What I Didn’t Know About Having A C-Section Until I Had One

Here’s my story: The whole time I was pregnant, our plan was for my husband Dan to deliver our baby. He was in his final year of an ER residency at the hospital where we were planning on delivering, he had already helped deliver babies there, and my awesome OB-GYN thought it would be amazing for him to deliver our child.

Her plan was to sit nearby in the rocking chair while he delivered, just in case he needed any advice. Then my amniotic sac (aka “water”) developed a slow leak without me going into labor. About ten hours after it had started leaking, I still hadn’t had a single contraction and I was only 1 cm. dilated, so I was hooked up to a Pitocin drip. After a whole night on Pitocin (and 24 hours after “the leak” began,) I was only 4 cm. dilated, my son was face up, his head was not at all engaged in my pelvis, and his heart rate started dropping after each contraction.

So, we talked with my OB, and we all decided that a C-section was the best option. (When my OB delivered our son, she realized that his umbilical cord had been trapped between his head and my pelvis, so if his head had moved down, it could’ve clamped off his cord and become an emergency.)

I hadn’t even bothered to pay attention when they talked about C-sections in our childbirth class, because I knew I wasn’t going to have one.

Having gone through C-section denial myself, here are some things I didn’t know that you might want to know if you’ve just had a C-section, if you’re having a scheduled C-section, or if like me, you’re totally sure that you’ll never need a C-section. You know — just in case.

1. Walk, walk, walk. 

When I shared the news of my son’s birth on Facebook, I also shared that I had a C-section. I got a few messages from awesome women in my life (at least one of whom — an old friend from summer camp — I hadn’t spoken with in years) who had had C-sections and offered advice and encouragement. The one thing they all advised was to walk as much as I could, so I started walking (up and down the halls) the day after Lucas was born, and I think it helped a lot (not that I have anything to compare it to, but still). As with anything else, listen to your body and don’t overdo it.

2. Take the stool softener. 

From what I’ve heard, pooping the first time after you have a child is always a pain, literally, whether you delivered vaginally or by C-section. But if you have a C-section, you have the added problem that many pain medications can make you constipated. I was on Percocet after my C-section, and that stuff stops you up like you wouldn’t believe. It was kind of awful. So any time they offer you a stool softener or a laxative in the hospital, take it! (And if they don’t offer you one, ask for it.) Drink prune juice, mix fiber in your drink (if your doctor says it’s OK), eat tons of fresh fruits and veggies, and take the stool softener. I cannot stress that strongly enough. For me, constipation was the worst part of my recovery. Moving on from the fact that I just told everyone I couldn’t poop….

3. Stay in the hospital for as long as they’ll let you. 

I know, I know — you just want to get home to your own bed and your own clothes and your own nursery that you spent the last nine months decorating. But those things will still be there in a day or two, and in the meantime, you should  take advantage of the fact that you can have healthy meals delivered to your bed and a few extra pairs of hands to help with diaper changes. Remember, you’re recovering from a major surgery and more help is a good thing. Most insurance companies cover four days in the hospital after a C-section, so if you can get it, take it.

4. Sleep as much as you can. 

All new moms are told to sleep when the baby sleeps, but this is especially important when you’re recovering from a major surgery on top of new-mom sleep deprivation. The laundry will wait. The dishes will wait. Go take a nap.

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5. You still can’t wear tampons. 

Maybe I’m alone in this, but I kind of thought that the whole “no sex or tampons for at least six weeks” thing was just because your vagina goes through a traumatic experience during childbirth and needs some recovery time. Actually, it’s because you still have an open wound where the placenta was connected to your uterus. So, putting anything into your vagina is a no-no while this wound is healing because you run the risk of accidentally introducing bacteria into your uterus and causing an infection. The point is, even if you deliver by C-section instead of vaginally, you’re still going to have to use pads for your postpartum bleeding. Sorry. And while we’re kind of on the subject….

6. Sex still might hurt for a while. 

This is something I neither knew nor expected. I knew that sex was painful for the first few times if you had a vaginal delivery, but I assumed that it was just because, you know, you had pushed a baby out of your vagina. But sex was still painful for me the first few times after having a C-section (and I don’t mean it was painful at the site of my incision, if you catch my drift.) I’m guessing it was because of hormones (and my son was breastfed, which causes you to be extra dry.) Use lots of lube, and take it slowly. It gets better.

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7. It’s okay to feel sad, but if you’re too sad for too long, talk to your doctor. 

