Cesarean section is a common surgical procedure that is used to deliver millions of babies. However, it is still a major surgery and is associated with a certain amount of risk.
Risks to the baby
Babies delivered by Cesarean section (C-section) have not been shown to be at any increased risk of the most serious health disorders such as cerebral palsy, bleeding in the skull or death. However, babies delivered this way tend to be affected by breathing difficulties, although it is usually premature babies that suffer from this problem. Delivery by C-section at 39 weeks or after does not significantly increase this risk for breathing difficulties over vaginal delivery. Shortly after birth, babies delivered by C-section may breathe abnormally fast. This is called transient tachypnea and the condition usually resolves within two or three days.
Risks to the mother
The main risks to the mother undergoing a C-section are described below:
Excess bleeding is a risk associated with all surgical procedures. Women who have a C-section lose more blood than they do giving birth naturally, but transfusions are rarely needed.
Infection of the surgical wound
An infection that develops at or near the site of the surgical incision is possible but women are now given antibiotics before the C-section procedure, which reduces the risk of infection more than post-surgical antibiotic therapy.
Infection of the womb lining
This condition is called endometritis and may lead to fever, uterine pain and a foul smelling discharge. However, again, the use of antibiotics prior to surgery does significantly decrease the likelihood of this condition developing.
Injury may be caused to surrounding structures such as the bladder or bowel, although this is rare. If injury does occur, further surgery may be required to correct the damage.
The risk of developing a blood clot or thrombus is higher after C-section than after a natural delivery. The clot can be life threatening if it travels towards the lungs and forms a pulmonary embolism.
Reviewed by Sally Robertson, BSc