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.