When the doctor first mentions the possibility of a C-section, it is normal to have some immediate panic and worry. A C-section is major surgery, doctors must go in and cut through the 7 layers that are separating your baby from the outside world. As scary as it all sounds, about 30% of all deliveries are cesarean, so your doctors know exactly what they are doing.
Whether your C–section is scheduled or is considered an emergency, it is still a good idea to know what to expect both during the procedure itself and for recovery. As far as the preparation for surgery goes, you will receive an IV with some fluid and medication ahead of time. Once in the operating room your anesthesiologist will administer your epidural. As the epidural begins to work, the doctor will prepare the lower abdomen for surgery, which may include shaving the area. A catheter will be inserted, and the incision itself will soon be made.
While all of this prep work is being done, your support person is waiting either in the hallway or in a hospital room for the ‘okay’ to come join you in the operating room. Your partner will be present for the birth itself, for your baby’s first breath and will still have the opportunity to cut the cord. For a C-section the cutting of the umbilical cord will be more ceremonial as opposed to ‘necessary’ as the doctor will make the initial cut to remove the baby from mom’s uterus.
You will have a team of doctors in the room with you, performing the C-section. The anesthesiologist will stay up near your head to communicate with you and adjust medication as needed. Your partner will also stay up near your head, while you both anxiously await the arrival of your little one. Once he/she is born, the doctor will hold the baby above the curtain or walk him/her around the curtain so you can get your first look.
The nurses will still place the baby on your chest for some immediate skin-to-skin. They will then clean up the baby and take their measurements. Your partner can bring the baby over to you, and take your first family photo. At this point the birth is complete, and your partner and baby can move into the recovery room where the baby will be closely checked out. The doctors will then begin to put your body back together and stitch you up. Once completed, you are off to the recovery room to join your partner and baby.
Recovering from a C-section is often a longer process than recovering from a vaginal delivery because it is considered major surgery. Usually you cannot recover from a C-section the same way you would any other major surgery, because now you have a little one to also take care of, so laying up in bed for weeks on end just isn’t an option.
While you have a new set of responsibilities with this little one, be sure to also take care of yourself. Rest often and whenever you need it. Take pain medication around the clock at the beginning, to stay ahead of the pain. Move slow and don’t overdo it – your body just birthed a human being in the most incredible way, it needs time to recoup from that. Take care of your incision and watch for infection, being sure to alert your medical providers if you are concerned.
You will still experience postpartum symptoms, just as someone who delivered vaginally would. Manage those symptoms as needed, and be sure to reach out for help if you feel you are experiencing any postpartum anxiety or depression. Your nurses will also be in the room every few hours to check on you, including your vitals, and assist in the recovery process however they can.
Invest in a good inverted pillow, as you won’t be able to lay flat on your back to sleep for a bit. Be prepared to shower while avoiding your incision as best you can. Consider a belly binder to help keep everything compressed through the healing. Be prepared to brace your abdomen when you cough or laugh, and that will hurt at the beginning. Move slow, stay hydrated and pay attention to your body and symptoms.
Of course, the recovery looks different for a C-section delivery vs. a vaginal birth, and it also will look different if it is your first delivery or third. Either way, take a deep breath and understand that you are in good hands, as doctors perform C-sections (literally) all the time. If you are attending any birthing classes at your hospital, consider asking questions about C-sections, so you understand your hospital’s policies and procedures, as each hospital and each C-section itself may look slightly different.
C-sections are also very different today compared to when your mom gave birth, so don’t let those stories of the past feed into your present day anxieties. A C-section is still very much ‘giving birth,’ and your body didn’t fail you. Your body just went about it differently and wanted to add one final tiger stripe to your already beautiful body. You got this Mama!