Lansinoh Moms' Club
What To Know About C-Sections
For many moms, when they think about childbirth, they envision a vaginal delivery. But there are two ways to bring a baby into this world, and in the U.S. about 1 in 3 pregnant women will do so by cesarean section, or “c-section.”
Whether or not you end up needing one, it’s good to know the basics of a cesarean delivery. Read on to learn why a c-section might be best for you or your baby, what to expect from the surgery, and what the recovery time is like.
What is a c-section?
A c-section is a procedure in which your baby is born by cuts in your abdomen and uterus. The surgery is performed by an ob-gyn.
There are many reasons why your doctor may recommend a c-section. These include:
- Your baby is very large and would have trouble passing through the birth canal.
- Your baby is feet-down or bottom-down instead of head-down (known as “breech”) and can’t be turned.
- You’re having multiples.
- You have a health condition where pushing is not safe, such as a heart condition or brain condition.
- There is a problem with the placenta.
- Your labor is not progressing or has stalled.
- You or your baby are in distress and need immediate medical attention.
In these cases, your healthcare team may decide a c-section is safer than a vaginal delivery. “We only recommend babies be born by c-section when there is a medical reason to do so,” says Dr. Nicole Calloway Rankins, a board-certified ob/gyn. “Most of the time, that reason is out of anyone’s control—there’s nothing you or your doctor could have done to prevent or change it.”
Sometimes you’ll know in advance that you need a c-section, and you’ll schedule the surgery will your doctor. Other times, it is a game-time decision made once you’re already in labor. Yet another reason to be flexible with your birth plan, mamas!
If you’ve already had one c-section, you may choose to deliver this way in the future (called a repeat c-section) or try a vaginal birth after cesarean (VBAC for short).
What happens during a c-section?
Before the surgery, you will be given medication to numb the lower half of your body, usually an epidural block or spinal block. A c-section can also be performed under general anesthesia, which means you’ll be completely unconscious—but this is rare and usually only happens in emergencies.
Your partner or support person should be able to join you in the operating room. A drape will hang over your belly to separate you from the main event. Once the procedure begins, you will feel tugging and pressure as your doctor makes the incisions and your baby is pulled out, but it should not be painful.
After the doctor delivers both baby and placenta, they’ll stitch you back up. “Many of my patients are amazed at how quick and efficient a c-section surgery can be,” Dr. Rankins remarks. “The whole operation usually takes about 40 minutes, start to finish.”
Unless there is a complication, you should be able to hold your baby within a few minutes after birth.. You can also begin breastfeeding soon thereafter, if you wish.
How can I prepare for a scheduled c-section?
If you know you will have a c-section, use this time to ask questions and grow more comfortable with the procedure. Your healthcare provider may gather more information about your medical history and order extra blood tests leading up to a planned c-section.
If you plan to breastfeed, make those wishes known beforehand so your healthcare team gives you the opportunity to nurse as soon as possible following the surgery.
What is c-section recovery like?
Immediately after the c-section, you will be watched closely as the anesthesia wears off. You also will receive medications to help with the pain and bleeding and to help prevent infection.
With a c-section you usually spend more time recovering in the hospital than with a vaginal birth, about 3 to 4 days. “A c-section is major abdominal surgery,” Dr. Rankins notes. “We want to make sure you and baby are doing well before you go home.”
It takes weeks, even months to recover fully from childbirth—no matter how you give birth. Postpartum bleeding and cramping happen with a c-section recovery just like with a vaginal birth. And if you labored before having the c-section, you might also have pain in your perineum, the area between you vagina and anus.
The biggest difference with a c-section recovery: caring for that incision. The area may feel sore, itchy, or numb—this is all normal. If your incision was closed with stitches, they will dissolve on their own. If your doctor used staples, they will need to be removed during a follow-up appointment. The resulting scar (a badge of honor!) will fade over time.
Other tips for recovering from a c-section:
- Ease the incision pain with medication (as prescribed). Cold therapy may also help.
- Keep the wound clean. Gently wash the area with soap and water once a day and pat dry.
- Wear loose-fitting clothing that doesn’t rub against your lower tummy.
- Avoid strenuous exercise and be careful not to lift anything heavier than your baby. You might find twisting, bending over, and other sudden movements to be somewhat painful for a while.
- If you’re feeling antsy, go for short walks. Light exercise will help with the healing process. You can increase your stamina gradually.
- Drink plenty of water and eat high-fiber foods such as fruits, vegetables, and whole-grains. This will help prevent constipation and make bowel movements more comfortable.
- Take it easy. Lean on your support system for help with meals, housekeeping, and other chores.
- Avoid sex or putting anything into your vagina until your doc gives the green light.
“Generally, c-section recovery time is longer than with a vaginal birth,” Dr. Rankins advises. “Focus on bonding with your baby and giving yourself time to heal. You should feel more like yourself in six to eight weeks.”
Breastfeeding after a c-section
Having a c-section shouldn’t stop you from breastfeeding your baby, although it might make things trickier at first. It’s all about positioning! You may find it helpful to protect your tummy with a pillow while nursing. Or try breastfeeding lying on your side or using the football hold—both positions will avoid putting pressure on your healing incision.
When to seek help after a c-section
As with any surgery, there could be complications after a c-section. Contact your healthcare provider if you experience any of the following postpartum warning signs:
- Heavy bleeding
- Pain that’s getting worse
- Oozing or swelling at the incision
Not sure if something’s wrong? “When in doubt, call your healthcare provider—it’s what we’re here for,” Dr. Rankins assures.
A happy ending
A c-section may not be the birth you always dreamed of. But if you do have one, know that it is probably for the best. Learning what to expect from a c-section can help you feel more empowered.
“A c-section is a common and often necessary procedure,” Dr. Rankins says. “Every woman, pregnancy, and birth is unique—and sometimes, a c-section is the safest option for mama and baby.”
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