caesarean to know that there are also complications and risks associated with a natural vaginal birth, which are also relatively significant for the mother (tears, infections, etc.) and for the baby (vacuum/ventuose or forceps deliveries, etc.).

If the risk of complications during a natural birth are too high, it is better to go for a caesarean.

The risks of a caesarean for the mother

Every surgical operation carries risk, especially those that require an anaesthetic as well as the help of an obstetrician. In any case, numerous efforts are made in hospitals to reduce the risk of complications as much as possible, which are fairly rare.

Here is a list of the complications that can happen after or during a caesarean section:

  • Post-operative haematoma, which means an accumulation of blood in the area that was operated on.
  • The wound can become infected and can cause complications if it turns into an abscess or becomes inflamed.
  • Infection of the uterus and of the urinary passages.
  • Phlebitis which can cause the formation of blood clots in the legs. This condition is associated with taking anticoagulant medications prescribed by a doctor. Wear compression stockings to avoid this.
  • Pulmonary embolism: a complication of phlebitis characterised by the migration of a blood clot which blocks the artery to the lungs.
  • Hospital-acquired infections which can develop following a prolonged hospital stay.
  • Increased risk for subsequent pregnancies: you may need a caesarean or have a higher risk of haemorrhage, etc.

The consequences of a caesarean for the mother

Certain minor health problems appear and generally disappear in the weeks after a caesarean delivery, with the exception of the scar, which will fade gradually over time.

  • Problems with digestion, stomach aches. Your digestive tract starts to function again 24 to 48 hours after a caesarean, which leads to some temporary irregularities. If your gynaecologist permits it, take regular walks to improve your digestive functioning and eat a balanced diet.
  • Fatigue, which can be more pronounced than with a normal birth, as well as heavier bleeding increasing the risk of anaemia.
  • Postoperative pain until the uterus and the abdomen heal.
  • Abdominal and uterine scars: the scars in these areas generally last all your life, although they do fade.

The risks of a caesarean for the baby

A caesarean does not pose risks for the baby. However, babies born by c-sections can have breathing difficulties because the fluid has not been expelled from their lungs via contractions, but this symptom disappears after a few hours in intensive care.

Recommendations for post-caesarean section

  • Rest, ideally lying down, reducing physical effort: avoid carrying heavy things and driving. Get someone to help you.
  • Eat a balanced diet, going for foods rich in protein (meat, fish), fibre (vegetables) and dairy products, in order to improve your digestion.
  • Drink plenty of water.
  • Avoid having sex for a few weeks after a section.
  • Slowly start exercising again, following the advice of a physiotherapist.
  • Don’t expose the scar to sunlight.
  • Consult a doctor in the case of abnormal symptoms (fever, pain around the scar, nausea or vomiting).
  • Wait at least two months after surgery before starting to do sports again.