Scheduling a c-section

Cesarean birth (also called c-section) is surgery in which your baby is born through a cut that your doctor makes in your belly and uterus.

You and your provider may plan for a c-section because of medical reasons that affect your pregnancy. But more and more c-sections are being scheduled early for non-medical reasons. Medical experts are learning that this can cause problems for you and your baby. These experts agree that if there are no medical reasons for either you or your baby to have a c-section, then it’s best to have your baby through vaginal birth.

If you’re planning to schedule a c-section, talk to your provider about waiting until at least 39 weeks of pregnancy. This gives your baby the time she needs to grow and develop before she’s born.

Why can scheduling a c-section for non-medical reasons be a problem?

Here’s why:

  • Your due date may not be exactly right. Sometimes it’s hard to know just when you got pregnant. If you schedule a c-section and your due date is off by a week or 2, your baby may be born too early. This may be one reason why many babies are born between 34 and 36 weeks in this country. While babies born at 34 to 36 weeks may seem healthy, they are more likely to have medical problems than babies born a few weeks later. 
  • A c-section can cause problems for your baby. Babies born by c-section may have more breathing and other medical problems than babies born by vaginal birth.
  • A c-section can cause problems in future pregnancies. So if your pregnancy is healthy and you’re planning to have more children later, it’s best to have your baby through vaginal birth. Once you have a c-section, you may be more likely in future pregnancies to have a c-section. The more c-sections you have, the more likely you are to have problems in future pregnancies, including problems with the placenta. The placenta grows in your uterus and supplies the baby with food and oxygen through the umbilical cord. 
  • A c-section is major surgery for mom. You have to stay in the hospital longer, and it takes longer for you to recover from a c-section than from a vaginal birth. You may have complications from the surgery, like infections and bleeding.

What questions can you ask your provider about scheduling a c-section?

If your provider wants to schedule your c-section, ask these questions:

  • Why do I need to have a c-section?
  • Is there a problem with my health or the health of my baby that may make me need to have my baby earlier than 39 weeks?
  • What problems can a c-section cause for me and my baby?
  • Can I have a vaginal birth in future pregnancies?

Last reviewed September 2013


Most common questions

Can I schedule my c-section?

Yes. But more and more c-sections are being scheduled early for non-medical reasons.
Experts are learning that this can cause problems for both mom and baby. If you know you're having a c-section, wait until at least 39 weeks of pregnancy. This helps you make sure your baby has all the time she needs to grow before she's born. You may not have a choice about when to have your baby. If there are problems with your pregnancy or your baby's health, you may need to have your c-section earlier. But if you have a choice and you're planning to schedule your c-section, wait until at least 39 weeks.

What are some reasons to have a c-section?

You may need a c-section if there are medical problems that put you or your baby in danger. For example, you may need a c-section if your baby is too big to pass through the birth canal, or if the baby is in a breech position (feet first) or a transverse position (shoulder first). The best position for your baby is head first. You may need a c-section if your labor is really slow or if the baby's heart rate slows during labor. Other reasons for a c-section include having problems with the placenta or with the umbilical cord, having an infection that you can pass to your baby during birth, and being pregnant with twins or more. If you've had a c-section in a previous pregnancy, you may need to have one in your next pregnancy. If your pregnancy is healthy and there's no medical reason to have a c-section, it's best to plan for a vaginal birth and wait for labor to start on its own. Ask your provider if there are reasons why you may need to have a c-section.

What kind of anesthesia should I get during a c-section?

Most likely you'll have regional anesthesia so you can stay awake for your baby's birth. This kind of anesthesia numbs you from below your breasts all the way down to your toes. If you have an emergency c-section, you may need general anesthesia. General anesthesia makes you go to sleep during the surgery.

©2013 March of Dimes Foundation. The March of Dimes is a non-profit organization recognized as tax-exempt under Internal Revenue Code section 501(c)(3).