“I’m sorry, but I recommend you deliver via a c-section.”
Those are not the words most mothers want to hear from their doctor. But 31% of all babies in the U.S. are delivered via Cesarean. A cesarean (or c-section) is when a baby is delivered through surgery because it is of a medical necessity to do so. For lucky women, their doctors will schedule the operation in advance so she has time to prepare. However, many unsuspecting women won’t know they need an emergency c-section until they are already in labor. Every pregnant woman should mentally and physically prepare to have a c-section in the case of a last-minute emergency.
Common Reasons Your Doctor Might Recommend A C-Section
There are many reasons a doctor might recommend to surgically remove your baby. The most common reasons are, but are not limited to:
*Your Blood Pressure Is Too High
*Baby’s Heartbeat Drops
*You Have A Medical Issue (for example, if you have an STI/STD that can be passed to your baby through the birth canal or if you have a condition like diabetes.)
*Your Last Pregnancy Had Complications Or You Had A C-Section Before
*Contractions Are Strong For Several Hours But The Cervix Isn’t Opening
*Breech (The baby’s bottom and feet are down instead of the head.)
*The Baby Is Very Large Or Has A Birth Defect
*Your Birth Canal Is Too Narrow
*You Are Having Multiples
*Baby Is In Distress (He is not getting enough oxygen or has an irregular heartbeat.)
There are two kinds of c-sections: emergency c-sections and scheduled c-sections. An emergency c-section usually occurs when you are either in labor or the doctor finds something abnormal during an office visit and needs to operate immediately. A scheduled c-section is scheduled in advance because the mother has a known condition that will make delivery complicated or dangerous when she goes into labor (like a narrow birth canal, an STD, or a previous c-section.) Obviously, a scheduled c-section is less emotionally jarring because a mother usually has time to mentally process the news she will deliver via surgery instead of naturally. However...
...many women who don’t have time to mentally prepare for emergency surgery often find that they feel depressed or “cheated” out of the birthing experience afterward. These feelings particularly happen when a woman has to push and labor for hours beforehand only to end up delivering surgically. Even though they are happy that their baby is alive and healthy and finally in their arms, some women feel a sense of guilt or disappointment. This is why it’s very important to affirm to yourself a few things about c-sections, even if you aren’t planning on having one.
1. You Are Brave
For you to willingly agree to surgery, to surrender your personal wishes, and to put yourself totally in the hands of others is one of the bravest and most selfless things a woman could ever do for the sake of her health and her baby’s life! That’s not weakness or cheating--that’s bravery. You are a lifesaver, a life creator, a life-giver. Birth is birth, and there is no cheating!
2. You Do An Amazing Job
One mom shared the realization that helped her overcome “c-section dejection.” Her first baby got stuck in the birth canal at the end of her labor, so the doctor didn’t want to lose the second baby when they could avoid a life-threatening situation altogether. No one wants to go through 9 months of pregnancy only to lose their baby in the birth canal! So she agreed that a c-section would be the best route for her and her baby. But she still felt defeated, like she was cheating and not “really giving birth” or “doing her best.” One day after delivery she was resting on the couch recovering, watching her family take care of her toddler, the pets, the house cleaning, and cooking and she realized at that moment that it took three extra people to do the motherhood job she always did by herself. She began to feel empowered. What made her “enough” wasn't her method of bringing life into the world. Instead, value and purpose came from the way she lived her life every single day. She didn’t “fail” because of her c-section. She is a success because her family is so well-loved.
You are enough! You are doing an amazing job!
3. You Did The Same Work
A mother who pushes to deliver and a mother who delivers in the operating room do the same amount of work. Both grow and carry a baby for 9 months. Both feel the same aches and pains. Both change their lifestyles, diet, and habits to protect their baby. Both women make time in their busy lives for the same doctor's appointments. Both struggle with breastfeeding, lactation, pain, and recovery. Both women won’t sleep for the first three months of their infant’s life. All that is different is the method of delivery. A c-section mama does the same amount of work a natural mother does, and what's more important, she doesn't love or care for her baby any less.
Tips For Recovering From A C-Section
A c-section is considered major abdominal surgery, so a woman preparing for a c-section delivery needs to plan to be off her feet for a full 6-8 weeks. Recovering, in many ways, is easier than a natural birth because you are forced to sit down and take care of yourself. Many women who have a natural birth often “overdo it” or do chores while the baby sleeps instead of catching up on sleep themselves. When recovering from surgery, however, bed rest and asking for help are essential for recovery and many women find that they recover better because they received more rest and help.
