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Patient education: Anesthesia for c-section (cesarean birth) (The Basics)

Patient education: Anesthesia for c-section (cesarean birth) (The Basics)

What is a c-section? — A c-section is a type of surgery used for having a baby (figure 1). Sometimes, a c-section is planned ahead of time, during pregnancy. Other times, a person ends up needing a c-section after labor begins.

If you have a c-section, you will get anesthesia medicines so you won't feel pain. Then the doctor will make an incision in your belly and remove the baby from your uterus.

About 1 in 3 babies in the US is born by c-section. It is also called "cesarean birth."

What is anesthesia? — "Anesthesia" is the term for different types of medicine people get before and during surgery or another procedure. These medicines are given to make sure you do not feel pain during the procedure.

Anesthesia medicines are given by a doctor called an "anesthesiologist."

The goals of anesthesia during a c-section are to keep both you and your baby comfortable and safe. The anesthesia medicines used for a c-section do not harm the baby.

What will happen before my surgery? — If you are planning a c-section, your doctor or nurse will explain all the steps that will happen. You will get instructions about how to prepare, including:

Whether you should stop taking any of your medicines ahead of time

When to stop eating and drinking before your surgery

An anesthesiologist will also:

Ask questions about your pregnancy, health conditions, past surgeries, and allergies

Examine your mouth, throat, and airway

Answer any questions you have

When it is time for your c-section, your doctor or nurse will put in an "IV" (a thin tube that goes into a vein). The IV can be used to give medicines before, during, and after the surgery.

What type of anesthesia will I get? — It depends. Most people choose "regional" anesthesia. This prevents you from feeling pain during surgery but allows you to be awake for your baby's birth. Your anesthesiologist will recommend a plan based on your situation. They will consider your and your baby's health and how long they expect the c-section to take.

Your options might include:

Regional anesthesia – This type of anesthesia uses medicine to numb the lower half of your body. This is so you don't feel pain during the c-section. You will be awake and aware of what is happening.

The type of regional anesthesia most often used for c-sections is called "spinal" anesthesia. For this, the anesthesiologist puts a small needle in your lower back, and injects medicine to numb the nerves in your spine. Another type is called "epidural" anesthesia. This involves using a needle to put a small tube (called a "catheter") into your lower back. Medicine is given through the catheter to block pain. If you get an epidural during labor and end up needing an unplanned c-section, you can often get medicine through the tube already in place. Sometimes, anesthesiologists use a combination of spinal and epidural anesthesia.

General anesthesia – This type of anesthesia makes you unconscious so you can't feel, see, or hear anything during surgery. The medicine is usually given through an IV. After you are asleep, the anesthesiologist will carefully place a tube in your throat to help you breathe. The breathing tube will be removed before you wake up.

General anesthesia might be used if:

You have a medical condition that makes regional anesthesia unsafe or risky

You need an emergency c-section and there is not enough time to give you regional anesthesia

Regional anesthesia does not work, or does not make you comfortable enough for surgery

What will happen after my surgery? — You'll be watched with a nurse nearby until the effects of anesthesia have worn off. How you feel will depend on what type of anesthesia you had:

If you had regional anesthesia, your lower body will probably continue to feel numb for a little while. You won't be able to get out of bed until the numbness has completely worn off.

If you had general anesthesia, you will likely be groggy for a short time after waking up. You might have a sore throat for a little while. You might also have nausea or vomiting, but there are medicines that can help treat this.

After surgery, you will have some pain around your incision. There are different medicines that can help with this. Pain medicine can be given along with spinal or epidural anesthesia. You might also get pain medicine as pills or through your IV.

Is it safe to breastfeed after getting anesthesia? — Yes, it is safe to breastfeed your baby after having anesthesia.

Does anesthesia come with risks? — Yes. Each type of anesthesia comes with its own risks and benefits. The risks will depend on your specific situation. Your anesthesiologist will talk to you about what to expect and answer any questions you have.

More on this topic

Patient education: C-section (cesarean birth) (The Basics)
Patient education: Anesthesia (The Basics)
Patient education: Questions to ask if you are having surgery or a procedure (The Basics)
Patient education: Fasting before surgery (The Basics)
Patient education: Spinal headache (The Basics)

Patient education: C-section (cesarean delivery) (Beyond the Basics)

This topic retrieved from UpToDate on: Jan 02, 2023.
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