• April is International Cesarean Awareness Month
  • It aims to improve mother-child health
  • It also raises awareness about preventable c-sections

Cesarean sections have been performed for many years, but there are still some things that people don't know about the procedure even today. On International Cesarean Awareness Month, celebrated every April, let's take the time to educate ourselves and raise awareness about the procedure.

Also known as c-sections, the procedure basically involves a surgical operation to deliver a baby through a cut in the front of the abdomen and womb, the Better Health Channel of the government of Victoria, Australia said.

C-sections began around the 1600s as an alternative to vaginal deliveries, MacArthur Medical Center explained. Through the years, it has advanced to become a safer and effective way to deliver a baby.

C-sections may be performed for various reasons, for instance, if vaginal birth carries risks of complications or if the baby is too large or at an odd position. In some cases, an unplanned c-section may be performed for emergency reasons, such as if the baby's head doesn't fit through the mother's pelvis or if the baby is showing signs of distress.

Although c-sections are considered safe, they still carry risks of complications for both the mothers and their babies. And sometimes, some expectant mothers undergo the procedure when they didn't really have to.

According to the International Cesarean Awareness Network (ICAN), about half of the c-sections performed "could be safely prevented."

However, expectant mothers don't always know about these risks and end up getting the procedure when they could have had a safe vaginal birth instead. This is why it's important for families to thoroughly discuss their options with their healthcare provider so they can make an informed decision.

As ICAN explained, April's International Cesarean Awareness Month focuses on all topics related to the procedure, from recovery and subsequent births after a c-section to raising awareness about preventable cesareans.

On this day, let's look at some important facts about the procedure—courtesy of ICAN, the Better Health Channel, MacArthur Medical Center, What Health and Methodist Healthcare.

Women go through the procedure awake

Women who get a c-section typically undergo the procedure awake but with regional anesthesia. The main reason for this, MacArthur Medical Center explained, is so that they can begin the bonding process immediately. This includes breastfeeding, which is said to be an "integral part of the immediate postpartum period" no matter which delivery method was utilized.

If undergoing a "family-centered" or "gentle c-section," mothers can even see their baby being born through a clear drape or by dropping the drape a little so they can see.

C-section recovery takes a while

Recovering from a c-section takes a longer time than from vaginal birth. Women who get c-sections have longer hospital stays, need help while recovering and require rest for several weeks.

Vaginal birth after a c-section is possible

Although some women with certain conditions really have to stick to c-sections in subsequent births, some women can have a safe vaginal delivery after a c-section. It really depends on the reason for the procedure and if there were any complications, Methodist Healthcare said.

Called a vaginal birth after cesarean section (VBAC), it is a "realistic and safe" option, ICAN said, noting that repeat cesareans should "never be considered routine."

Better Health Channel said that the risk is for uterine rupture, which is when the uterus suddenly breaks open during delivery. When this happens, there is a higher risk for stillbirth and hysterectomy, and the baby will have to be delivered via an emergency c-section to save both the mother's and baby's lives.

How many c-sections can a woman have?

There is no maximum number of c-sections a woman can have, MacArthur Medical Center noted. It, however, warned that more of this procedure may make further c-sections more difficult. This is because of the possibility of adhesion, making it more difficult to "distinguish the pelvic organs." And if the uterus has gotten "stuck" to the pelvis, it may be harder to get the baby out.

C-sections are typically more painful

C-sections generally cause more pain than vaginal births since it is major surgery, MacArthur Medical Center said. However, it also depends on the situation. For instance, a woman undergoing vaginal birth for hours without an epidural may experience more pain than a woman who had an "uncomplicated c-section."

C-section rates are increasing

Rates of c-sections are increasing in many countries, including the U.S., which logged a 32% c-section rate in 2007 compared to just 5% in the 1960s. According to What Health, this may be due to several factors such as increases in multiple births, the rise of older women giving birth and increases in obesity in pregnant women.

Possible Complications

Preventable c-sections are said to be responsible for 20,000 surgical complications per year, ICAN said. This includes organ injuries, sepsis, infection and hemorrhage. And as with any other surgery, there is a risk for blood loss.

A part of the International Cesarean Awareness Month campaign supports the reduction of the procedure in mothers who don't need or won't benefit from it, What Health said.

"The inappropriate overuse of cesarean surgery is jeopardizing lives," ICAN said.

Risk To Babies

Although considered "unlikely," babies born via c-section may also sustain surgery-related injuries such as small cuts, Methodist Healthcare said. Still, it noted that such deliveries pose "low risk" to both the mother and their children as most doctors only perform them "when necessary."

As ICAN said, if the c-section is necessary, it can actually be life-saving. But whether a mother is giving birth vaginally or via c-section, what's important is to protect both her and her baby's health. This means opting for the right procedure for the situation.

"My personal philosophy is that having a vaginal delivery is safer for the woman," Reut Bardach, MD, an OBGYN at the Medical City of Trinity in Florida, said, according to Methodist Healthcare. "Our bodies are designed to have babies vaginally, but both options have their own benefits."

Pictured: Representative image of a pregnant person. Pixabay