One in three babies in the United States is born via Cesarean section, according to the International Cesarean Awareness Network. Cesarean sections have become so commonplace that many have forgotten that a C-section is major abdominal surgery with all its associated risks. April has been designated as Cesarean Awareness Month and Sepsis Alliance would like to take this opportunity to explain why women who have C-sections may be at a higher risk of developing an infection, which could lead to sepsis.

What is a Cesarean section? It’s a surgical procedure that allows an obstetrician to remove a baby from the mother’s uterus through an incision in the mother’s abdomen and uterus. C-sections are done for a variety of reasons. Sometimes they are planned, but other times, they are done as an emergency intervention for the safety of mother and baby. The most common reasons for a C-section include:

  • Your labor hasn’t progressed or is stalled
  • Your baby is in distress
  • Your baby is in an abnormal position, making vaginal delivery too difficult
  • You are carrying twins or more
  • Your placenta is covering part or all of your cervix (placenta previa)
  • The baby’s umbilical cord is prolapsed, which means it is looping out through the cervix but your baby is still in your uterus
  • You’ve had a previous C-section and a vaginal birth after Cesarean (VBAC) isn’t possible
  • You have a health condition that could make labor dangerous for you
  • Your baby has a health condition that could make squeezing through the birth canal too dangerous

Undergoing surgery and being pregnant and going through childbirth are all independent risk factors for developing sepsis. Aside from pregnancy-related risks (such as retaining a piece of placenta after delivery or developing mastitis), if you undergo a C-section, there are surgery-associated risks (infection in your incision or you could develop a urinary tract infection (UTI), particularly if you had a urinary catheter). Invasive devices like catheters are another risk factor for infections.

If you have had a C-section, here are some signs of infection to watch for:

  • Redness around the incision
  • Swelling around the incision
  • Pus or discharge from the incision
  • Increasing pain rather than decreasing pain
  • Fever
  • Chills
  • Cough
  • Sharp pain and/or hard lump in a breast
  • Frequent urination
  • Burning on urination
  • Foul-smelling vaginal discharge

If you show any signs of infection, speak to your doctor right away to reduce the risk of sepsis. If you show any signs of sepsis or worsening infection, go to the closest emergency room or call 911 and say that you recently had surgery and you suspect you have an infection and sepsis. Remember TIME™ and say the word, say “sepsis.”

  • T- temperature, which may be higher or lower than normal
  • I-  infection. There may be signs or a procedure that may have caused an infection.
  • M- mental status. The patient becomes drowsy, confused, or difficult to rouse.
  • E- extremely ill, “I feel like I might die.”