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Planned or elective caesarean

3-minute read

Caesareans are often planned before the birth for a medical reason, or because it is the mother’s decision. There are some important things to consider if you are planning to have a caesarean.

Why have a planned caesarean?

About 3 out of every 5 caesareans in Australia are planned.

Your doctor might recommend a planned, or elective, caesarean because it is the safest way to deliver the baby if:

  • your baby is in an abnormal position, or you are carrying more than one baby (when it’s common for one of them to be in an abnormal position)
  • you are carrying more than one baby and they need to be born early, or there are other problems
  • your placenta is covering all or part of the cervix
  • you have a health problem, such as a heart problem, high blood pressure, or an infection that could be passed to your baby during a vaginal birth, such as genital herpes or HIV
  • you or your baby have other medical complications, for example if you have fibroids (growths in the uterus) or your baby has severe hydrocephalus (extra fluid on the brain)
  • you have had other babies via caesarean section

Some women opt to have a caesarean for non-medical reasons - for example, so they can avoid a vaginal birth or because it is more convenient.

Remember that a caesarean is major surgery which carries risks, including heavy bleeding and problems with the placenta. It can also affect future pregnancies.

You have a right to be involved in making decisions about the type of birth you will have. If you are thinking of a planned caesarean and there is no obvious medical reason, discuss the pros and cons with your doctor.

The timing of a planned caesarean

You will need to talk to your doctor and possibly to the anaesthetist before a planned caesarean to check for any possible complications. They may take a blood test and may also check the maturity of the baby’s lungs.

The timing of the caesarean will depend on your health, the baby’s health and the caesarean team’s schedule. Planned caesareans are usually done at around 39 weeks.

How to prepare for a planned caesarean

You will need to fast before the caesarean, as with all surgery. This generally means not eating or drinking anything for 6 hours before the operation. The length of time you need to fast will vary depending on the hospital.

When you get to hospital, you will be admitted to the maternity ward. Your pubic hair may be clipped and your tummy cleaned. You may need to wear compression stockings.

You will then be prepared for the anaesthetic. The doctor will check the anaesthetic is working before the operation begins. A screen will be placed on your chest so you can’t see anything.

Remember to take a bag for your stay in hospital and clothes for the baby. Ask your doctor whether it is OK for your partner or support person to bring a camera or to video the birth.

If your baby is well, it is a good idea for you or your partner or support person to hold them straight away. Skin to skin contact keeps the baby warm and helps with physical bonding.

Remember that you will need time to recover after a caesarean. Plan to have plenty of help at home in the weeks after the surgery.

What happens if I go into labour first?

About 1 in 10 women whose planned caesareans are scheduled for 39 weeks will go into labour first. That means their waters break or their contractions start. If this happens, you will have an emergency rather than a planned caesarean.

Call your hospital's maternity unit or delivery suite immediately if you are booked to have a planned caesarean and you go into labour.

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Last reviewed: September 2019

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Need more information?

Vaginal birth after caesarean (VBAC)

If you’ve delivered a baby by caesarean section, you may have a choice with your next pregnancy – a vaginal birth after caesarean (VBAC) or a planned (elective) caesarean.

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Emergency caesarean

Sometimes birth doesn't go as expected. If you or your baby are at risk, there might be a need to do an emergency caesarean.

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The information is not a substitute for independent professional advice and should not be used as an alternative to professional health care. If you have a particular medical problem, please consult a healthcare professional.

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