Mother and Baby

12 things you need to know about a C-section

Section: Labour & Birth

You've seen loads of C-sections on One Born Every Minute, you might have read about them in your pregnancy book, and your midwife should have told you the facts and figures. But there are some things about C-sections that you won't find out about until you go through it yourself. 

Whether a C-section is in your birth plan, or it happens as an emergency because of complications during your labour, here are a few things to remember and hopefully to alleviate any fears you have, based on real experiences of M&B mums. 

1. It might come as a surprise 

Having a C-section might have been the last thing on your birth plan, but sometimes nature doesn't take its course and you have to bow to the expertise of the doctors and midwives around you.

My birth plan was to have a water birth, I had studied hypnobirthing, it was going to be a calm affair and I had refused to even listen to anything about a C-section as I was so determined.

However, you'll find out once baby arrives that you have to work to his timescale, not yours, and you'll be out of control for a long time once he's in charge - and that might be the same for your labour. In the end my waters broke at 35 weeks and 29 hours later I had to have an emergency C-section as the risk of infection was too high so many hours after my waters had broken. So despite my best efforts, nature didnt work with my meticulous plan.

Sometimes you have to relinquish control, listen to the doctors and let them help your baby arrive. 

2. You'll probably have contractions while they're giving you anaesthetic

This could be the hardest part, mentally and physically. If you have an emergency C-section, you might be continuing to have contractions right up to the point of being given anaesthetic - and this can be really hard to cope with.

The pain might be really strong, but you know that it's unnecessary pain as the contractions won't ultimately lead to birth. But keep breathing through - keep concentrating on the thought that your baby will soon be with you. 

3. You'll feel a lot

The process of cutting you open and getting your baby out is weird - that's the one word that every C-section mum I know has used to describe how the anaesthetic works. You can't feel anything but at the same time can feel it all - you're completely numb and yet can feel the tugging and moving. Weird. There really is no better way to describe it. 

4. You might get the shakes 

One side effect of the anaesthetic might be the shakes. This can last all during the surgery and for an hour or so afterwards. It's like severe shivering and you won't be able to stop it, but it's completely normal and nothing to worry about. 

5. The surgeons are super efficient

Your baby will pop out quite quickly, and you'll be sewn back up within an hour normally. There's no hanging around - which can be strange if it's an emergency C-section and you've been trying to get baby out for hours on end. 

6. You'll be very wobbly

Obviously afterwards you won't be able to move your legs for a while. And once the anaesthetic wears off you'll still be wobbly for ages. Don't try too much too soon - if the nurses suggest a shower, take up their offer of going with you, and then sit on the chair in the shower. This is a whole different type of 'being swept off your feet' to when you met your other half. 

7. You'll be very emotional

This really should go without saying. You've been emotional for the past 9 months and it doesn't stop once baby arrives, however he arrives.

Having a C-section might not have been your plan, but remember what's important is that baby is safe and healthy. Acknowledge how you feel and talk about it to anyone who'll listen - your family, the midwives, or other mums on the ward. 

Some mums say that having a C-section makes you more emotional after birth, and prone to crying more than normal. There might not be any scientific proof behind this, but if you do find yourself feeling emotional, make sure to talk to someone. Whether it's your partner, mum, friends, or support network at the hospital or otherwise, there will be a shoulder for you to cry on somewhere. 

8. Skin to skin is possible

One of my biggest concerns over having a C-section was whether I'd get skin to skin with my new baby. Thankfully, after being whipped off to cut the cord and be checked over, my baby boy came straight back to me to lay on my chest while they sewed me up.

Obviously this depends on how much immediate care your baby needs after birth, but that's the same whether you have a C-section or vaginal birth. 

9. You'll need massive granny pants 

I'm talking massive knickers that you thought only very old ladies wore. You'll want them to go right over your belly. Huge. I've never seen such big pants - nor have I ever been so grateful for such big pants.

