A C-Section Actually Doesn't Take As Long As You Think, According To Experts
Here’s how the experts break it down.
Whether you've had this planned since the beginning, or you've been in labor for what feels like forever, considering a cesarean section is a very personal decision that's different for every mom-to-be. But unlike labor, it seems to be a little more predictable. So how long does a C-section take? You've seen it on TV and in the movies, but is the process as easy as they make it seem behind that draped sheet? What goes on down there?
How long does a C-section take?
How long a C-section takes depends on how many you’ve had before, according to Dr. Yvonne Bohn, OB-GYN at Providence Saint John’s Health Center in Santa Monica, California. And first C-section is faster, because there is less scar tissue to get through from prior surgeries.
“In general, it will take at least 15 to 20 minutes to give you anesthesia — either via a spinal or an epidural — then about five minutes to clean or 'prep' your abdomen with an antibacterial soap, and drape it with sterile drapes,” Bohn explains to Romper.
“From the time the mother enters the operating room to the time she leaves is 45 minutes to an hour. The actual surgery only takes 15 to 25 minutes,” Dr. G. Thomas Ruiz, OB-GYN at Orange Coast Memorial Medical Center in Fountain Valley, California, tells Romper.
What happens during a C-section?
“Most people have no idea how many layers an obstetrician has to go through to get to your baby,” Dr. Alan Lindemann, M.D., OB-GYN, tells Romper in an email. “There’s the epidermis (outside skin layer, which is dead cell tissue), dermis (living skin tissue), subcutaneous tissue, fascia, muscle of the abdomen, rectum muscles (which are separated rather than cut), underneath the separated rectum muscles, more fascia, parietal peritoneum (sac that holds your stomach contents), visceral peritoneum (covers the uterus), the muscle of the uterus, then the chorion (sac surrounding amnion), then the amniotic sac — and you’re finally to the baby.”
“With all these layers to carefully cut through, it becomes clear why a C-section is major surgery,” he adds, “with the risks associated with major surgery.”
At this point, you might hear the doctor suctioning away some amniotic fluid; then, the baby will be delivered using either the doctor’s hands or instruments like forceps. You might feel pressure or pulling, but you shouldn’t feel pain. After the head is out, the doctor will suction the baby’s nose and mouth for fluid. Once the baby has been suctioned, the doctor will remove the rest of the baby.
What might make a C-section take longer?
As Bohn explains, the whole process could take longer if “the placement of the spinal or epidural is complicated,” or if there were prior surgeries. But why does the extra scar tissue from prior C-sections make it harder for the surgeon?
"The surgeon has to dissect through each layer of tissue more slowly so as not to injure organs that may be stuck to the uterus from prior surgery. If the patient has labored for a long time, the baby may be wedged into the vaginal canal which can cause extension of the uterine incision which takes extra time to repair,” Bohn says.
Additionally, if a woman bleeds more than normal during the procedure, it can take the surgeon time to control the bleeding, which can include applying pressure, stitching, or giving medication that will stop the bleeding, she says.
And it turns out, you're typically awake for the entire surgery. According to Ruiz, “90 to 95 percent of the time, C-sections are done using a regional block, spinal anesthesia, or epidural anesthesia. This makes the mother numb below the breasts, but fully awake.”
Bohn adds that this is because “the blood flow to the baby during a regional anesthetic is better, so the baby gets better oxygen delivery during the surgery than if she is asleep. Women will have general anesthesia only if it is a true emergency and not enough time to give regional anesthesia, or if the patient cannot have a regional block for other reasons.” Plus, Bohn says it’s better for patients to have regional anesthesia so that Mom can be awake to meet their baby when they come out.
Does the length of your C-section determine how long it will take to heal?
No matter how long your particular C-section procedure goes, Ruiz says it won’t affect the healing time, and that incisions typically take six weeks to heal. Bohn does mention, however, that the longer time you’re under anesthesia, the more likely you will have issues with wound healing and infections.
Even though having a C-section may seem super scary — because it is major abdominal surgery after all — it's only about an hour in the operating room, and you'll be alert the whole time and won’t feel a thing. (Except for excitement, of course.)
Dr. Yvonne Bohn, M.D., OB-GYN at Providence Saint John’s Health Center in Santa Monica, Californi
Dr. G. Thomas Ruiz, M.D., OB-GYN at Orange Coast Memorial Medical Center in Fountain Valley, California
Dr. Alan Lindemann, M.D., OB-GYN
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