What I wish I’d known before my c-section

Towards the end of my pregnancy, my husband and I took a wonderful childbirth class with a local nurse and doula. We finished this six-week course feeling as prepared as two soon-to-be parents can be for the birth of their child.

For the vaginal birth of their child, I should say.

Out of 12 total hours of child birth education, I believe only about one hour was spent on c-sections, and that instruction was mostly focused on how to avoid them. Not to speak ill of this instructor though; we chose her class specifically because of its focus on vaginal births, preferably those with little-to-no intervention. That’s what we wanted. That was not what we got.

Our 10 pound, 2.5 ounce son was born via c-section after he and I rode through almost 24 hours of hard back labor together. It wasn’t the birth we planned for him, but it was lovely. Recovery, however, was not.

I can’t say if my c-section recovery was more difficult than what someone would experience after a vaginal birth because I’ve never had a vaginal birth. And my recovery wasn’t horrible; it was just…surprising, I guess you could say. I had been so focused on the “pushing my baby out” scenario that I hadn’t considered the “having my baby surgically removed” option or what the aftermath of such an event would be like. So today I’d like to share a little of my post-c-section experience with you. It’s my hope that these tidbits of knowledge—should you find yourself welcoming your baby in the OR rather than a birthing pool—will make the days and weeks following birth feel a little less overwhelming.*

Pillows are essential.
Not only are you recovering from pregnancy, you’re also recovering from major abdominal surgery. Your abs are going to be all kinds of wonky, and anything that taxes them in anyway will be painful. Keep a pillow (preferably one on the firmer side) handy to support your incision when you walk, change positions, cough, laugh, and sneeze.

Lochia still happens.
Regardless of how that baby comes out, all new mothers need to make sure they’ve got plenty of “feminine products” on hand. I knew this, of course, but I’d sort of hoped that all the surgical intervention might’ve involved some tidying up of my insides. Turns out that’s not a thing! C-section moms can expect to bleed for four to six weeks, just like all the other moms. Sisterhood!

Your shoulders might hurt.
It’s common for air to get trapped inside you when you undergo abdominal surgery. These little pockets of gas of travel up, looking for a place to escape. EXCEPT THEY CAN’T BECAUSE THEY ARE IN YOUR BODY. But don’t panic. Just take an anti-gas medication (with your doctor’s approval) and get up and move around as much as you can.

The “football hold” is your friend.
While the “cradle hold” is probably the image that comes to mind when we think of a mother breastfeeding, holding a baby lengthwise across your lap is not going to be your most comfortable option if you’ve just had a c-section. Some c-section moms prefer to nurse their babies while lying on their sides, but that didn’t work for my son and I. He was so long and my torso is so short the he just kept kicking me right in the gut. The “football hold”—baby held face up at my side with additional support from a nursing pillow—worked best for us. This position kept him off of my belly and, personally, I felt like it gave me a better view of his face so I could monitor his latch.

Underwear must be considered.
At some point you will have to say goodbye to those hospital-issued mesh undergarments. Every single pair of underwear I had in my drawer hit me right on my c-section incision,** so I ended up calling my mom in tears, asking her to go buy me high-waisted, “old lady underpants.” She was happy to help, but I wish it was something I’d thought of beforehand.

Pooping will be terrifying.
You’re going to be ok. Your staples will not pop. Just take your stool softeners, drink water, and be patient. And maybe bring that pillow with you for the first few attempts.

Pain medication does NOT equal weakness.
Once you get behind the eight-ball on managing c-section pain, it can take a l-o-n-g time to get things under control. Be honest with yourself and your caregivers/loved ones about your level of discomfort, both at the hospital and at home. Don’t spend the first weeks of your baby’s life suffering because you think you need to be a hero. You just had a baby; you already are.

*Of course, I am no expert. If you have concerns, talk to your midwife or obstetrician.
**It’s my understanding that most c-section deliveries are done through a low transverse incision, sometimes called the “bikini cut.” This is the type of incision I had.


  • While I have never had a baby, I really enjoyed your article. Especially the part about pain control. I have a close friend who loves to “brag” about having 3 babies naturally and how they should not be offering epidurals, medicine after delivery, especially narcotics. It drives me CRAZY, because I suffer chronic pain and it makes me feel weak when this comes up. Like I said I have never had a kiddo, but thank you for the reminder that pain medicine is okay, and trying to be a hero is not necessary!

  • I also had an unexpected C with my first child – after being in the birthing center for over 28 hours and experiencing 16 hours of hard labor where my son’s heart rate would drop during each contraction, he finally dipped below 100 bpm and we made a very hasty trip to the OR. It was the most devastated and relieved I have ever been at the same time and thank goodness we took him surgically as the umbilical cord was wrapped over his shoulder, around his neck and between his legs.
    My biggest surprise post-Cesarean was how much fluid I retained. I had been hooked up to an IV the entire time I was in labor due to my birthing center’s group-B strep protocol. After the surgery, I remained hooked up for at least another 24 hours for pain medications and whatever else they were giving me. My feet were rounded on the bottom the first time I stood up to go to the bathroom after delivery. I could press my hands into my upper thighs and leave indentations. I actually had nerve damage in my pinkie toe on one foot due to the swelling. After about five days, my body started letting go of the fluid in great body-soaking sweats while sleeping. I had to sleep on layers of towels to avoid soaking the bed and having to struggle to change the sheets in the middle of the night – multiple times a night – for about three days. I kept a clean change of clothes next to the bed so I could peel myself from the wet ones and get dressed again before the chills set in.
    Maybe this would have happened anyway as I had been attached to an IV for so long. I had a scheduled C-section with my second child and this did not reoccur. I also had an epidural with the first because we were back-laboring like nobody’s business and I am not enough of an Earth Mama to withstand that pain all on my own. Maybe this was my reaction to an epidural instead? Regardless, if you find yourself feeling like a puddle of water after your baby is born, you have been warned – sleep on towels and wear loose fitting clothes to bed so you can wrestle yourself out of them more easily when they are soaked through at 2AM. Good luck, Mamas!

  • I just wanted to say THANK YOU for writing this. I had a nearly identical experience. It’s refreshing to read that someone else went through the same thing. I don’t know if it was a Bradley method course but based on your description I’m guessing it was. After the c-section class we wanted to do everything in our power to avoid it. When I found out two days before my due date that I would need one I was devastated. I was completely prepared, doula and all, for a natural birth and it just didn’t happen. It was frustrating and confusing. We felt pressure from our Bradley instructor to advocate to try to avoid the c-section but I got a second AND third opinion from doctors and they all agreed I needed one due to expecting a large baby. I was horrified. I felt like I practically betrayed her but the doctors instilled the fear of God in me. In the end my baby was born perfectly healthy at 9 pounds 11 ounces. I didn’t get to hold her until a half hour after she was born. It was awful. But in the end I don’t think it would have been so bad if I hadn’t had it so ingrained in my head that the birth would be natural. If we have another baby, I will likely approach things differently. Thank you again for sharing your story.

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