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How Long Should You Wait to Get Pregnant After a C-Section?

by Vannessa Rhoades 05 Sep 2023
How Long Should You Wait to Get Pregnant After a C-Section?

To the uninformed, having a baby via cesarean delivery (C-section) is sometimes perceived as an easier option. But those who have undergone the procedure understand that this notion is far from the truth. While it may not involve the traditional process of pushing a baby out through the birth canal, a C-section is a significant surgical procedure that involves opening and stitching back the abdominal wall.

In addition to the initial surgery, C-sections generally entail more complications, increased pain, a longer postpartum recovery period, and the need to use a catheter for urination in the first 24 hours. When trying to decide how long you should wait before getting pregnant again, it’s important to understand how your previous C-section may impact the process. Here’s what you should know about pregnancy after a C-section.

Timing for a Second Pregnancy After a C-Section

The optimal amount of time to wait between any two pregnancies is influenced by a variety of factors, including your age, whether you experienced a high-risk pregnancy previously, and whether your previous delivery was a C-section. It's essential to give your body time to fully heal before you start trying to conceive again. For those who’ve undergone a C-section, the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists recommends waiting at least 6 months but your healthcare provider may advise you to wait for 12 to 18 months. The longer you leave your scars to heal, the stronger they will be. To determine the appropriate waiting period for you personally, talk with your healthcare provider. They are familiar with your medical history, overall health, pregnancy and fertility background, as well as your age, and can provide a tailored recommendation based on your individual circumstances.

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Potential Risks of Conceiving Too Soon After a C-Section

Allowing yourself an ample amount of time for proper healing after a C-section is critical – it’s major abdominal surgery, after all. Failing to wait an appropriate amount of time could increase your risk for a number of possible complications:

Uterine rupture

The risk of uterine rupture decreases the more time you wait between pregnancies. A study conducted in 2010 revealed that the rate of uterine rupture was nearly 5 percent for those who had less than 18 months between deliveries, almost 2 percent for those who waited 18 to 23 months, and just over 1 percent for those who waited 2 years or longer.

Placenta accreta

This condition occurs when the placenta becomes deeply embedded in the uterine lining or within a previous C-section scar. Individuals who have had a C-section are more prone to experiencing this complication, which can lead to serious delivery difficulties.

Preterm birth

Recent studies published in 2019 (one from PLOS ONE and another from the British Journal of Obstetrics and Gynaecology) showed a significant correlation between C-sections in first pregnancies and an increased risk of preterm births in second pregnancies. While the influence of shorter intervals between pregnancies on this relationship has not been extensively studied, some researchers suspect that it may exacerbate the risk.

The bottom line? Allowing sufficient time for healing between pregnancies is crucial to minimize these risks and ensure a healthy pregnancy and delivery.

How Long Should You Wait to Get Pregnant After a C-Section?

Birth Options After a C-Section

In the past, vaginal birth after cesarean (VBAC) was generally discouraged due to limited knowledge about its safety. However, nowadays doctors have a far better understanding of VBAC, and it can be a safe and viable option for delivery, even if you have had multiple previous C-sections.

In fact, in many cases, VBAC can be safer than having repeat cesareans, offering a faster recovery and reduced risk of infection. The possibility of having a VBAC depends on your specific pregnancy and C-section history. There is a small risk of the prior cesarean incision rupturing during delivery, particularly if it was a vertical incision rather than a side-to-side incision. That said, the rates of such complications are very low, being less than 1 percent. 

Second Pregnancy After C-Section: Symptoms You May Notice

Many women may encounter issues with their c-section scar during their second or subsequent pregnancies. Even if there was no pain initially after the first c-section, pain around the lower abdominal region, specifically near the scar, can develop as the pregnancy progresses. As your belly expands, the scar tissue stretches. This stretching can result in various types of pain, including sharp pain, stabbing pain, burning sensations, and discomfort triggered by pressure from sheets or clothing. Everyday movements like getting up and down or general mobility may become challenging. The pain can be intermittent or constant throughout the day. Interestingly, it’s quite common for individuals to overlook this connection between abdominal pain and the C-section scar. 

Scar mobilization techniques can help break down the adhesions between the scar and surrounding tissues, promoting greater mobility. It is crucial to seek treatment from a skilled pelvic floor physical therapist who understands how to address scar tissue. Increasing pliability and mobility in the scar tissue can help alleviate the pain. In some cases, the issue may resolve itself after delivery. However, if the pain persists post-delivery, it can lead to additional complications such as increased bladder frequency, pain during sexual intercourse, gastrointestinal issues like constipation, or severe menstrual cramps.

How Long Should You Wait to Get Pregnant After a C-Section?

How to Talk to Your Doctor About Pregnancy After C-Section

During your regular OB-GYN appointments, such as your 6-week postpartum check-up and annual gynecology exam, take the opportunity to discuss the possibility of conceiving again with your doctor. That being said, if you’re not mentally prepared to even think about another baby yet, thatt's perfectly fine also. You can schedule a separate appointment when you’re ready to discuss your fertility options.

When you do have the conversation, it is important to discuss the following points with your doctor:

  • The recommended waiting period before attempting to conceive again based on your previous pregnancy and overall health.
  • Whether it is advisable, considering your age and fertility, to wait the preferred duration of 24 months before getting pregnant again.
  • How they manage pregnancies that occur sooner than expected after a C-section, such as scheduling additional ultrasounds to monitor the health of your uterus or placenta.
  • Their stance on vaginal birth after cesarean (VBAC) and whether you might be a candidate for it if you were to become pregnant in the near future.

If you aren’t ready to think about having another baby, it is important to communicate this to your provider as well so that they can guide you on the most suitable methods of contraception and family planning. It's worth noting that certain forms of contraception may have implications for breastfeeding, so it's essential to discuss options that are compatible with your situation.

The Takeaway

In general, it’s best to have a sufficient gap between pregnancies for optimal health. However, having two pregnancies close together is not necessarily dangerous or something to avoid. Talk to your healthcare provider about your options and work together to create a suitable plan.

Disclaimer: The information on our site is NOT medical advice for any specific person or condition. It is only meant as general information. Please contact your health provider if you have any medical questions or concerns about your child or yourself.


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