Caesarean Section: Preparation, Procedure, Risk & Recovery
By Jody Mullen
Congratulations! You’re pregnant, and you’re envisioning every detail of your pregnancy, delivery, and life with your new baby. When you think about the day you’ll give birth, are you excited, nervous — maybe a little of each? That’s totally normal. After all, if you’re a first-time mother, it’s pretty difficult to imagine how you’re going to get a whole little person out of your body. I know that with my first pregnancy, I couldn’t wrap my mind around it. So when my obstetrician told me that we would need to deliver my baby via caesarean section, I felt pretty anxious. After all, so much of what you read (and hear from other mothers!) is that you should try to avoid C-sections at all cost. What had I signed myself up for?
I’m not going to tell you that a C-section is a walk in the park, because it isn’t. That said, I got through that first one and signed myself up for not one, but two more C-section deliveries. It was the best way to keep my babies safe during the birth process, which was the only thing that was truly important to me. So here I am with a barely visible scar and some handy tips for navigating your C-section delivery.
What is a Caesarean Section?
First thing’s first: what is a C-section? It’s short for “caesarean section,” and it’s a surgical procedure for delivering a baby. Your OB/GYN makes incisions in your abdomen and uterus and more or less scoops the little guy or gal out. C-sections can be planned in advance (like mine was) or performed when laboring isn’t going as planned. In my case, my baby was on the larger size (which I’m not!), and I had polyhydramnios, also known as excess amniotic fluid. My OB/GYN was a high-risk specialist who felt it would be safest to plan a surgical delivery, so that was what we did. Your doctor may recommend a C-section for a number of reasons: your baby is in a breech (feet-down) position, you’re carrying multiple babies, the baby has health concerns, etc.
If your labor isn’t progressing or if your baby shows signs of distress on the monitors, your OB/GYN may elect to move you from the labor and delivery unit to an operating room. This is usually called an “emergency C-section,” because it wasn’t planned, but take a deep breath. You’re in good hands, and you’ll get to meet that amazing little person very soon.
In my case, after I’d had one C-section delivery, my doctor felt it was safest for me to deliver my other babies that way. That may not be the case for you. Many women who undergo C-sections go on to have successful VBAC (“vaginal birth after caesarean”) deliveries.
Preparing for Your C-Section
You can prepare for your C-section delivery much as you would a natural delivery. Pack your bag with all the stuff you’d need for any hospital stay — toothbrush and toiletries, pajamas, and your comfiest clothing. I highly recommend a pair of shoes you can easily step into, like clog-style bedroom slippers. You may also find grippy-bottomed flip-flops helpful for showering and using the bathroom post-surgery.
You know those granny panties at the very bottom of your drawer full of undies? Toss them into your bag. If you typically wear cute bikini-cut underwear or boyshorts, you’ll likely find that the hem rubs right against your surgical incision. Pack a few pairs of undies with very high waists so that you don’t irritate your skin as it heals. Your C-section scar will feel much better (if a bit numb) in just a week or so, but in the meantime, be sure to treat it with a little extra TLC.
What’s the C-Section Procedure Like?
I know people love to scare expecting mothers about C-sections, but the procedure itself really isn’t bad at all (and I’m not that tough). When you get to the hospital, you’ll change into a gown, and a nurse will insert an IV somewhere in your hand or arm (I prefer the hand, personally). You’ll probably have to wait around for a while until an operating room is free. If your labor has already begun, your doctor and nurse will monitor your baby’s heart rate with a special machine.
You can usually walk to the operating room yourself as long as you’re feeling okay. Once there, you’ll receive anesthesia in the form of a spinal block. When you’re all numbed up, surgery can begin. You shouldn’t feel any pain (speak up if you do!). In a matter of minutes, you’ll get to meet and hold your new baby!
Many pregnant women and their partners worry about the risks of having a C-section. Any surgery carries risks (as do pregnancy and vaginal delivery). I would encourage you to have a conversation with your care provider well in advance of your delivery date so that you understand why a C-section may be necessary for you and your baby. Because it’s major surgery, your doctor likely feels the benefits outweigh any C-section risks in your particular case.
C-Section Recovery Tips
I won’t sugarcoat it — the first few hours and days after you’ve had a C-section can be a bit rough. After all, you’ve just had someone open your abs and uterus, remove a seven- or eight-pound human being, and stitch you closed. Your body has been through a lot, and it needs time to recover. For the first twenty-four to forty-eight hours, plan on taking it easy.
The nurses in the maternity ward will make sure you have adequate pain relief via your IV line while you’re in the hospital. When you leave, you’ll receive instructions for how to stay on top of your pain. Some women need prescription medicine for a few more days following their surgeries, while others respond best to over-the-counter medications like ibuprofen. Remember, everyone is different, and what worked for your sister or best friend may not be the best choice for you.
Once you’re at home, you’ll need to continue to rest and recover for another week or so. I know it’s not easy as a new mom, but get as much sleep as you can. Ask your partner to take the baby for a walk so you can grab a shower and a quick nap.
Standing up and walking around frequently can help to speed your body’s healing, but hold off on any other postpartum exercise until your doctor gives you the thumbs-up. You’ll also want to avoid any sexual activity until your doc says it’s okay (likely at your six-week postpartum follow-up appointment).
I know C-sections can be intimidating, especially if you’ve never had one before. As you recover, listen to your body. If you need to sit down and rest for a bit, that’s okay (and your baby is probably game to snuggle). Take it one day at a time, be patient with yourself, and before you know it, you’ll be feeling better than you have in many months. Be well, and enjoy your new baby!
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