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Health A-Z

Medical Content Created by the Faculty of the
Harvard Medical School

What Is It?

A cesarean section, also called a C-section, is surgery to deliver a baby through the abdomen. It's used when:

  • It's impossible or not advised to deliver the baby through the vagina, or

  • Continuing in labor seems to present a greater risk to the health of the baby or mother, even if the plan was a vaginal delivery.

A C-section sometimes is scheduled in advance. But it may also be unscheduled as circumstances change in the course of labor and delivery. An unscheduled cesarean is not the same as an emergency cesarean, which is done when there is immediate risk to a mother or baby that cannot be resolved without immediate delivery.

In the United stated, about 32% of all births are delivered by C-section. The procedure is done less often in most other countries. For example, about 15% of births are delivered via C-sections in the Netherlands, and 25% are delivered that way in England, Wales and Canada.

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From Health A-Z, Harvard Health Publications. Copyright 2007 by the President and Fellows of Harvard College. All rights reserved. Written permission is required to reproduce, in any manner, in whole or in part, the material contained herein. To make a reprint request, contact Harvard Health Publications. Used with permission of StayWell.

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