Not only do you want the support for your suddenly empty but still pregnancy-sized belly, but your normal knickers will probably sit right on your wound and so be really uncomfortable or painful. So invest in some enormous pants. Those lovely lacy ones can wait a few weeks to return. 

10. You'll be numb for a while 

Every woman's recovery will be different, but expect to be numb around your wound for quite a while. It's a strange feeling and will take some getting used to - now that your pregnancy bump has gone, you might find you still take comfort in rubbing your numb belly where once a wriggly baby was. 

11. Do not do too much once baby arrives

Seriously. Do not try to do everything. Do not try to be superwoman. Do not attempt to go back to normal straight away doing the washing, cleaning, tidying, cooking, or whatever you used to as well as looking after your new baby AND recovering from your C-section.

You've had a big surgical procedure and you need to rest and recuperate. Take up everyone's offer of help and sleep as much as you can. Rest up - your body needs to heal. Pregnancy takes a lot out of your body without the massive strain of surgery. Do not underestimate how much healing this will take. 

12. Do not rush back into exercise 

You'll know your own body and fitness abilities, and you'll know when you feel strong enough to start exercising again. But don't rush it- C-section surgery cuts through a lot of muscle and tissue, and you need to heal. You'll feel like you have no core for a long time. Your fitness will return - but don't strain your body too quickly. 

Often the only advice you'll get from the hospital is not to drive or exercise for 6 weeks, and avoid heavy lifting. Some fitness experts say to leave off proper exercise until 12 weeks after birth. Listen to your body, talk to your midwife or doctor, and don't try too much too soon. 

Read more: All you need to know about having a c-section

Read more: The early labour signs you need to look out for 

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Your waters break

Otherwise known as the moment the sac of amniotic fluid surrounding your baby ruptures. This can happen as an all-in-one gush, or a slow trickle that lasts a few days.
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Heartburn relief

As your bump grows, your baby will push your stomach upwards. This forces acid in your stomach into your windpipe, causing heartburn. In the weeks before giving birth, your baby will drop down into your pelvis, which means you might finally get some relief. 
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You have backache

An ache in your lower back can mean your baby is rotating into the right position for labour. This can take a few days and might be painful. Put your feet up, ask your partner for a backrub and take a hot bath to relieve symptoms. 
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You have a ‘show’

A mucus plug covers your cervix in pregnancy and this may come loose up to a few days before labour starts. A brown, pink or red-tinged stringy or jelly-like discharge, it can come out either in one lump or more gradually over a few days. Find out all you need to know about the mucus plug here. 
Early labour signs Expand Image Early labour signs

Your nipples leak

This can happen throughout the final few weeks of pregnancy, but you might notice it more in the last few weeks before your baby arrives. The milk you’re leaking is colostrum, a nutrient-rich liquid that will nourish your baby until your proper milk comes in a couple of days after the birth. 
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The hormones that help your uterus contract can also sometimes cause diarrhoea in the hours before birth.
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Swollen down below

As your baby moves down into your pelvis, usually around week 37, the increased blow flow to this area can leave your vagina feeling swollen. This is very normal and nothing to worry about, however if you are uncomfortable, try placing an ice pack in a tea towel and resting it on the area.
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Frequent toilet stops

One you're probably used to by now, as your growing bump has been pressing on your bladder for the last few months, but expect those toilet trips to increase in the last few weeks of pregnancy as your baby moves into your pelvis. 
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Sudden burst of energy

It's not one many women complain about, but it's usual to feel a sudden burst of energy those few days before labour stars. Make the most of it while you can! 
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Walking differently

As your pelvis widens to get ready for birth, this can often affect the way you walk. 
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The first thing to be sure of is that these are not Braxton Hicks, which feel like period pains and will come and go, or contractions, where the pain will get more intense and for longer as time goes on. Remember you don't always have to go to hospital as soon as the contractions start - established labour is usually when you have three, one-minute contractions in the space of 10 minutes. That said, always ring your midwife if you are unsure. 

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