Everything You Need To Know About Having A C-Section
Updated: Sep 14, 2022
Whether your C-section is planned or unexpected, here is everything you need to know about C-sections and some helpful tips from a two-time C-section mama.
Disclaimer: The information on this website is not intended to replace a one-on-one relationship with a qualified health care professional and is not intended as medical advice. Information in this blog is from my own experiences and your experience may differ. By reading this website, you acknowledge that you and your healthcare provider are responsible for your own health decisions. Do not take anything from any website, including this one, and try it without proper research and medical supervision. Read more in our Disclaimers.
When we went into the hospital for the birth of our first son, I was set on a vaginal birth. I hadn't even thought about having a C-section. No one I knew had ever had one so why would I?
After laboring for over 48 hours, being fully dilated, pushing for 3 hours, and a failed vacuum, the safest option for delivery was to have an emergency C-section.
At that moment, I felt like a failure. Why wasn't my body doing what it was supposed to do? I didn't prepare for this. Why me? This was not the plan! I don't want to die. I was already thinking about him graduating high school and getting married... without me there to watch who he becomes and he wasn't even here yet!
The entire experience traumatized me to the point I never thought I would have another baby.
That is why when we are expecting our second child, I decided to skip the heartbreak and schedule a C-section. I read everything there was to know about having a scheduled C-section, learned about Gentle C-sections, and got to work on my birth plan.
Under normal circumstances, vaginal birth is the safest way to deliver a baby. However, according to the CDC, nearly 32% of women deliver via C-section in the US whether it is planned or unexpected. Knowing how to prepare for and personalize a C-section can help make the experience a little less traumatic.
What Is a C-Section?
A Cesarean Section (C-section) is a procedure for delivering a baby through incisions made in the mother's abdomen and uterus. C-sections can be scheduled in advance due to preference or various pregnancy complications or done after labor begins as a life-saving measure.
How Long Does a C-section Take?
The surgery normally lasts anywhere from 20 to 60 minutes; however, the baby could be out within a few minutes of the procedure starting. Our son was stubborn and took a little longer. I had adhesions from my prior emergency C-section and they had to use vacuum assistance.
How Long Is The Hospital Stay After a C-Section?
You'll probably stay in the hospital a few extra days following a C-section Vs a vaginal delivery. Typically two to four days. Our first hospital stay was six days total and our second was four days. We opted to stay an extra day with our second because I was still in a lot of pain and I wanted more time to recover before heading home to care for a toddler and newborn without help.
Why Are C-Sections Done?
Your health care provider may recommend a C-section if (a) your labor isn't progressing normally, (b) the baby is in distress, (c) the baby/babies are in an unusual position, (d) you are carrying more than one baby, (e) there is a problem with the placenta, (f) a prolapsed umbilical cord, (g) there is a health concern, (h) you have had a previous C-section or other surgery on your abdomen, (i) or other health conditions.
Some mamas request a C-section with their first baby for various reasons. Though, according to the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, "this might not be a good option for women who plan to have several children as the more C-sections you have, the greater risk of problems with future pregnancies."
Will I Feel Anything During a C-Section?
Because you have been given anesthesia, you should not feel pain during the procedure. If you do, make sure to notify the doctor and anesthesiologist immediately. You may; however, feel tugging or pulling as they remove the baby.
Can I Have a Vaginal Birth If I Had a Previous C-Section?
Depending on the situation, your health care provider may be comfortable performing a Vaginal Birth after Cesarean (VBAC.) In 2013, the success rate for women who attempted a trial of labor after one previous C-section was 70%. It is important to have these discussions with your doctor if you are interested so you can decide what is best for both you and your baby. The Mayo Clinic recommends you stay flexible. "The circumstances of your labor could make VBAC a clear choice or, after counseling, you and your health care provider might decide that a repeat C-section would be best after all."
What is a Gentle C-Section?
