Having just had my third c-section I thought I would share my knowledge and experiences from a patient’s viewpoint in case the information might help someone. Maybe you are currently pregnant and are terrified your delivery may end up in a c-section? Maybe you have a friend who recently went through a c-section and you don’t know how to relate? Or maybe you are just curious about how c-sections differ from natural births? I am here to try and answer the most frequently asked questions about cesareans but please keep in mind I am not a doctor nor medical professional in any way.
I can only answer as a patient who has been through three scheduled c-sections at three different hospitals, with three different doctors, all within the past three years. Although many aspects of the surgeries were the same or similar, I have to say each of my deliveries was a unique experience.
1.) What is the surgery like?
To begin with, if the c-section has been scheduled you will fast for 8 hours prior and be given instructions for how to prepare your body. One hospital had me shave and another told me not to shave but had very specific instructions for showering and cleansing the morning of the surgery.
Then you show up at the hospital two hours early to check in, get in your gown, have an IV started and be hooked up to machines to monitor you and the baby.
Nurses and doctors involved in your care will pop in to introduce themselves and see if you have any questions.
Next, you will walk into the operating room where the lights will be bright and the room very cold. Everyone will be dressed for surgery and it feels very surreal. Your butt is hanging out the back of your gown as you hunch over to get a spinal block.
For the doctors, nurses, and techs it is just another surgery on their daily schedule but they will try to converse with you to put you at ease. For me, I still felt exposed, a little nervous, and ready to get the show on the road.
After you have become properly numbed your partner will get to come in. I always find it a huge relief when my husband is finally able to be by my side. Your partner should talk to you, hold your hand, do whatever you want to try and make the surgery more personal. The drape will go up to block your view (unless you request a clear drape – I wouldn’t). There will be funny smells (burning smells) and some sensations during the surgery. Just make sure to communicate with the nurse anesthetist if you are feeling nauseous – it’s very common.
Once your baby is pulled out you will have the opportunity for skin-to-skin while you’re being stitched back up. Then eventually the baby will be cleaned up more as you are lifted and transferred to a moveable bed and rolled to a recovery room.
While in the recovery room you, your partner and newborn will have time to bond. You will also get the opportunity to breastfeed. Nurses will come over and push on your uterus (ouch!!) and check your vitals. Leg compression sleeves will be placed on your legs and after being monitored for enough time you will be moved once more into your family suite.
The numbness will start to go away and you will be given some great pain relieving drugs. You will still be hooked up to an IV and your catheter will still be inserted. At this time visitors can come in if you so choose and nurses will continue to check on you and the baby often.
You will stay 2-3 nights in the hospital.
2.) Can pictures be taken during delivery?
It depends. Our first hospital was very strict and would not let any photos be taken in the operating room whatsoever. During my second surgery, the nurses were snapping family photos for us and allowed my husband to photograph any part of the surgery we wanted to. I would ask ahead of time what the policies are regarding photography in the operating room.
3.) Will there be any pain?
But there shouldn’t be any pain during the surgery, instead just “pressure and some tugging”. When the spinal block is inserted it may sting a little but after that the surgery should be essentially pain-free.
Unfortunately for me, I am considered a “unique” patient and two out of my three c-sections have been very painful. With my first c-section I felt WAY TOO MUCH, a pain level 8. After two attempts to get the spinal block inserted during the surgery I felt as if someone was giving the insides of my uterus their hardest uppercut punch over and over again. The tugging was insane. Since it was my first I wasn’t sure if that is what they meant by “a little pressure” but I told my husband I could never go through a c-section again – ha.
Fifteen months later I was once again on the operating table and after 3 spinal block attempts I felt nothing (yahoo!). This surgery was amazing – fast, pain-free, and I could focus on my beautiful new baby.
Having warned the anesthesiologist of my past experiences with spinal blocks for my third c-section he decided to do a spinal/epidural combo on me. This by far was the fastest the spinal block has gone in but then halfway through the surgery I said ouch and knew once again the spinal wasn’t working correctly. I grinned and bared through the pain until the baby was delivered and the doctor was able to give me more pain meds. I even asked for the baby to be taken off my chest because I could only concentrate on my pain. I would put the pain with this surgery at a 6 or 7.
Please note that doctors consider me “unique” and don’t quite understand why I have such problems with spinal blocks. Feeling this amount of pain during the surgery is not normal and you shouldn’t worry. Keep in mind I have gone through all this pain and still hope to have more children via c-section. A short amount of time spent in immense pain is nothing for getting a child you will love forever (ahh – but it’s true). Also, I have no idea how the pain I have experienced compares to natural childbirth. At least with a c-section I knew the pain would be over quickly.
