Everything You Need To Know About C-Sections: Planned. Unplanned. Recovery. Emotions.

In 2014, over 32% of birthing women had a cesarean section. This statistic is at a scary high level in our country, which ironically has an increasing number of maternal deaths each year as well as a rising medical intervention rate. The World Health Organization recognizes that these numbers must come down, and has raised the full-term label from 37 weeks to 39 weeks in hopes that inductions will stop occurring so early. It has been proven that a woman who has an induction is more likely to receive an “emergency c-section” than a woman who goes into labor naturally. (source)

There are times when a c-section is absolutely necessary and is a life-saving surgery for mother or baby. For some women with pre-existing conditions, a c-section actually allows them the ability to carry and give birth to a baby.

While we are working on bringing these numbers down, we cannot deny the fact the c-sections are occurring often. Whether they are planned or unplanned, they have become common practice and pregnant women need to know what to expect if they choose or unexpectedly receive a c-section.

I will openly admit that I teach natural childbirth classes to try and prevent a c-section from occurring with my clients. I have worked with a handful of couples who did end up on the operating table, and by understanding their options and knowing how to handle the surgery, they still had very happy births! I have also worked with couples knowing they would receive a c-section due to health complications or prior birth issues. They all truly wanted a peaceful, calm, loving birth environment. They got it. When you are educated on all of your rights – even during a c-section – you can still have a peaceful birth!

What is a c-section?

A cesarean section is a surgical procedure used to deliver a baby through incisions in the mother's abdomen and uterus.

Warning, this video is of a cesarean surgery. I am not asking you to watch it to scare you, but instead to inform you. You need to watch to understand that it is an abdominal surgery that will take time to recover from. You want to watch to know exactly what is happening to your body so that you can discuss with your surgical team your desires and hopes.

How should I prepare?

While pregnant, take a birthing class that includes information on c-sections. It is probably not part of your birth plan, but if something happens that you end up needing surgery, you will want to know every detail of what is going to happen. You may even include a small blur in your birth plan on what you would like if a c-section is necessary.

If you know that you are having a c-section, you have time to process a lot of the emotions beforehand. Taking a birthing class will still be helpful, as you will learn about the process of birth. Agreeing to a c-section does not mean that you are agreeing to give up on the birth you dream of. Read about peaceful c-sections and explore your options. Talk to your doctor about procedures such as lab work and others that will need done before surgery. Pack a detailed birth bag so you can be comfortable for your hospital stay.

What may I request in the operating room?

Remember that this is still your birth. You can feel in control. Do your research and know what you want. Options that are still available with a c-section:

  • You may have an option over the type of anesthesia. Talk to your doctor and know your options.
  • Delayed cord clamping: This is possible for most cesarean births. Some practitioners practice it without being asked, but the benefits are huge, not only for baby but for you as well. Delayed cord clamping enhances placental transfusion and increases the baby’s blood volume at birth.
  • Vaginal Seeding: Early studies show that swabbing a mother’s vagina and transferring it to her baby’s mouth, eyes, and skin immediately following surgery may stimulate microbiome development similarly to babies being born vaginally. This may even protect from health issues later in life.
  • Skin-to-Skin: Caesarean birth is known to reduce initiation of breastfeeding, increase the length of time before the first breastfeed, reduce the incidence of exclusive breastfeeding, significantly delay the onset of lactation and increase the likelihood of supplementation. By implementing immediate skin-to-skin following a cesarean, increases the successful rate of breastfeeding. Here is a video about skin-to-skin in the operating room.
  • A clear curtain: If you would like to see as much as possible, you may request a clear sheet be draped over you instead of the typical colored one.
  • Baby Procedures Can Wait: Ask that baby not leave the room – or even your side – to be weighed and measured, or cleaned. That can be done in your recovery room with you being able to witness it all.
  • Baby stays with Mommy: As long as everyone is healthy, you can request that your baby never leaves your side.

What happens after surgery?

As long as mother and baby are healthy after surgery, you will both be taken (together) to recovery. Make sure to practice skin-to-skin and breastfeed as often as you can while in recovery. This will help strengthen your bond, heal any emotional scars, and increase a successful breastfeeding relationship. You will likely have visitors, but this is up to you. Take each hour as it comes and treasure the moments with your newborn, but remember that major surgery will not leave you feeling like you can sprint home. You will be offered medications, it is up to you to accept them. Do your research and hear your body.

Advice from real moms about recovery:

  • Drink a ton of water and all the Colace they give you.
  • Use the abdominal binder.
  • LAUGH as much as possible. The less anxiety, the better you feel.
  • Get a postpartum girdle. It will make all the difference in the world for recovery.
  • Ask for a family centered c-section.
  • Take your time in healing, it is not a race.
  • Ask for help around the house and with baby.

Emotional Healing: Reach out to support groups and talk to others about your experience. Write about your birth story and find all the good in it. If you had an unplanned or emergency cesarean section, it is ok to grieve the loss of the birth you desired. Do not let anyone tell you otherwise. Please join the ICANN network and process your feelings and emotions with healing help.