This is where elements of a vaginal birth are brought into the OR during a C-section. Keep in mind, that your health care provider may determine they cannot use these elements in certain situations if they are in any way worried about the health of your baby, if you need to be put under general anesthesia, or if there are complications with the surgery.
Due to requiring an emergency C-section with our first, it was not possible to take this approach; however, with our second, we decided to incorporate a few into our delivery. These options may not be available at every hospital or with every physician. Your health care provider will decide what is necessary and safe for you and your baby.
Here are a few examples of elements you may be able to incorporate into your C-section.
Delayed Cord Clamping: Doctors and medical researchers have found there are many benefits to waiting one to three minutes before clamping the cord. Certain circumstances do not allow for delayed clamping during a C-section and it is important to discuss this with a medical professional.
Clear Drape: Instead of the standard drape, you may request a clear drape or one that has a clear window so you can see your baby as they are being born. The sight of blood may be too much for some and if things get too uncomfortable, you can request the standard drape be put up.
Skin to Skin: During a gentle C-section, many of the monitor leads are moved out of the way and the IV and blood pressure cuff may be placed on your non-dominant arm so that you will be free to hold your baby while they finish closing the incision. According to an article written by doctors at Charité Hospital in Berlin,immediate skin-to-skin contact has many benefits such as:
-Higher breastfeeding rates
-A more regulated infant temperature, heart rate, and breathing
-Reduced stress for both mom and baby.
Cutting The Cord: While your partner cannot enter the sterile field to cut the cord due to the risks of infection, your obstetrician may be able to leave the cord a little longer to allow for them to cut it on the baby's end at the warmer. That way they can still experience the cutting of the cord similar to that of a vaginal delivery.
Music: Anxiety is common during the delivery of a baby. Playing your own music can help keep you calm and focused as you await the arrival of your little one.
No Personal Conversations: You may request your surgical team avoid personal conversations with other OR staff and only talk when necessary regarding the procedure. Others may want the distraction from the procedure and that is absolutely fine.
We opted for a clear drape during the birth of our second child. It was amazing!
Preparing For a C-Section
Your experiences may be different based on your hospital and health care provider. They may also differ based on whether or not your C-section is planned or you require an emergency C-section. If you are interested in a C-section or want to learn more, make sure you speak with a medical professional.
Your health care provider might ask you to shower with a special antiseptic soap the night before and the morning before surgery. (Although, mine did not)
While you may want to do some grooming beforehand, do not shave your pubic hair before your C-section as this can increase the risk of infection. That will be taken care of for you by the surgical staff right before surgery.
Don't eat anything within 8 hours of your surgery. They may request you also restrict liquids, though some providers may allow you to drink clear liquids before surgery. This is to prevent vomiting and complications during surgery. As always, follow the directions of your doctor. If you do not, your surgery (and meeting your little one) may be delayed.
Relax. You are about to experience something amazing. You are a warrior!
Before Your C-Section At The Hospital
In my case, the first thing that happened was being taken to a pre-op room and given paperwork to complete.
You will then change out of your clothes and into a hospital gown, removing all jewelry. I decided to just leave everything at home to reduce the risk of things getting lost in the shuffle between different rooms.
Your abdomen will be washed with a special cleanser.
An IV will be placed in your hand or arm to provide fluids and various medicines as well as a blood pressure cuff on your arm.
Your surgical team, including the anesthesiologist, will come and talk to you about the procedure and obtain necessary information.
In The Operating Room (OR)
You will be taken to the OR and asked to sit on the edge of the operating table to allow the Anesthesiologist access to complete the spinal block or epidural. Most C-sections are done under regional anesthesia, which numbs only the lower part of your body allowing you to be awake during the procedure. Some situations might require general anesthesia and you won't be awake during the birth.
A catheter will be placed to drain your urine. This is normally done after they have started the spinal block/epidural.
An oxygen mask will be placed to allow for extra oxygen.
