Looking back- caesarean birth

Several of the women we interviewed had caesarean births, some as emergencies and some planned or 'elective'.

Planned caesareans were done for various reasons, including the position of the baby or babies (see 'Twins and breech presentation'). One mother was advised she might need a caesarean because the baby was large compared to the size of her pelvis, and she and her partner decided the safety of the baby was the most important thing. Another mother had an elective caesarean so surgeons could be standing by ready to repair her baby's heart defect.

Women who had already had one caesarean could choose whether to try a vaginal birth next time or have an elective caesarean (see 'Thinking about where and how to give birth' and 'Looking back - vaginal birth'). One mother felt traumatised by her first emergency caesarean after an induction and long labour; her baby needed 3 days in special care. A planned caesarean next time helped her overcome her fear, and she recovered quickly.

Other women took longer to recover from the operation, and some would have liked to be told more beforehand about what to expect. Some welcomed having a few extra days in hospital and getting midwives' help with feeding and caring for the baby, but others were keen to get home.

Women had emergency caesareans for a variety of reasons, including a long, exhausting labour, a breech baby, concerns that the baby was distressed or unusual complications such as vasa praevia (see 'Rarer complications').

Views about emergency caesareans were mixed. After a long and tiring labour, some people felt calm and relieved to make the decision.

One mother felt relieved at the time, but wondered afterwards whether labour might have been easier and more relaxed if she had stayed at home longer. She felt demoralised to be told she was in labour only once she got to three centimetres dilated, when she had already been having contractions for thirty hours.

For others, the decision was more sudden and dramatic, for example when the baby was getting distressed, but this mother was sure it was the right decision.

One woman had been booked for an elective section after a previous emergency one, but labour started early and was long and distressing, eventually ending with another emergency caesarean. The baby needed special care. She was unhappy with her care and the lack of communication with staff. Her partner feared she might die and they later decided to have no more children. 

Another mother would have liked a caesarean earlier but thought staff were reluctant because they were trying to keep the hospital's caesarean rates down.

As with vaginal birth, people's feelings about whether a caesarean was the right choice for them were affected by how well they felt supported and informed by staff they trusted, and whether they felt they had control over the decision.

For more information on caesarean birth see our section on Making decisions about birth after caesarean.

For further links see our pregnancy resources.

Last reviewed May 2017.
Last updated May 2017.


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