“It’s not that bad.”
… said every person about having a C-section.
My OB said it’s a quick surgery and I’d be walking the following day. Our birthing class grazed over C-sections; most of my favorite pregnancy websites hardly talk about them at length. So it must not be that bad, right?
My baby was breech and at 37 weeks, my doctor and I decided to schedule a C-section. In the two weeks leading up to my surgery, I barely found any helpful info online. Frustrating, considering something like 30 percent of American mothers give birth via C-section
So here’s a exhaustive list of everything I wish I’d known before having a C-section.
The bad news? It’s unpleasant. The good news? A month into your recovery, you’ll feel pretty good, thinking to yourself, “Hey, that wasn’t that bad!” Ha. Hahahah. Really, you will think this.
In the days before…
I know most C-sections aren’t scheduled, but in case yours is, here’s what you can do to prepare. Honestly, no matter how you deliver, most of these points are relevant.
On the day before my surgery, I’d already packed my bag, gotten a manicure and pedicure and stocked up on baby stuff, so I literally had a free weekday and nothing to do but think.
I spent the majority of the morning sobbing hysterically, clutching my dog.
My advice to you? Schedule something, ANYTHING, the day before your C-section or induction. This is no time for thinking about things!
Stock up on snacks & drinks.
You’ll get grub in the hospital, but it won’t be what you really want (or available exactly when you want it). Bring crackers, fruit, nuts, cookies, Boom-Chicka-Pop– quick, easy snacks to eat whenever you damn well please. You’re going to be hungry!
As for drinks, load up on Vitamin Water, juices, whatever you like. You might think you’ll want soda or LaCroix, but you’re going to be gassy and bloated, so avoid the bubbles.
That is, everyone except people who’ve just given birth.
Pooping after having a baby via any method is no joke. Do yourself a favor and eat lots of leafy greens and fruit to get things moving in the days leading up. Bring prunes to the hospital. They’re actually delicious!
One poop-related pro to a C-section: you probably won’t poop on the table! One less thing to worry about, right?
Buy the embarrassing stuff now.
No one like to buy things that are used near your lady parts. Get over it and stock up on Tucks medicated pads, stool softeners, Preparation H, maxi pads and pantyliners. Truth be told, after giving birth, you probably aren’t going to care about asking someone buy this stuff for you. Even still, you’ll just want it exactly when you need it.
PS One more reason to do this early: If you’re anything like me, you haven’t used maxi pads since, like, seventh grade. Even you don’t really know what you want, and I can’t even imagine what a man might bring home (after his head explodes from all the options). PPS these are the ones you want for the first few weeks.
Fasting isn’t that bad.
My surgery was scheduled for 3:40pm. I get anxious and crabby when I’m hungry, so I worried that I wouldn’t be able to eat the entire day of surgery.
As it turned out, I only had to fast (no food or drink… not even water) for six hours. While that sounded like a long time, it still allowed me to eat a huge breakfast, and then I spent the next three or so hours taking a shower, setting my out-of-office, and buying a few last minute supplies. I arrived at the hospital two hours before my surgery, and by that point, food was the last thing on my mind.
I know you’ll probably be nervous. However, everything will be so much more enjoyable if you’re nice to your nurses and doctors. These people are going to poke you with needles, cut your body open, and bring your baby into the world. Trust me, you want them to like you.
Prep your support person.
I was so grateful to have my husband in the operating room with me. However, he didn’t join me until the doctor was ready to get down to biz. This meant he had to wait outside for twenty minutes. It probably felt like forever, but I told him that this would be the case. A friend of mine’s husband didn’t know, and started getting really worried as the minutes passed. Give your support person a heads up that a long wait is normal.
The operating room is actually IS similar to TV.
Dressed on a stunning paper gown with IV in tow, I walked myself to the operating room. I expected it to be just like TV: bright, white, chaotic, with classic rock playing softly in the background (why classic rock? I don’t know. It’s just what I pictured, and it’s what was playing!). There were about eight doctors and nurses tasking around the room.
It was also very cold. But I was so nervous, I barely cared.
Good news about epidurals/bad news about anti-anxiety cocktails.
Once in the room, I hoisted myself onto the operating table. A nurse asked me to sit on it, straddling it like a surfboard.
Next, the anesthesiologist prepped my back for the epidural. I was so scared, but after he numbed the site (which stung), I didn’t feel a thing.
