16 Things No One Tells You About Having a C-Section
Giving birth is no walk in the park, and giving birth via C-section presents a unique set of realities that you'll want to be prepared for. I've had three C-sections to deliver each of my babies, and I've learned something new with each surgery and recovery.
While everyone's experience will be slightly different, I've found that the more information you have, the less scary and intimidating the whole process can be. Read ahead for what to expect from a C-section so that when the big day comes, you can focus more of your energy on your precious newborn than on your delivery nerves.
You Might Have Some Complicated Feelings
Whether you planned to give birth via C-section or it was a surprise or emergency, you'll probably have some feelings about it. You might feel disappointed that you didn't get the chance to have a vaginal birth while simultaneously feeling relieved that you didn't have to push a human out of your vagina. You might feel confused as to why you had a C-section or unconvinced that it was medically necessary . . . but at the same time thankful that you and your baby are healthy and alive. You might be frustrated about recovering from surgery.
Or you might really have no feelings about it until a rude stranger says or writes something that makes you question yourself and your abilities as a mother, since you "didn't really give birth." The point is, with C-sections it seems, it's complicated. And that's normal.
Not Every C-Section Is the Same
It's the same surgery, but the whole experience can vary dramatically from baby to baby. My first was an emergency, so there's a lot I don't remember (or care to remember); the second was scheduled less than 24 hours beforehand; and the third was on the books by the time I was eight months pregnant. All three surgeries were different.
The first, obviously, was more frantic and rushed. I couldn't keep my eyes open long enough to even attempt to breastfeed post-op, and I begged them to let me keep my catheter in so I didn't have to get out of bed. The second, while only planned the day before, was worlds better than my first. I didn't get to see the baby for very long while I was still in the operating room, but I was surprised by how good I felt in the recovery room. I was up and walking within 12 hours of the surgery and even asked to leave the hospital a day early.
With my third, they brought the baby right to me after she was born and let me "hold" her until I was closed up. That surgery took much longer than my second due to a small complication, but I felt pretty good as I was wheeled to the recovery room, where I had an uninterrupted hour of bonding experience with my little one.
Pre-Op Is a Process
If your C-section is scheduled, they'll tell you to arrive at the hospital about two hours ahead of your surgery time. This is not to make sure you aren't late, but to ensure there's enough time to take care of all the pre-op stuff that has to happen. This includes changing into a hospital gown, answering a bunch of questions, getting an IV, being wiped down with antiseptic solution, and chatting with your anesthesiologist and your doctor, among other things. It's also your last chance to ask any questions or make any requests (like if you want to nurse the baby immediately or were hoping to have someone help take pictures).
You'll Be Solo For a Bit
After you're done being prepped, they take you to the operating room without your partner, who instead stays back to change into a gown, hat, and mask. They don't actually bring your plus-one in until you're already being cut open! At this point, your nurse becomes your number one support person as you get set up for surgery, which means she or he is your hand to hold during the administering of a spinal and everything after that. I got real close real fast with my nurse(s) since the spinal (with my second two) made me the most nervous.
The Anesthesiologist Is Your Go-To
There are a lot of people in the operating room, but only one who is by your side the entire time, and that's the anesthesiologist. While the nurses are often moving around the room, the anesthesiologist is sitting right near your head, so they become your go-to if you have any requests, questions, or complaints during the surgery. They'll adjust your meds as needed, make sure you're warm enough, and tell you how close you are to meeting your baby — some will even take playlist requests.
But do know that the awesomeness of your anesthesiologist can vary dramatically. My first was terrible (i.e., didn't believe me when I said I wasn't 100 percent numb), and my second was so good that I requested to have him with my third. He'd moved to another hospital by the time that happened, but the one I had with my third was even more amazing. Fingers crossed you get lucky because it really does affect the overall experience.
Holding Your Baby For the First Time Is Hard
When you're flat on your back with drapes up to your chest, your arms out to each side, wires and tubes all over you — possibly wearing an oxygen mask — and the brightest lights blinding you, it's actually pretty difficult to hold your baby.
Instead, the nurse sort of places them on your neck so close to your face that you can't really get a good look at them. With my last two, the recovery room was the first chance I really got to see my babies and make a real effort at nursing them.
