Whether you've had this planned since the beginning, or you've been in labor for what feels like forever, considering a C-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 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-sections are 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 tells Romper in an email interview.
All together? It's not even close to taking as long as your Netflix binge. Dr. G. Thomas Ruiz, OB-GYN at Orange Coast Memorial Medical Center in Fountain Valley, California, tells 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.”
Pretty quick, right? According to Bohn, if could take longer if “the placement of the spinal or epidural is complicated,” in addition to the 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 so the mom can be awake to meet their baby when they come out.
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 OR, and you'll be alert the whole time, looking at your partner for support, and not feeling a thing. (Except for excitement, of course.)