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How Many C-Sections Can You Safely Have

Caesarean deliveries, more commonly referred to as c-sections, are carried out by an operation to deliver your baby through a small cut made in your tummy and womb (just below your bikini line).

C-sections are no longer capped at a specific number. Last year in the UK, maternity units across the country changed their practice so they could offer each mother the right care that she needed according to their circumstances, rather than sticking to a target set by old guidance.

With this being said, your doctor or midwife will advise you about your options for c-section delivery so you can make an informed choice during pregnancy. Although some c-sections are done as an emergency, having the information beforehand will ease any anxieties you have.

A mother holding her baby while lying in bed, gently touching her c-section scar

Are c-section rates rising?

1 in 4 women in the UK has a caesarean birth – whether this is elective or done as an emergency. C-sections that are planned in advance of the labour are usually due to medical reasons and the general health of the mother during pregnancy. For example, if a mother is expecting multiple babies, it may be safer to perform a c-section prior to labour than allow the mother to naturally fall into labour with added complications.

A study was carried out to assess how many births in countries across the world resulted in caesarean deliveries. Interestingly, the United States of America came out with a c-section rate of 32%, whilst other countries such as Finland only had around 15% caesarean birth rate. The country with the highest c-section birth rate was the Dominion Republic at 56%.

If you’ve had a c-section before, you can still give birth vaginally. The more c-sections you have however make future pregnancies and labour more complicated and high-risk, mostly due to the scar tissue. If you have any concerns, speak to your doctor or midwife who will be able to support you.

Since 1990, c-section births have increased by approximately 12%. It could be argued that this is due to many different factors such as women choosing to have babies later in life, more couples choosing IVF treatment to fall pregnant and the rate of multiple births increasing, all of which can lead to complications and a higher chance of leading to a c-section delivery.

Learn more: C-section 101: Everything You Need to Know

Why do mothers have c-sections?

There are lots of specific reasons why mothers have caesarean deliveries as opposed to giving birth to their baby vaginally. The mother may request this as their preference instead of falling into labour naturally, or your doctor will recommend this pre-labour on the basis of medical reasons. C-sections are also performed in an emergency if the mother or baby’s well-being is at risk during labour and it is essential to deliver the baby to ensure both are safe and well.

In the later stages of pregnancy, your baby will turn so that it is head down and sitting lower in your cervix. Sometimes, babies have their own ideas! When they are laying feet first (head by your ribs and feet by your cervix), they call this breach position. If medical professionals are unable to turn your baby, they will advise you to have a c-section to minimise complications in labour. Other conditions such as pre-eclampsia, low-lying placenta, infections, lack of oxygen, excessive bleeding or a distressed baby are other reasons why c-sections are carried out.

With each surgery, the operation is more complicated and high-risk than the last because of the scar tissue that already exists. Layers of scar tissue can lead to an increased risk of bladder or bowel injury and excessive bleeding. Also, the more c-sections you’ve had, the placenta is at greater risk of sitting too deeply into the uterine wall or partially covering the cervix. This isn’t here to scare you, but simply to keep you informed of the process and your recovery beforehand.

Learn more: What Can Older Mums Expect for C-section Recovery: From Early Days to “All Grown Up”

Will you feel anything? Probably not. Most caesarean operations are carried out under a spinal or epidural anaesthetic. You may feel a numb pulling or tugging sensation when the baby is being taken out, but this happens behind a surgical screen. 

How do you recover from a c-section?

Compared to vaginal delivery, c-sections take longer for mums to recover from. Having a c-section is major surgery and it’s important to take the recovery period seriously to save yourself further discomfort or complications.

A c-section delivery taking place in a hospital, with two doctors carefully performing the procedure

After your baby is born, it is expected that you will stay in the hospital for roughly 3-4 days. Before you leave, your doctor will advise you on what you can manage and what you need to avoid during the first 6-12 weeks. Following a c-section, you cannot drive or take part in any exercise until you have been signed off by your doctor. This is usually around the 6-week postnatal check-up for the mother and baby.

Learn more: Everything You Want (And Didn’t Know You Need) to Know About C-Section Recovery

Your midwife may check for certain conditions that are common with c-section births such as Diastasis Recti, which is where your tummy muscles have separated during pregnancy and fail to return back in place after your recovery.

What happens next?

With all pregnancies, medical professionals are there to look after you and the welfare of your baby. If a caesarean is the best option for you given the circumstances, then rest assured you’re in safe hands and it won’t be too much longer until you get to meet your bundle of joy!

Beat the fear of the unknown by doing your research and get clued up on c-section deliveries so that, if it happens as an emergency, there aren’t any surprises and you will feel prepared for what is going to happen.

Learn more: C-section Birth: What Dads and Partners Need to Know

If you have any questions about c-sections, our panel of maternal experts are waiting in the wings to answer your queries. We talked to Mum, Leah, about her experience which you can read more about here.