To reduce the risk of blood clots, they will place massaging sleeves around your legs to encourage better circulation during and following surgery.
Sterile drapes will be placed over certain parts of your body and between your head and lower body.
At this point, your support partner will be suited up and scrubbed to enter the OR and be by your side.
During The Procedure- Now The Fun Begins!
An incision will be made through your abdomen. A horizontal, low-transverse incision, in your lower abdomen (bikini cut), is used in about 95% of C-sections due to minimized bleeding and a better hold during future vaginal births should you decide. In some cases, a vertical cut, between your navel to your pubic hairline (classic cut), may be utilized. Though it is less common today.
The obstetrician removes your baby through the incisions. The umbilical cord is cut and the placenta is removed.
Your incisions will now be closed. Your uterus is closed with dissolvable stitches. The cut on your skin may be closed with surgical staples, stitches, surgical glue, or Steri-Strips. If you prefer one closure method over others, try and make that known to your doctor ahead of time. (Our first was closed with glue and the second Steri-Strips.)
After The C-Section In The Hospital
Once your incision has been closed, you will be moved to a 'recovery room' for monitoring. These rooms normally have several beds that are separated by a curtain. During this time, you may also start to breastfeed if you are doing so. You can expect to spend a few hours in the recovery room before finally being taken to your regular room.
Within a few hours, the anesthesia will start to wear off and the catheter may be removed. When this is removed, you may be expected to get out of bed (at your own pace) and try to use the bathroom. The best advice I can give is to start moving as soon as you can. You will feel pain from the surgery and it's important to manage it early. The less pain you feel, the more likely you are to be moving, which is key to a quick recovery.
You may be nauseous after the procedure so they will have you start with a liquid diet the first day and then gradually switch over to solids. A favorite food truck of mine was in town that day so I had my mom stop and grab me something for after the procedure, but I couldn't eat it until the following day. I was superdisappointed.
You should expect the nursing staff to come in and check on you (and baby) periodically throughout your stay. They will be pressing on your belly to make sure your uterus is shrinking back down, there is no infection at the incision site; and various other reasons. I know it can be annoying when you are trying to bond or sleep. They always come in at the most inconvenient times, but it is important to make sure you are recovering properly.
After The C-Section At Home
After a few days at the hospital, you may be itching (literally) to bust out of the hospital. Once you and baby have had your final check, you may be discharged! Yay!! Most hospitals will require you to bring the car seat into the room and buckle baby in before they will allow you to leave. You are heading home!
It is important to rest, but also move. You want to start with little movements to help aid in your recovery, like walking around the house.
Check your C-section incision for signs of infection. Pay attention to any symptoms and contact your health care provider if:
Your incision is red, swollen, or leaking discharge
You have a fever
You have heavy bleeding
You have worsening pain
A Note From Cleveland Clinic "C-sections are often necessary for the health of you and your baby. If you know you're having a C-section, your obstetrician can walk you through the procedure and discuss the recovery process with you in advance. In the cases where a C-section is unexpected, you may end up feeling upset that your birth plan didn't go as expected. Just know that most providers prefer a vaginal delivery and that the decision to proceed with a C-section was made for you and/or your baby's wellbeing. The best thing you can do after a C-section delivery is rest and allow others to help you recover."
If you have further questions, contact your ob-gyn.
My Own Experiences with two Cesarean Sections (one emergency and one scheduled)
Cited Medical Organizations-
American Pregnancy Association | Mayo Clinic | Cleveland Clinic | American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists | National Library of Medicine
Disclaimer: The information on this website is not intended to replace a one-on-one relationship with a qualified health care professional and is not intended as medical advice. Information on this website is from my own experiences and your experience may differ. By reading this website, you acknowledge that you and your healthcare provider are responsible for your own health decisions. Do not take anything from any website, including this one, and try it without proper research and medical supervision. View our Disclaimer page for additional information.