Lucy E. Cousins
What is an emergency C-section and will I need one?
When you plan for the birth of your child, few people envisage being on an operating table with scrubs on, hospital lights and beeping machines. No soft music, hot showers or essential oils in sight!
However, while caesarean sections may seem scary and out of your control, there are many reasons why a C-section might be the best option for you. We spoke to fertility specialist and gynaecologist Dr Raewyn Teirney to find out why some mothers need to have an emergency C-section and what we can do to avoid C-sections.
Planned Vs Unplanned Vs Emergency
There are several different ways to describe C-sections. There is ‘planned’ (where you will know at least a few hours or days beforehand), ‘unplanned’ (where you will be given an hour or so notice) and ‘emergency’ (where you will be operated on within 30 minutes).
When it comes to planned C-Sections, you will have a scheduled time and it will mostly be performed in a prepared environment. This can be stressful or a relief depending on your point of view and medical situation. Perhaps your baby is too big or is having complications? Perhaps your doctor believes you or your baby would be at risk with a vaginal birth? Whatever the reason, you’ll be given time to prepare and get your head around the situation.
According to Dr Teirney, unplanned caesareans are considered urgent and common causes could include (but aren’t limited to) if labour isn't progressing or contractions are too weak, the baby isn’t tolerating labour or is undiagnosed breech or when labour begins. Doctors will also consider an unplanned C-section if there is an infection present, like a temperature.
Labour…and a C-Section?
Compared to a planned or even an unplanned C-section, where at least you will be given a least an hour’s notice (in theory), emergency C-section can be much more stressful. You may not be expecting it, have no control over the process, which can be quite scary, and you may have already been in labour for hours (you poor thing!).
However, Dr Teirney says there are several very important reasons why medical professionals may decide on an emergency C-section. The first reason is if your doctor or midwife are worried about the health of either you or your bub.
“An emergency C-Section may be performed if either the mother or the baby (or both) are in distress during labour and the baby needs to be delivered very quickly,” she confirms. “It may be that one or both of their blood pressures is too high, which can cause great distress to both the mother and the baby.”
Another scenario, explains Dr Teirney, is that the umbilical cord has dropped through the cervix and through the vagina ahead of the baby, which can cause distress to the infant and even deprive it of oxygen. Other reasons include foetal or maternal distress, maternal haemorrhage, placenta abruption (where the placenta peels away from the wall of the uterus…ouch) and uterine rupture (where the uterus tears along a previous C-section scar…double ouch), or sepsis in labour, where the baby must be delivered urgently.
Preparing for birth
So is there anything pregnant women can do before giving birth to avoid emergency C-sections? According to Dr Teirney, yes and no.
“There isn’t a lot you can do to prepare,” she explains,” aside from having a healthy weight during your pregnancy. Some studies suggest that women with a higher BMI to begin with, who gain a lot of weight when pregnant, have a higher risk of getting gestational diabetes in pregnancy. This may actually increase your risk of needing a C-section.”
Dr Teirney says that during your pregnancy, your doctor and midwives should help you with your ideal weight, which should take into account your height. She suggests eating moderately and nutritiously in order to stick to that number throughout your pregnancy.
And one of the worst things you can do? Light up.
“Smoking is something all women should give up when trying to fall pregnant and when pregnant as it can lead to low birth weight babies, which can lead to foetal distress in labour,” Dr Teirney says.
Dealing with your experience
While some women are relieved to have a C-section after so many hours of labour, others may find it hard to deal with their experiences, especially if it was particularly stressful or life-threatening. While those with strong wishes for their birth plan, may find it hard to reconcile that the birth didn’t go the way it was planned.
In that aspect, it’s helpful to understand that there is no perfect birth; going through childbirth – like motherhood itself– is full of challenges and surprises.
Accept that your birth didn’t go to plan and start to focus on the future instead. What are some of the things you can control, such as your home environment and where your bub will spend its first few precious months.
If you find yourself struggling with your experiences, it can be useful to speak to other women who’ve experienced the same thing, professionals or groups, such as The Gidget Foundation, who specialise in post-natal depression. Getting help is essential, because as the saying goes… it takes a village. But you have to find your village, first.
Do have a topic you’d like us to address? or a story you'd like to share? Email us, we’d love to hear from you!
Photo credit @melissajeanbabies