Some women feel some sadness after having an unplanned C-section. If you had a picture in your mind of how your baby was going to be born and then circumstances outside of your control resulted in an unplanned c-section, it’s normal to feel a little disappointed. I was fortunate in that I didn’t deal with any feelings of sorrow over my C-section after my son was born (although I did cry when we all realized I’d need to have one,) but I know that some women do feel sad over it, and that is totally normal. My concern is that if it seems to you that your excessive feelings of sadness, guilt, or anger have a legitimate cause, you might be less likely to recognize if they’re actually symptoms of postpartum depression. So, if your feelings of sadness don’t go away or if they get worse, talk to your doctor about them.

8. Ask for (or accept) help. 

This one can be tough, but things will go much more easily if you do it! If someone asks if there’s anything they can do to help, say yes! And if they don’t offer, don’t feel bad asking for specific favors from close friends or family members. If you’re breastfeeding, no one else can take over the feedings (obviously), but that doesn’t mean they can’t change diapers, do some laundry, or rock your baby while you take a nap. If your neighbor’s planning a trip to the grocery store, ask if she can pick up a few items for you too. The women from my bible study brought me meals for two weeks, and I can’t even tell you how wonderful it was not to have to think about getting or making food while I was recovering.

9. You might have to buy more pants. 

I forget how long it was before I could fit into my pre-pregnancy pants, but even when they fit well, I still couldn’t wear my jeans comfortably. The waistbands on all of my prepregnancy jeans were positioned at just the wrong height so that they were fine while I was standing, but when I sat, they pressed right into my C-section scar. The scar was tender if something rubbed or pressed against it for at least nine months after my son was born, and I had given up on ever wearing my prepregnancy jeans again and purchased all new jeans with higher waistbands by the time the sensitivity finally went away. Now I have tons of jeans, so I guess that wasn’t necessarily bad.

10. It gets better. 

At first, simple things like laughing are going to hurt. You’re going to be tired and sore for a while. But it gets better. I promise. And yes, your scar will fade a whole lot. On the days (or the nights, especially the nights) that it’s really tough, it doesn’t hurt to tell yourself out loud: “This is temporary. It will get better.” Then send an email or a text to a fellow mom who can relate, and tell her you need some encouragement. (If you don’t know who to email, my email is bejaneum@gmail.com.) It gets better. Pinky swear.

And now, a few bonus tips if you haven’t had a C-section yet.

11. Daddy might be able to do skin-to-skin contact with baby if you can’t.

Skin-to-skin contact — also called Kangaroo Care — is when a newborn baby is placed naked (or wearing only a hat and diaper) on mom’s bare skin, and it’s great for newborns. (You can read more about why it’s good for them here.) I was really determined that I would do skin-to-skin contact with my baby as soon as he was born, so one of the first things I thought of when we realized a C-section was a distinct possibility was that I wouldn’t be able to have skin-to-skin contact right away since I’d be getting sutured closed. So, my husband asked if he could do it instead.

My OB had the nurses bring him scrub pants and a hospital gown, which he wore with the opening in the front, and he was able to hold Lucas against his bare chest while I was still on the operating table. Since then, my OB has recommended it to all of her C-section patients, and she even wrote a letter about it that was published in a medical journal. (I have a copy in Lucas’s baby book.) If you’ve found out that you’re going to need a C-section, ask your OB about this ahead of time. (You can even mention that it was suggested in the May 2013 issue of OBG Management if you really want to sound like you’ve done your homework on the subject.)

12. Bring one or two pairs of long, comfy socks to the hospital. 

Because you’ll likely be staying in bed for 18 to 24 hours after your C-section, they’ll probably put these plastic things on your lower legs that inflate and deflate to massage your legs and prevent blood clots. When they first put them on, you’ll be like, “Ahh! Leg massage! This is so luxurious!” And then after ten minutes, you’ll be asking the nurse to please, please, pretty please take them off just for one minute, please! Plastic against your bare skin just feels sticky and sweaty and uncomfortable. I imagine that soft cotton knee-high socks would help a lot. (I say “I imagine” because I didn’t know about the plastic massagers of misery and was stuck trying to bargain with the nurse that if she took them off for just five minutes, I swore I would flex my legs the entire time and also use sheer force of will to prevent blood clots.)

Moms, have any other tips? Please feel free to add them in the comments!

For more from Bethany Neumeyer visit I Was Promised More Naps, Facebook and Instagram.

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