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What Happens During an Emergency C-section?

In a perfect world, labor always goes smoothly and every mom is able to have a quick, painless vaginal delivery. The reality, however, is that sometimes issues arise during labor that makes a C-section necessary. Furthermore, if a problem occurs where mom or baby is in immediate danger, your doctor may recommend an emergency C-section.

An emergency C-section is one that must be done urgently, either for the health of the mom or the baby. Situations, where an emergency C-section may be needed, include umbilical cord prolapse, placental abruption, uterine rupture, or an abnormal fetal heart rate that does not improve with routine measures.

There are some differences between an emergency C-section and a scheduled (or routine) C-section. The most obvious is the timeframe in which an emergency C-section happens. It is recommended in these scenarios that the time from the decision to proceed with the surgery to the start of the procedure not be more than 30 minutes. However, that window is often even shorter. As such, when your doctor has decided an emergency C-section is needed, everything will happen very quickly. You may feel overwhelmed with how many people appear in your room to facilitate this!

It is possible that if you need an emergency C-section, you may be put to sleep or given general anesthesia. This is done because there is often no time to place a spinal block or epidural (so that you can be awake), or if you already have an epidural in place, there may not be enough time to give you additional medicine to make you comfortable enough for surgery. Although partners are usually present during routine C-sections, if you are asleep, your partner will likely not be in the operating room.

Recovery from an emergency C-section may be a bit different. You may feel more groggy or nauseous because of the general anesthesia used. If you were put to sleep, it is likely that you were separated from your baby for slightly longer than you would have been had you undergone a routine C-section. It is important to connect with your baby as soon as you feel able, and if you plan to breastfeed, you can absolutely do so.

Talking with your doctor after the delivery to review why you needed an emergency C-section and to understand what happened during the surgery is important. It is normal to feel overwhelmed, scared, or sad that you did not get to have a vaginal delivery or be awake for the birth of your child. Understanding the details of your delivery is the first step in processing all of these feelings, and you should feel comfortable asking these questions.


  • ACOG Committee Opinion #433
  • Optimal Goals for Anesthesia Care in Obstetrics.
    ACOG FAQs. Cesarean Birth.
    OBG Management
  • Crash Cesarean section. What is your decision-to-delivery time?

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