By Dr Ananya Mandal, MD
A Cesarean section (C-section) is a surgery performed to deliver a baby via an incision made in the abdomen.
This mode of delivery may be performed as an emergency procedure when normal delivery is not possible or may be planned in cases where a natural delivery is not recommended due to the mother having a health condition such as high blood pressure, for example.
In the case of a planned C-section, when the procedure is scheduled for a particular date, the term “elective C-section” is used.
Reasons for emergency C-section
Some of the reasons an emergency C-section may be required include:
Fetal distress ─ If the baby is not receiving enough oxygen or the heart rate is increasing.
Non-progress of labour ─ Prolonged labour is the most common reason for a C-section being performed. The labour may be prolonged because the cervix is not dilating sufficiently despite contractions or because the baby’s head is simply too big to pass through the birth canal.
Infection ─ A C-section may also be recommended in cases where the mother is known to have an infection they could pass onto their baby during delivery, such as HIV.
Abnormal position of the baby ─ In a vaginal birth, the baby is usually positioned head-down in the womb and the head comes out before the rest of the baby’s body. If the buttocks have moved into the birth canal first (breech position) or the baby is positioned on its side (transverse position), then a C-section may be advised.
Reasons for elective C-section
An elective C- section is performed in the absence of any of these indications. Patients may opt for a C-section if they have a health condition such as high blood pressure or if a previous Cesarean means a future vaginal birth is associated with a degree of risk. However, women also elect to have a C-section, simply to schedule the birth for a convenient date or for other non-clinical reasons.
In cases where there is no medical basis for a C-section being performed, health authorities often advise against the procedure for a range of reasons including the prevention of unnecessary harm to both mother and child.
Reviewed by Sally Robertson, BSc
Last Updated: Jun 2, 2014