10 Reasons For An Emergency C-Section And Tips For Recovery

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Despite having a proper plan for vaginal or cesarean delivery, some situations make an emergency c-section, a surgical procedure of assisted childbirth, necessary. A doctor may decide to perform a c-section if there is a risk to the baby or mother and vaginal delivery is unsafe (1). Though the surgery poses risks and complications, it may be the most suitable option for the baby and mother.
Read this post to learn about the risks and complications associated with the emergency c-section procedure and how to enable quick recovery.

What Are The Types Of C-Sections?

A doctor may decide to perform one of the two common c-section procedures based on the level of urgency (2).

  1. A scheduled c-section or planned c-section is performed when the doctor decides it would be safer than vaginal birth. It is generally planned months in advance and scheduled around the expected delivery date. It can also be planned when the mother wishes for it.
  2. An unplanned c-section or emergency c-section is performed in case of last-minute complications in a vaginal delivery that pose a risk to the mother and child.

What Can You Expect During An Emergency C-Section?

A pregnant woman may expect a rapidly developing scenario once a doctor decides on an emergency c-section. Here are some of the procedures that will follow (3) (4) (5):

  • Surgery generally begins within 30 minutes of the decision to conduct the operation.
  • The abdominal area will usually be cleaned by shaving the body hair and using an antiseptic agent. A catheter tube should be introduced to the bladder to keep it empty during the operation.

Anesthesia is administered depending on the hospital policies and the availability of an anesthesiologist. Unlike during a scheduled c-section, local anesthesia may not be administered since there may not be enough time for it to take effect.

The doctor may administer an epidural or general anesthesia to make the surgery pain-free in consultation with the anesthesiologist.

  • The incision strategy might vary during an emergency c-section procedure depending on several factors.
  • A lower segment incision is a horizontal incision across the lower part of the uterus. It is the standard option as it heals faster and poses fewer complications in future pregnancies.
  • A classical incision is a vertical incision on the uterus performed in specific emergencies, such as preterm birth, fibroids, or surgical adhesions blocking the uterus. In such cases, the vertical incision allows quicker access to the baby.
  • In some hospitals, a midwife may take care of the baby immediately after the operation and help with breastfeeding once the mother is ready.
  • There may be a need to express breast milk using a breast pump if the baby cannot take the breastmilk directly.
  • A painkiller medication must be prescribed post-surgery.

When Would You Need An Emergency C-Section?

The emergency c-section is chosen considering the health of the mother and the baby. Some of the following situations might compel a doctor to perform a c-section (6) (7):

  • Fetal distress occurs when the fetus is not receiving enough oxygen. This situation can quickly escalate to fetal brain injury.
  • Prolonged labor is a situation where labor does not progress, the contractions are weak, and the cervix stops dilating. It can lead to oxygen deprivation and brain injury in the infant as well as infection and bleeding in the mother.
  • The baby’s position is a significant concern as certain positions may be unsuitable for a cooperative vaginal delivery. Some of the positions unsuitable for a vaginal delivery are
  • Breech position: The baby is aligned with its feet towards the birth canal.
  • Transverse position: The baby is positioned sidewise to the birth canal.
  • Exhaustion: Sometimes, long labor could involve extensive pushing and lead to exhaustion of the mother.
  • Health condition: Sudden high blood pressure or heart disease could prove fatal during vaginal delivery.
  • Umbilical cord prolapse: This occurs when the umbilical cord descends through the cervix before the fetus. It may restrict blood and oxygen supply and can cause permanent brain injury.
  • Placental abruption: The placenta lining might detach too early, causing bleeding and disrupting the oxygen and nutrient supply.
  • Uterine rupture: A tear may appear on the uterus wall due to extensive pressure during childbirth, causing hemorrhaging and oxygen deprivation.

What Are The Risks In An Emergency C-Section?

An emergency c-section is usually as safe as a regular c-section. If recommended by a doctor, it is the safest route to follow. Some of the risks and complications involved in the emergency c-section procedure are (8)

  • Infection: Infections of the wound or womb lining may cause abdominal pain, vaginal bleeding, fever, and discharge from the wound. Antibiotics are used to control the infection.
  • Excessive bleeding: Sometimes, excessive bleeding might occur and require surgery to control it.
  • Deep vein thrombosis (DVT): It is a blood clot in the leg veins causing intense pain and swelling. The clot may travel to the lungs and cause a pulmonary embolism.
  • Internal organ damage: In rare cases, the surgery may cause damage to the bladder or tubes connecting the kidneys and may require further surgery.
  • Infant skin tear: While opening the womb, the baby’s skin might accidentally sustain minor cuts that usually heal quickly.
  • Future pregnancy issues: Emergency c-sections may cause complications in future vaginal deliveries.
  • Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD): Trauma from emergency c-sections may impact the body and mind, leading to anxiety and depression after the surgery.

How Long Does It Take To Recover From An Emergency C-Section?

A full recovery requires up to six weeks, but the recovery timeline can extend further in case of complications during the surgery (9) (10).

Here are some dos and don’ts for a speedy recovery from an emergency c-section:

  • Avoid climbing stairs and lifting heavyweights
  • Avoid carrying the baby for a long time
  • Don’t put pressure on the wound
  • Dress the wound regularly, and keep it clean and dry
  • Antibiotics and painkillers may be taken after consulting a doctor on whether they would be safe while breastfeeding
  • Gentle exercise and a healthy diet will enable a faster recovery

Frequently Asked Questions

1. Am I put to sleep for an emergency c-section?

You may feel sleepy during an emergency c-section due to the use of general anesthesia (3). General anesthesia may be preferred if there isn’t enough time for local anesthesia to take effect.

2. Is an emergency c-section harder to recover from than a vaginal delivery?

An emergency c-section delivery may involve more complications and a longer recovery period than a vaginal delivery, which has a two-week recovery period (11). However, following a healthy lifestyle and taking precautions can help better manage the complications of c-section delivery.

Like any other surgery, the emergency c-section procedure involves some risks and complications. Discuss with your doctor what precautions should be taken to eliminate post-surgery complications and enable a speedy recovery.

Key Pointers

  • Emergency c-section is a surgical procedure to avoid risks and complications in the mother and fetus.
  • If your doctor suggests an emergency c-section, you must be prepared for the surgery by being well aware of the procedure involved.
  • Some reasons your doctor might advise this surgery are non-progressing labor, fetal distress, breech baby position, maternal health issues, and possible birth complications.
  • Some post-surgical risks of an emergency c-section are infections, post-traumatic stress disorder, extreme bleeding in the mother, breathing problems, and skin tear in babies.


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Dr. Karla S. Sanchez-Banos

Dr. Karla S. Sanchez-Banos is a board-licensed Ob/Gyn in Mexico, specializing in Adolescent Gynecology. She is also trained in Gynecological Endocrinology, granted by AMEGIN (Gynecological Endocrinology Mexican Association). Her decade-old experience includes scientific research in teen pregnancy and the use of long-acting reversible contraceptive methods in the adolescent age group.  Dr. Karla currently works in two private medical centers in... more

Anshuman Mohapatra

Anshuman Mohapatra is a biotechnology scientist with more than six years of research experience in analytical chemistry and biotechnology. He has submitted his Ph.D thesis at the Indian Institute of Technology Guwahati (IIT Guwahati) and served as a research fellow (JRF/SRF) during his Ph.D tenure. His research interest includes analytical chemistry, neurobiology and lipid disorder diseases. Three of his research... more