Whether or not you plan on having a cesarean, I believe it’s always a good idea for every expectant couple to understand the process and recovery of a c-section. Pregnancy, labor, and birth are entirely unpredictable. We can never guarantee exactly what will happen, and with a cesarean birth rate of 32.1% in the U.S. (roughly one in every three babies is born via c-section), the chances of being one of those couples are high.1
Whatever the case, if you are one of those couples that needs a c-section, you must first remind yourself that cesarean birth is still giving birth! It should still be celebrated because you are bringing life into the world. There is absolutely nothing to be ashamed of.
Whether planned or unplanned, you need to focus on having a great and satisfying birth experience, and you can have that with a cesarean birth! So say goodbye to the haters and shamers. Today, we’re focusing on ways to have a satisfying and positive cesarean birth experience if you find yourself needing one.
Before Your C-Section
1. Be An Active Participant
Just as you would educate yourself about your choices for a vaginal birth, you should do the same with a c-section. You may think there aren’t many options available, but there are! This is your birth, your body, and your baby. The more involved you are in making informed decisions that affect your birth experience, the more likely you will have a satisfying birth, even if it’s not what you expected or planned.
2. Learn to Fully Relax
I’ve been told by many birth professionals that “Birth does not happen between the legs, it happens between the ears.” Birth has a mental aspect, and our minds are incredibly powerful. The more prepared and relaxed we are (mind and body), the better the experience (for our minds and bodies). This applies to both vaginal and cesarean births.
You can incorporate relaxation into your cesarean birth in many different ways. For example, you could bring essential oils, meditate, focus on your breathing and visualizations, have music playing, etc. All of these tools have been proven to be effective when calming anxieties.
3. Hire a Doula
Most people may think that doulas are only helpful to families that have vaginal births. This is not true! A doula can also be a huge help during a cesarean birth for a family. Doulas can comfort, explain, distract, calm, and answer questions for uncertain or nervous couples. They can be a calming presence and stay with you pre-op, during surgery, and post-op. Doctors and nurses are busy doing their critical jobs, so they won’t necessarily have the time to explain each detail and calm your fears. A doula can do that.
For most planned and discussed (non-emergencies) c-sections, your doula should be allowed in the OR with you and your partner. To be safe, tell your OB that you would like your doula to be in the operating room with you and your partner and how important it is for her to be there. Your doctors have the power to make sure that it happens.
4. Pamper Yourself
Before the big day, take the time to treat yourself! Get a manicure and pedicure with your girlfriends, get a blowout, and/or have an amazing dinner with your partner the night before your baby’s birth. Before walking into the hospital, you should feel relaxed, loved, and ready to meet your baby. This is your day, so make it special!
During Your C-section
5. Introduce Yourself
When you arrive at the hospital preparing for surgery, ask to meet each person in the OR before surgery begins. Having this time to meet everyone by name and understanding their role during your baby’s birth is an easy and beautiful way to humanize this (usually) clinical experience. C-sections are performed daily, so this small practice can create a connection and remind the staff that you aren’t just another surgery. You are a woman with feelings and about to meet your baby. Meeting the people around you will make you feel a little more relaxed and safer with you and your baby in their hands.
6. Ask About the Bladder Catheter
Most of the time, the hospital staff will wait to insert the bladder catheter after the epidural or spinal is placed but ask for this just to be safe. Doing this will ensure that your bottom area will be numb, so you won’t be uncomfortable or in pain when they insert the bladder catheter.
7. Ask to Have Your Arms Free
Many women don’t know that when you are having a c-section, the medical staff may strap down both of your arms flat beside you. With the medications you are given, you could have the shakes and/or lift your arms and hit the sanitized screen. Some doctors take precautions and strap down their patients’ arms to prevent any of that from happening. If you are uncomfortable with this, you can ask to have your arms free or at least have one free.
8. Play Music
Did you know that you can create a playlist for your c-section? That’s right! I recommend picking different songs to play before surgery, during surgery, and immediately after birth. Most people prefer calm and/or happy music. I’ve heard some interesting playlists, though, haha! Music is a great distraction to have, and it also can help set the mood and the energy in the room during your baby’s birth. (You may have to bring/wear your earbuds if you can’t have the music played out loud.)
