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Did you know that nearly a third of all babies in America are delivered by cesarean section? Although that number has declined slightly in recent years, most doctors agree that a large percentage of those c-sections aren’t medically necessary—and may actually pose risks to mother and baby.

April is Cesarean Awareness Month, sponsored by the International Cesarean Awareness Network (ICAN) whose mission is “to improve maternal-child health by reducing preventable cesareans through education, supporting cesarean recovery, and advocating for vaginal birth after cesarean (VBAC).” Here are a few things you should know:

What’s a cesarean section? Why are they necessary?

A c-section is a procedure used to deliver a baby surgically rather than vaginally. The surgeon makes an incision through the mother’s abdomen and another incision in the uterus through which the baby is removed.

C-sections are indicated when the life or health of the mother or baby could be endangered by vaginal delivery. Conditions that could prompt a doctor recommend a c-section include the baby in feet-first (breech) position, premature or difficult labor, a viral infection such as HIV, and placenta previa (the placenta in an abnormal position near or blocking the cervical opening).

Make no mistake: When it’s medically necessary, a c-section can be lifesaving. But ICAN believes women need to be informed so they can make good decisions about whether a c-section is right for them.

What to expect during a c-section

Most c-sections are accomplished with a local anesthetic—an epidural or spinal block that effectively numbs you from the waist down. If the c-section wasn’t planned, it’s possible the doctor will recommend a general anesthetic

In either case, you won’t feel any pain during the procedure. You may feel a pushing or pulling as the doctor gets the baby out. In most cases, you should be able to hold your baby right after surgery.

Know that a c-section is major surgery, and you will have a recovery period. Side effects may include, nausea, gas, constipation, cramping, and vaginal discharge. You’ll want to get plenty of rest—and avoid lifting anything heavy until your incision heals. Ask your doctor for specific instructions regarding your recovery.

C-section risks

Because it’s major surgery, c-sections carry risk: blood clots, infection, bleeding, and more. According to The Lancet, maternal death rates are higher for women who have a c-section; it generally takes longer to recover from delivery; and vaginal births are associated with “reductions in length of hospital stay, the risk of hysterectomy for postpartum hemorrhage, and the risk of cardiac arrest (compared with planned c-sections).)”

So why are there more c-sections today? Factors may include more multiple births, women having babies at a more advanced age, and others.

The best advice, though, is to be informed. Talk with your Hancock Health physician about your birthing options—or let us help you find a doctor. And see how our maternity services can help you have a great experience no matter what you decide.

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