Risks of caesarean section

If you have questions about specific risks to your health or the health of your baby, please talk to a member of your healthcare team

About one in four women will have a caesarean section. Below are the risks of having a caesarean section that is planned in advance on the health of a woman and her baby. These risks are for women who have not had a caesarean section before and have no problems in their pregnancy. They do not apply to all women, all babies or all circumstances. If you have an unplanned caesarean section because of a problem that develops during pregnancy or labour, the risks will be different.

Although uncommon, needing admission to an intensive care unit is more likely after a caesarean birth than after a vaginal birth. It is not clear whether this happens as a result of a caesarean section or because of the reasons for needing a caesarean section.

After a caesarean section, you are not more likely than other mothers to have difficulties with breastfeeding once breastfeeding is established, or have postnatal depression or other psychological problems, pain during sex or difficulty controlling your bowels.

Summary of the effects of planned caesarean section compared with planned vaginal birth

Planned caesarean section may reduce the risk of the following in women:

  • pain in the area between the vagina and anus (perineum) and in the abdomen (tummy) during birth and 3 days afterwards

  • injury to the vagina

  • heavy bleeding soon after birth

  • shock caused by loss of blood.

Planned caesarean section may increase the risk of the following in babies:

  • intensive care unit admission.

Planned caesarean section may increase the risk of the following in women:

  • longer hospital stay

  • bleeding after the birth that needs a hysterectomy (removal of the womb)

  • heart attack.

There is more information about these effects in appendix C of the NICE guideline, available from www.nice.org.uk/CG132

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