I’d heard many anesthesiologists give patients an anti-anxiety cocktail pre-surgery. Mine said he hates to do it because they make most people foggy, and he wanted me to remember the experience. So I went without. It wasn’t easy, but I made it!
The epidural will work… but on more than you might imagine.
When I think of an epidural, I think of my lower half being numb. With a C-section, they place the needle much higher in your spinal column. Therefore, you’ll probably experience numbness in your chest (which made breathing feel more labored) and arms (which I think were strapped to the table?). I couldn’t move at all and wasn’t prepared for that, but now you will be.
You might puke.
Apparently, it’s common for the pain meds to make you nauseated. I didn’t, but I almost did. If you feel a barf comin’ on, say something and they can add an anti-nausea medication to your IV.
Curtain: Do or don’t?
In pre-op, my nurse asked if I wanted to watch the surgery, or if I preferred a curtain to block the action.
Puhleeze. While watching my own surgery seems very Hey Eleanor-y, I figured the birth of my first child was no time to see how I might react. Maybe next time.
The second most intense moment.
When my husband entered the OR, donning scrubs, a face mask and adorable hairnet. Seeing the fear in my husband’s eyes while looking at the fear in my eyes was a holy shit moment. THIS IS HAPPENING!
The most intense moment.
Within 10 minutes of my hubby entering the room, the doctor announced, “You’re going to feel some tugging.” I honestly didn’t feel much… except for in my heart, which exploded with emotions. I heard a baby choking, then crying, then my husband shouted, “She’s so cute!” as he leaked tears on me.
I’d heard some people say their cesarian birth felt anti-climactic. To me, it was only climactic– like nothing, nothing, nothing, BOOM GOES THE DYNAMITE!
Hi, baby! Bye, baby!
Three seconds after our baby was born, someone popped her over the top of the curtain. “Here she is!” Before I could even get a good look at her, the baby and hubby were gone. I could sort of hear the baby crying in the next room as they cleared her lungs, cleaned her up, weighed and measured her. It felt like they were gone for 15 minutes. Who knows how long it really was.
Chit-chat is a good thing.
My doctors and nurses casually chatted while they stitched me up. About the weather, weekend, their kids… banal water cooler talk. Initially, I was like, hullo… I’m in surgery here. But then I thought about it and decided that this is what they literally do every day, and regular conversation just means everything is going well.
Yay for skin to skin.
You probably know that skin-to-skin contact is a big thing in the birthing world. After the baby was cleaned up, a nurse asked if she could place her on my skin. Obvi! The only skin available was my neck, so they placed her there. It was totally surreal.
Then, the nurse said I should talk to her because “the baby knows your voice!” I couldn’t think of one single thing to say. So maybe think of something to tell your baby… not that it really matters as your brain will be mush.
Moving to your room.
Next, I walked myself to our hospital room. Just kidding! Here’s what actually happened: some nurses inflated some sort of raft-like contraption under my body, then picked me up and hoisted me onto a gurney and rolled me to my room.
Who in the hell are you?!
For the first few hours post-op, nurses will check on you all the time. It’s something like every 15 minutes for the first hour after surgery, then every 30 minutes for another hour or so, then every two hours. You also might have someone showing you how to breastfeed. There might be a resident popping in, or a cleaning person emptying your trash or someone delivering food. Long story short, there will be lots of people you don’t know popping in and out of your room.
Caring? You’re soooo over it.
I didn’t grow up in a house where people walk around naked, or even talk about naked things. I don’t pee with the door open (unless I’m home alone), and I never fart in front of my husband on purpose.
Have a baby and next thing you know, you won’t care who sees your nips, your lady bits or helps you out of your giant mesh undies. I needed to “pass gas” before leaving the hospital, and it became a major topic of conversation between me and my husband. Not giving a shit about anything was actually very liberating!
The itching. My god, the itching!
In the first 24 hours post birth, nothing hurt. The most excruciating thing was my reaction to the morphine. This is administered in your IV for long-term pain management. It works like magic on the pain, but makes most people itch like a mofo! Totally miserable, but way better the pain.
Most articles talk extensively about postpartum bleeding after a vaginal birth. I had no idea what to expect after a C-section. The first day or two were pretty intense, but I downgraded from the phonebook-sized pads to more normal ones on day four PP. When I got home, I ended up buying those Always Infinity pads, which I used for five weeks PP.
Don’t fall in love with your nurse.
