Caesarean sections are carried out in hospital. You may be asked to come in for an appointment a few days beforehand, and you might need to stay in hospital for a few days afterwards.

This page covers:

Preoperative appointment

The procedure

Afterwards

Preoperative appointment

If there's time to plan your caesarean, you'll be given an approximate date for it to be carried out.

You'll also be asked to attend an appointment at the hospital in the week before the procedure is due to be performed.

During this appointment:

  • you can ask any questions you have about the procedure
  • a blood test will be carried out to check for a lack of red blood cells (anaemia)
  • you'll be given some medication to take before the procedure – this may include antibiotics, anti-sickness medication (anti-emetics) and medication to reduce the acidity of your stomach acid (antacids)
  • you'll be asked to sign a consent form

You'll need to stop eating and drinking a few hours before the procedure – your doctor or midwife will tell you when.

The procedure

Preparation

You'll be asked to change into a hospital gown when you arrive at the hospital on the day of the procedure.

A thin, flexible tube called a catheter will be inserted into your bladder to empty it while you're under the anaesthetic, and a small area of pubic hair will be trimmed if necessary.

You'll be given the anaesthetic in the operating room. This will usually be a spinal or epidural anaesthetic, which numbs the lower part of your body while you remain awake.

This means you'll be awake during the delivery and can see and hold your baby straight away.

It also means your birth partner can be with you.

General anaesthetic – where you're asleep – is used in some cases if you can't have a spinal or epidural anaesthetic.

What happens

During the procedure:

  • you lie down on an operating table, which may be slightly tilted to begin with
  • a screen is placed across your tummy so you can't see the operation being done
  • a 10-20cm cut is made in your tummy and womb – this will usually be a horizontal cut just below your bikini line, although sometimes a vertical cut below your bellybutton may be made
  • your baby is delivered through the opening – this usually takes 5-10 minutes and you may feel some tugging at this point
  • your baby will be lifted up for you to see as soon as they've been delivered, and they'll be brought over to you
  • you're given an injection of the hormone oxytocin once your baby is born to encourage your womb to contract and reduce blood loss
  • your womb is closed with dissolvable stitches, and the cut in your tummy is closed either with dissolvable stitches, or stitches or staples that need to be removed after a few days

The whole procedure usually takes around 40-50 minutes.

Afterwards

You'll usually be moved from the operating room to a recovery room straight after the procedure.

Once you've started to recover from the anaesthetic, the medical staff will make sure you're well and continue to observe you every few hours.

You'll be offered:

  • painkillers to relieve any discomfort
  • treatment to reduce the risk of blood clots – this may include compression stockings or injections of blood-thinning medication, or both 
  • food and water as soon you as you feel hungry or thirsty
  • help with breastfeeding your baby if you want it – read more about the first few days of breastfeeding

The catheter will usually be removed from your bladder around 12-18 hours after the procedure, once you're able to walk around.

Read more about recovering from a caesarean.

What's involved in a caesarean section?

Midwife Suzanne Barber explains what happens during a caesarean section.

Media last reviewed: 20/03/2014

Next review due: 20/03/2017

Page last reviewed: 01/07/2016

Next review due: 01/07/2019