Ask any new mom, and she’ll tell you that a baby’s birth doesn’t always go according to plan. In some cases, even if you’ve planned for a vaginal birth, a C-section may become the safer option. Approximately one-third of babies in the U.S. are born via C-section. Whether you schedule a C-section in advance or unexpectedly find yourself in the operating room, there’s probably an important question on your mind: What happens next?
What Happens During a C-Section
To perform a C-section, the doctors make an incision in your lower abdomen and uterus to deliver your baby. A low transverse or “bikini” incision is most common, although in some cases a doctor may opt for a vertical incision instead. Often, you’ll be anesthetized with a spinal, so you’ll be awake for your baby’s birth.
Depending on your hospital, you may be able to play music, have your partner present, hold your baby in the OR, or ask to use a mirror to see your baby being born. If there’s time, ask (or have your partner ask) for things that are meaningful to you.
You won’t be sore at first, although the anesthesia may leave you groggy, nauseated, or itchy. After you leave the OR, you’ll spend some time in a postoperative recovery area so the medical team can monitor you. You’ll have IVs delivering fluids and a catheter in place to collect urine. As long as there are no complications, the medical team will bring your baby so you have a chance to cuddle and breastfeed your newborn.
You’ll probably spend the 2-4 days after your C-section in the hospital. Expect the medical team to take great interest in your urine output after they remove your catheter. You’ll be on an all-liquid diet at first, and your doctors will want you up and moving as soon as possible. Walking around is painful, but even getting to the bathroom for a shower and back is good for your recovery (and that shower really is something special after having a baby!).
Your medical team will give you medication to manage the pain following your surgery. Be honest about your pain, and take the medication you need. You’ve had major surgery, and it’s okay to get some pain relief.
You’ll be wearing pads for a while after your baby’s born. Normal postpartum bleeding, or lochia, happens regardless of a vaginal or C-section birth.
Because your abdominal muscles were cut during your delivery, it’s especially important to be gentle on yourself in early recovery. Don’t lift anything heavier than your baby. Minimize your use of stairs (that might mean choosing whether you’ll spend the day upstairs or downstairs). You might want or need to brace your incision with your hand or a pillow when you sneeze, cough, or laugh. A postpartum belly band may offer support.
Don’t rush to get back to your usual routine. It can take 6-8 weeks to recover. Walks may be a smarter move than strenuous exercise. Concentrate on resting, eating well, bonding with your baby, and gently getting back to regular activity.
Call your doctor if you notice any of the following symptoms:
- Redness, swelling, pus, or pain at the incision site
- Bad-smelling discharge from your vagina
- Heavy vaginal bleeding
- Red or swollen legs
- Difficulty breathing
Physically, you may feel mostly back to normal a few months after your C-section. Your scar may still be puffy or deeply colored at this point. As time goes on, it will most likely flatten and fade to a closer match to your skin. Your scar may itch or twinge as nerves heal, even months after your baby is born.
It’s important to take stock emotionally after your baby is born. Many mothers don’t initially plan to have a C-section, and it’s normal to experience a range of emotions. Talking to your partner about your feelings can help. If negative emotions aren’t going away, or are strong enough to interfere with your day, talk to your doctor. Postpartum depression is a relatively common experience, and doctors can help connect you with the right resources for healing mentally and emotionally, as well as physically.