Answer: when it’s an unplanned C-section.
I know I’ve blogged about this a few times before, once fairly recently, so I’ll keep my comments to a minimum.
Many people will call any unplanned C-section an “emergency C-section”, regardless of how long the decision-to-incision time was, or how necessary it was. From the studies I’ve read, the sole definition of an “emergency C-section” is that it was unplanned. Which means that my sister-in-law who labored for 40+ hours including several hours of pushing, before finally saying, “I’m done!”, had an “emergency C-section,” although the doctor was willing to allow her more time for laboring if she wished it. Baby was fine; mom was just done. It was a leisurely C-section, but would be called an “emergency,” simply because my sister-in-law had planned a vaginal birth.
Over at the EnjoyBirth blog, a recent post on this topic sparked many comments which are worth reading, but the one I wish to point out is by Christina (currently the last commenter, #19), who speaks of the whole “emergency C-section” disinformation campaign carried out by some doctors. She works in a hospital and sees it with some regularity — doctors tired of waiting for the baby to be born, don’t want to be called back into the hospital, so they come into the labor room in a flurry and tell the mom there’s a problem with the fetal monitoring strip and she has to have a C-section now. All the mom can think is that her baby is in serious trouble, and who’s gonna refuse life-saving surgery at that point?
…unfortunately, it goes on a LOT more than I think the general public would like to believe.