Breastfeeding Is Tricky
A C-section is major abdominal surgery, and you know what's connected to your abdomen? Pretty much every other part of your body. Not only do you have a tender incision scar to avoid rubbing against or putting weight on, but it's also nearly impossible to sit up straight since you have essentially zero ab strength.
So the most common nursing position, the cradle hold, which puts baby directly on your abdomen and requires near-perfect posture from Mom, can be difficult to master (never mind how hard breastfeeding itself can be!). This is where all. the. pillows. come into play and when that adjustable hospital bed becomes your best friend.
Sneezing and Coughing Are Your Worst Enemy
Even if you don't go into surgery with one of the worst colds of your life (yes, I did try to reschedule), you might have to sneeze or cough in the days following your surgery. It is not pleasant, and you should do everything in your power to prevent either from happening. But if you are unlucky and feel the urge to do so, you must apply pressure over your incision with a pillow. Otherwise, you better hope you aren't that far from your last dose of NorCo.
Oh, and the same applies to laughing.
It Feels Like Your Insides Are Going to Fall Out
So yes, during the actual surgery, your insides can quite literally be placed out of your body (thanks for raising awareness, Bey!), but in the days immediately following, even the smallest movements — forget sneezing — can create the sensation that all of your organs are going to drop out of your incision.
As in, you are hunched over, trying to walk four feet to the bathroom, and all you can think about is your intestines falling onto the floor. For this reason, I wore an abdominal binder in the hospital and a Belly Bandit for weeks after the surgery to make everything feel more secure.
You Don't Get an Epidural
Unless you have an unexpected C-section after your epidural is already in place, they'll most likely administer spinal anesthesia to numb you for surgery. This is because with a spinal, less medication is needed to achieve the same amount of numbness that you'd get with an epidural and a spinal works almost immediately.
I've had both, and from what I remember, the spinal was actually less unpleasant to get (but still unpleasant), though in either case it definitely depends on how good your anesthesiologist is. Both the spinal and the epidural allow you to be awake during the surgery and present during the birth of your baby(ies) and also not to feel "anything" (see ahead).
Your Incision Will Feel Weird For a While
You might think your granny-panty, elastic-pant-wearing days are over once your incision finally heals, but they are not. Your incision scar and the area around it will be sensitive for months to come. Plus, because some of the nerves are now a little mixed up down there, you might feel sensations in different places or react more strongly to light touches.
I avoided anything that wasn't soft or stretchy over my incision for weeks and wore a belly band almost daily as a kind of barrier to protect my incision from rubbing uncomfortably against my clothing.
You Won't Feel Pain, but You'll Feel Something
If your meds are working properly, you won't feel any pain in the traditional sense, but you can still feel things happening. The doctors and nurses call it "tugging" or "pressure," which is a pretty accurate description for the sensation you feel when they are delivering the baby. Sure, it isn't a sharp pain, but it can still be pretty uncomfortable, depending on how quickly the doctors are moving or how difficult it is to get your little one out of your uterus.
You'll Want to Be Bare Down There
If you don't already shave, wax, or sugar, you might want to book an appointment before your C-section, because if you don't, they'll take care of it for you. That's right — the nurses will shave your bikini area during pre-op if there's any hair standing in the way of the incision.
One Side of Your Body Might Feel Worse
As you recover, you might find that either the left or right side of your body seems to be more sore or that the soreness lasts a little longer on one side. I was told that this can happen based on which side your doctor was operating from. So it made sense that my right side was more tender than my left after my second two surgeries, since my doctor was standing on that side in the OR.
You Still Bleed
Since you don't have a baby coming out of your vagina, you might think you don't have to worry about anything going on down there, but I was surprised to find that's not the case.
You do still have to deal with postbirth bleeding the same way a mother who has given birth vaginally would. Expect to bleed for about six weeks (or more) postpartum.
It's Quicker Than You'd Think
Barring any complications, you'll meet your baby minutes after you're wheeled into the OR. I don't remember the details of the timing with my first, but I do know my son was born within minutes of me being rushed into the OR. For my second, I went into surgery at my scheduled time of 12:30 p.m., and he was born 34 minutes later. And with my third, we got started a little before 8 a.m., and she arrived at 8:15 a.m.
You'll be on the table a little longer as they close you up, but at that point, you're so distracted by your newborn that you're being wheeled into the recovery room before you know it.