9. Say a Prayer and/or Meditate
Pre-op is usually the time when women become the most anxious and nervous. So before things begin, take a moment with your partner to pray or read some positive birth affirmations or mantras. This can help calm your mind.
10. Take Pictures
I’m all about capturing this special time in your lives. You can never relive those first precious moments again, so having those photos are priceless. You can hire a birth photographer or have your doula help you with pictures. Having a designated person (besides your partner) capture the emotions and love from both of you, welcoming your child into the world is an incredible gift.
11. Do You Want a Play-by-Play or Not?
Some women find it helpful and reassuring to know what is happening during their c-section. Others don’t want to know all the details. Think about it and determine whether you want a play-by-play of what is happening. Most people do not prefer play-by-play since (sometimes) the medical staff can talk about other things that aren’t so warm and fuzzy. For example, what they did that weekend, what other surgeries they have scheduled for the day, their last golf game, etc. Remember, this surgery is routine for them. It’s okay to ask them beforehand to tell you what is happening with your body and baby throughout the procedure. In these moments, it’s all about you!
12. Have the Screen Lowered
I’m not talking about seeing the surgery. Instead, I’m talking about seeing your baby be born once they are lifted up. You don’t want them to immediately whisk your baby to the warmer if they don’t have to. Seeing your little boy or girl is a magical moment, so have them lower the screen a bit!
13. Have Your Partner Participate
Your partner can still participate in the c-section as well. He can talk to you and keep you calm when your nerves are heightened, hold your hand, announce the gender of the baby once the baby is born (if you don’t know it already), and cut the cord. If he wants to cut the cord, the doctor will typically cut it first but leave the cord long so that dad can do a ceremonial cut closer to your baby’s belly. Make sure you remind your OB about these preferences on your birthing day. These choices may be something that you want to add to your cesarean birth plan!
It’s been proven that there are many benefits of immediate skin-to-skin for both the mother and baby.2 As long as you and your baby are doing well and are healthy, the nurse can help place your baby on your chest after delivery so that you can see, smell, snuggle, speak to, and breastfeed your baby. The medical staff may even perform baby’s first exam on your chest if you like.
15. Stitches, Staples or Dermabond
You want to know what your doctor typically uses during the repair of a c-section. For example, some doctors use stitches, others use staples, and some use Dermabond. Do some research to determine which you prefer and discuss this with your doctor beforehand.
After Your C-Section
16. Keep Your Baby With You
If possible, ask your doctor to keep your baby with you immediately after your baby is born during the repair. It’s best if baby can stay with you in the operating room, go with you to your recovery room, and go with you to your postpartum room. When women are separated from their babies and partner, they become upset, anxious, worried, and unsatisfied with their birth experience. If your baby and husband must go to the NICU, have someone stay with you to keep you company and keep you calm.
17. Get Breastfeeding Help
The medication(s) used to keep you numb during your c-section can block the rush of oxytocin, the “love hormone” that women usually experience after vaginal birth. This is why immediate skin-to-skin contact and breastfeeding are essential with a cesarean birth. However, breastfeeding can be challenging right after cesarean surgery. Ask your doula or one of the nurses with breastfeeding knowledge/experience if she can help you find ways to stay comfortable while getting a good latch.
18. Alternate Between Resting & Moving
You just had a baby (and had surgery), so you must get as much rest as possible in the hospital. (Essentially, try to sleep when the baby sleeps.) You also want to start moving slowly as soon as the anesthesia wears off. Move your legs, and once you’re allowed, start walking around to help prevent blood clots. Motion helps get your bowels going and your recovery and eliminates the gas from your abdominal surgery. Just make sure you don’t overdo it and push yourself too hard!
19. Have Extra Help at Home
After giving birth, all mothers should have (especially mothers that had c-sections) extra support and help at home. You just had major abdominal surgery. Now you need to heal and recover while having the demands of caring for a newborn. You also aren’t allowed to lift anything heavier than your baby, not allowed to walk up flights of stairs or drive a car. These are reasons why you need extra help! Whether it’s your family, friends, partner, or a trained postpartum doula, having an extra set of hands to help you take care of yourself, help with the baby, and help around the house is the best gift of all.
I hope these tips help you have the best cesarean birth experience possible. I want all women to be able to look back at their births, whether c-section or vaginal, and be truly happy and satisfied with their babies’ births. If you have any other tips, please share them with us! Happy birthing, mamas!