Regardless, a c-section is not easy and a recovering mother will have a lot on her plate as she cares for her body and her newborn. Unlike a vaginal birth, you are not allowed to lift anything heavier than your baby, workout/walk very far, climb stairs, or even drive until your doctor has cleared you to do so. Pain will also last longer and you will be given medication to manage it. During the operation, the doctor makes three incisions, one on the outside and two on the inside, including cutting into your uterus to retrieve the baby. If you pull stitches out on the inside this will require another surgery and a delayed recovery time. This is why resting is essential.
However challenging a c-section is, the best way to prepare is to prepare, prepare, prepare. And then prepare some more! There are things you can do now that will make postpartum healing so much easier to navigate once you get home.
Here are 6 things you can do now to prepare and recover smoothly!
1. Make A “Recovery Box”
Having recovery and essential day-to-day items near your recliner or bed is a great way to prepare so you don’t have to get up and down to find things while you are recovering. Constantly standing and sitting will irritate your incision and cause unnecessary pain, so try and think of ways you can eliminate walking. Collect these items and stage them in places where you can find them easily or put them in a big box so you always know where they are.
-Snacks (nursing makes you really hungry and sometimes you are too tired or sore to go dig in the kitchen for a snack.)
-Pain relievers (Motrin and Tylenol are recommended), stool softener, prenatal vitamins, and any other supplement you need daily.
-Nursing supplies (pump, formula, burp cloths, pacifiers, baby bottles, water bottle, etc.)
-Pads, Pany liners, and depends (Yes, C-Section mamas still have vaginal discharge, but the bright side is (no pun intended) that bleeding is usually not as heavy as when you experience a vaginal birth. You will want a variety of sizes of pads as your flow will change as you heal.)
-Heating pad for your back
-Blanket for you and one for baby
-Night light (or an essential oil diffuser with a night light is awesome for relaxation and healing and helping baby sleep!)
2. Ask For Help
This is obvious advice, but in the first two weeks, you will need lots of help, especially if you have pets or other children to take care of. Having friends or family lined up in advance to call for help is essential for healing. And don’t feel bad when people offer their help--take them up on it! Overdoing it in the first few weeks will land you in the hospital again. That is both expensive and delays your healing process.
3. Prepare Meals
Having 7-10 frozen dinners and a few dozen frozen muffins or breakfast sandwiches on hand is very helpful! Cooking is not something that any new mom wants to do, so do it before you have the baby or buy premade food to have on hand that is easy to heat up. Or, ask a friend or a family member to organize a meal train for you!
4. Wash, Fold, Hang All Baby Items
Before the baby comes make sure all the laundry is done and everything is easily accessible. Remember, that you will have people helping you recover and that means they will be changing, dressing, and feeding the baby, too. It is a time and energy saver to put things where everyone can find them. For example, having burp cloths in a basket on the changing table instead of hidden in a drawer is very helpful as you will be reaching for a new one with every feeding. Or, having baby clothes hung up by size will help you grab a onesie in the middle of the night instead of digging through a dresser drawer where they are all mixed in. Having staches of diapers around the house will save you from climbing stairs or going to the nursery every time you have to change a diaper. If you have other children who will be with a caregiver, make sure their clothes and other necessities are hung, washed, and in a place where you or the caregiver won’t have to be bothered to find them later. The more you do now the less you have to do later.
5. Remove Packaging From All Baby Gifts
The baby bath time gift set might look cute in its original packaging on the shelf, but you won’t care how cute it looks when you need to clean up a blowout and have to wash the baby ASAP. Make sure to have everything in its place before the big day to save you time and energy!
6. Mentally Prepare
Everyone mentally prepares for major life events differently and in their own way, but the important thing is that you do it. A c-section is a major life event. It will be challenging at times, but if you know what is coming and have strategies to help you, you will find yourself seamlessly navigating postpartum feelings like a breeze.
Remember to rehearse your affirmations for optimal mental wellness. Another trick is to picture the events from start to finish: yourself on the operation table, your first moments in the recovery room, cuddling with your baby, and the remaining days of your hospital stay. Another method is to make a list of your wishes. This is also known as a birth plan which is the most powerful way to help you prepare mentally. Take time to research other women's experiences as you write your plan. The internet is full of women and experts who share valuable information online so take advantage of it! Surprises can leave you angry, confused, unprepared, and stressed so take the time to mentally prepare yourself to minimize these experiences. If you are feeling anxious about your scheduled operation, talk to your doctor and share your birth plan with them. They can ease your mind and prepare you!
Remember, there is no right or wrong way to give birth. What is important is that you love your baby and you love yourself.