Or should I say, nurses. I was at the hospital for five days, and assigned no less than 20 nurses. Some for four hours, some for 12. The bad news is that you’ll say bye to nurses you love. The good news, you’ll say bye to nurses you can’t stand.
By the way, I secretly suspect they give you the varsity nurses on day one, then downgrade you to JV, then benchwarmers, to finally some person they may have picked off the street.
Don’t get behind on your meds.
You’d like to think your nurses are keeping track of your needs.
They probably aren’t.
You’re going to need to ask for all medication every time you need it. If you can take pain meds every four hours, be ringing that call button every 3 hours and 48 minutes. You’re responsible for you.
Walking sucks, but you have to do it.
About 18 hours after my surgery, they removed my catheter. And that meant one very important development: I needed to walk to the bathroom to pee. The first time I tried to get out of bed, I thought there was NO way I’d be able to get to the bathroom (even with help, which is necessary). But I did it!
That evening, I took a stroll down the hall. And by stroll, I mean I slowly lumbered down the hall with the grace of a zombie. But by day five, I was for sure walking at a respectable 1.5 mph clip.
Nightgowns aren’t necessary.
I hate wearing a nightgown, but every “what to pack in your hospital bag” post I read said to bring one. I took the nightgown thing literally, thinking you wouldn’t want pants on your incision. As it turns out, loose fitting yoga fats or sweats were fine, and I ended up having a friend bring me a pair. Tip: get black ones or some you don’t mind getting blood on… sry, it’s just the truth.
Stay in the hospital as long as possible.
I was able to stay in the hospital for up to 96 hours. Luxuriate as long as you can. It’s nice to have the help (and secretly, you might enjoy being treated like a queen).
Take all the stuff.
Diapers, pads, mesh underwear, cold packs… pretty much anything disposable can come with you.
It’ll probably be harder than you think (but it will go faster than you think).
My doctor said I’d be able to normal things when I got home– like walk up and down the stairs, take showers, get dressed, carry the baby in her carrier. Technically, this was true. But in reality, it was the last thing I wanted to do. Everything hurt, I could barely get out of bed or off the couch without help.
This probably lasted two weeks, and every day did get easier than the last. By four weeks, I was feeling pretty great.
Don’t skimp on the ibuprofen.
You might not think it makes that big of a difference, but all the nurses told me I’d regret it if I stopped taking Advil. I trust them.
Coffee, how do I love thee?
For about 10 days after delivery, I experienced the worst headache of my life. It could’ve been from low iron, hormones, the epidural or something else entirely. Eventually, I burst into tears out of frustration, crying that “I just want to enjoy the baby and my brain feels like it’s about to explode!” My husband got me a large iced coffee, which I’d been avoiding because I thought it might keep the baby awake. Downed it. Poof. Headache gone. Baby’s sleeping patterns didn’t change a bit.
Caffeine is your friend, people!
You’re going to be soooo bloated and puffy.
You might know that they sometimes give women pitocin to induce labor. You might not know that they often administer it after the baby is born to keep mom from bleeding too much. This is a good thing! But that, along with fluids from IVs, will make you puffy as hell. It might not go away for a few weeks, so embrace it as much as you can. Honestly, you probably won’t care as you’ll be busy with a newborn.
About that scar…
It’s really not that bad. In fact, if mine was any lower, it would literally be off my body. It’s about six inches long and very neat. I’m currently three months postpartum and it’s a little pink line. No biggie. There’s about a half-inch above and below the incision that’s completely numb, which I’m told will go away over time. I’ve also heard it’s good to massage the scar, which I’ve only recently started trying.
Supplies you may want.
Gap high-waisted underwear. They’re comfy, and won’t bug your incision.
Always Infinity pads. I swear they didn’t sponsor this post.
Compression belt. Trust me, you’re going to want pressure on that incision, and the one you get at the hospital will soon become too big. A midwife friend of mine told me to wear mine for 40 days, and I did.
Wheat Thins. Maybe it was just me, but I couldn’t stop eating them.
Roku. Unless you’re too cool to watch tv, this device made my recovery heavenly. Amazon TV, Netflix, HBO and more… all at my finger tips! No regrets.
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Long story short, it’s hard, but you will get through it. And the best part? You get a baby out of the deal!
If you had a C-section, please add anything you wish you’d known in the comments. This is just my experience with a scheduled C-section, and I’m sure there’s lots more helpful advice to be shared! I say the more you know, the better off you are. You can do it!