Your pain will come during the recovery process. Although the delivery is over and done with quickly (unlike a natural birth) the recovery period can be rough, much worse than after a natural delivery.
4.) How can I make the recovery easier?
The number one recommendation I have to help with recovery is to get up as soon as the nurses let you. It will be scary, it will be painful, but get up and move.
The drugs you get after the surgery will help with pain management but be sure to stay on top of them. Waiting too long in between doses can make it difficult for you to keep the pain level low. It is going to really hurt to cough, laugh, sneeze, stand up, or shift positions.
Don’t overdo it. Speaking as a woman who loves being independent and hates asking for help this might be challenging. Listen to your doctor and don’t lift anything heavier than your baby for the first two weeks. Someone else can carry the laundry down the stairs. Do not pick up your toddler (this is so hard). You are not allowed to even drive for a while.
Also, urinate often. I found it very painful if I let my bladder get overly full.
Practice different breastfeeding holds ahead of time. Some positions are much more comfortable than others right after a c-section. Bring a Boppy or other type of breastfeeding pillow to help with positioning.
Before your c-section start using your arms to move your body around instead of your abs. It is hard to get used to relying on your upper body strength vs your core to move your body if you haven’t practiced beforehand.
5.) Will there be bleeding?
Yes, you will have vaginal bleeding after surgery. Luckily, the hospital will give you those huge diaper-like pads and awesome mesh panties. The bleeding won’t last long, typically for me about a week at the most.
6.) How does the scar look?
In the weeks following the surgery the scar from the incision looks a little crazy. It is lumpy and your tummy pooches out over it but the scar heals so nicely. The incision is done horizontally at your bikini line (unless you have to have a vertical incision in an emergent situation) so no one besides your partner and doctor will ever even see it. I have worn plenty of bikinis since my surgeries and I never worry about the scar showing especially since it fades over time. Keep in mind the skin around the scar will be numb for a long time but you will get feeling back eventually.
7.) When can you eat and drink normally?
This rule can vary based on hospital policy. After my first surgery, the staff wouldn’t let me eat or drink normally until the next day. I watched our visitors snack on cookies and lemonade while the IV nourished me. After my second surgery, I was very thirsty but the staff still made me wait a few hours before allowing me to have anything besides ice chips. This last surgery I was offered normal food and drink almost immediately afterward, which was good because I was hungry!
8.) Did you want a c-section and would you have a c-section again?
No, I didn’t want a c-section! I always thought I would give birth naturally and with no pain meds. I had this picture in my head of my water breaking spontaneously and my husband helping me through labor with breathing exercises. After we found out our first daughter would not survive after birth (read about her birth story in this post) we were told a cesarean was the only delivery method possible given that there was no amniotic fluid.
I very much wanted to try for a VBAC with my second daughter’s delivery especially given the amount of pain I was in during my first c-section. My doctor at the time he was very against me trying a VBAC so soon after my first delivery so I acquiesced and consented to another c-section. At this point, all I wanted was a healthy living child and really didn’t care how I got one.
A successful VBAC after two c-sections seems to be rarer and there are not many statistics on the success rates. I still wanted to try a vaginal birth but knowing that I could still end up in a c-section after laboring sounded horrible so again I agreed to a c-section.
Now I don’t believe I have the option of a VBAC. If we decide to have more children they will be delivered by c-section.
I do feel gipped that I never got the experience of a natural birth. Some of you I’m sure are rolling your eyes at this statement but honestly I am a little jealous that I don’t have a non-surgical birth story.
9.) Are you limited to how many c-sections you are allowed to have?
This was my biggest concern when deciding how hard I should fight to try to have a VBAC. I didn’t want the number of children I could have be decided for me. My doctors reassured me that unless a complication arises they would not limit my number of c-sections. But a cesarean is still surgery and the risks increase after each delivery.
10.) Are there any benefits to having a c-section?
First of all, the delivery of your child is scheduled. Typically, a c-section is scheduled at 39 weeks to reduce the chance of you going into labor. I find a countdown with a definitive end date to be super helpful. I prepare tons of freezer meals, clean my house by a daily schedule, and my husband knows when he has to have all his work finished by.
For most people there is no pain during delivery.
In addition, you don’t have to go through labor!! No contractions, no tearing, and you aren’t in labor for an unforeseen amount of time.
You will have your own doctor performing the surgery. Many of my friends and family members who had natural births ended up with a doctor they didn’t know delivering their baby.
There are no problems “down there” unlike after a vaginal delivery. As my husband likes to joke – keep it right, keep it tight.
Do you have any other questions about c-sections? If so, please ask in the comment section below!