We’re just going to come out and say it: Birthing a baby is hard. Though you do have options, both can feel scary, especially for first-time moms. While vaginal deliveries are just a part of nature, the Cesarean section can come with quite a bit of uncertainty. Whether you’re pregnant with your first baby or are about to experience a C-section for the first time, here’s what you can expect.
A C-section is a surgical procedure that allows a baby to be delivered through an incision in the mother’s abdomen rather than vaginally. They’re sometimes scheduled in advance when babies are in a breech position or the mother is experiencing preeclampsia. However, your doctor can also advise you at the last minute to have a C-section if complications put you and your baby at risk. Although the thought of major surgery can feel alarming, nearly 32 percent of American women deliver via C-section.
Whether you’re still working on your birthing plan or your practitioner just scheduled your C-section, here’s everything you need to know about the procedure. We tapped the experts for ten things to expect.
You Couldn’t Have Done Anything Differently
While some women prefer C-sections, there can still be a stigma associated with them. International Board Certified Lactation Consultant Doctor Jessica Madden says, “please know that it’s not ‘your fault’ if you need to deliver by C-section and you did nothing wrong.” It’s common to have risks associated with vaginal birth, and she reassures that situations like a breech baby or placenta previa “could not have been prevented.”
You Can Have Immediate Skin-To-Skin Contact
Mothers dream about that moment when the delivery doctor immediately places your newborn on your chest. And while that fantasy might include a vision of your baby being born vaginally, Madden confirms that you can still have immediate skin-to-skin contact after a C-section. She does, however, remind us it’s possible, “as long as you are both doing well.” She also says, “make sure that you have someone right next to you to help hold and support your baby.”
Your Milk Might Come In Slower
After you’ve delivered your baby via C-section, Madden advises you to “be prepared for possible breastfeeding challenges.” She adds, “mothers who deliver by C-section are at a higher risk for having a delay in their milk ‘coming in’ than those who deliver vaginally.” To prepare, you can establish a relationship with a local lactation consultant ahead of time and, if needed, reach out for support after your baby arrives.
Don’t Skip Your Pain Medication
We hate to tell you, but there will be post-op pain following your C-section. Because there will be incision pains, abdominal soreness, and uncomfortable gas, your doctor or midwife will probably prescribe a medication to help. Madden says, “please do not hesitate to take it,” and assures it “will be safe for you to take while breastfeeding your baby.”
You Won’t Be Able To Bathe Afterward
It’s possible all you want to do after a C-section is go home and take a warm bath. However, Madden says, “you will not be able to take a bath or go swimming for about 4-6 weeks after your C-section.” She says the best way to keep your incision clean is to use a mild, unscented soap that you rub in with your hand in the shower. She adds, “washcloths can be too rough and abrasive.”
Take Help When You Can Get It
Madden reminds us to “keep in mind that a C-section is a major abdominal surgery.” She recommends making plans to have enough help with your baby while you recover. “Expecting a mom who just had a C-section to take care of both herself and her newborn is no different than giving all of the responsibility of a new baby to someone who just had their appendix taken out,” she says.
Design Your Nursery With Some Post-Op Feng Shui In Mind
Okay, we’re not talking actual feng shui here, but keeping essentials within reach will make your C-section recovery much more manageable. Samantha Spencer, Doctor of Physical Therapy, Postpartum Rehabilitation Specialist, and Medical Advisor at Aeroflow Breastpumps says, “you may want to place diapers, wipes, and a small trash can at waist height to limit your need to bend over.”
She also recommends keeping a “well-stocked nursing station, complete with a nursing pillow, water, snacks, and burp cloths will make it easier for you to stay seated once you’re in a position as you’re healing in the early weeks.”
Consider Post-C-Section Compression Garments
If you have a planned C-section coming up, now may be the best time to discuss a postpartum-specific bandage system with your physician. Spencer says, “compression garments may help keep your core stable and supported, and can also provide some protection to the incision itself.” She also advises, “compression garments should be flexible, offer support of both abdomen and pelvic floor, and preferably have an option to zip up the side to make it easier to get in and out of after a c-section.”
Mind Your Posture
Spencer tells us, “when you’re resting and recovering in the early days, it’s tempting to sit propped up in bed with your spine slightly rounded.” While it might feel comfortable, she says when you’re crunched upward, it doesn’t allow your incision to sit in a neutral position and can interfere with the healing process. She recommends trying “side-lying positions, supportive chairs, and standing up as frequently as you are comfortable.”
Don’t Rush Back To The Gym
While you might be itching to get back to your pre-pregnancy weight, Spencer says, “take your time getting back to exercise.” Feel free to take this time to rest, but if you’re ready to start slow, she recommends focusing on “low to moderate intensity and impact for the first three to four months” following your C-section.
Now that you know what to expect, this should take the anxiety and mystery out of the entire process. And at the end of the day, remember this is the most common procedure there is. Don’t worry, you got this, mama.
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