Happy new mom sees her baby for the first time after giving birth by C-sectionEven though a C-section is major surgery and may seem scary, it doesn’t have to be if you’ve got a better understanding of what it entails. So, we made a list of 6 things you should know about giving birth by C-section to put your pregnant mind at ease.

1. What is a Caesarean Section?

With a Caesarean Section (“C-section”), the baby is surgically removed from the mother’s uterus through a small incision. The baby is then taken out through her abdomen (belly). The incision is usually horizontal and low enough that it can be covered up by your bikini bottoms. Sometimes C-sections are done in the event of an emergency, and other times a mother chooses to have a C-section.

2. Why would I need to have a C-section?

Giving birth by C-Section may be planned for a variety of reasons, like:

  • Your baby has settled in a breech or transverse position.
  • You’re carrying more than one baby.
  • Your baby is too big.
  • You have placenta previa.
  • You had a C-Section previously and don’t want to (or can’t) have a vaginal birth (known as VBAC).
  • You have a health issue or infection that might make traditional childbirth difficult or dangerous.

An unplanned, emergency C-Section might happen for reasons such as:

  • The umbilical cord exits the cervix before the baby.
  • The baby’s heart rate is dropping
  • The baby’s health is in danger.
  • Labor isn’t progressing.

3. How can I get ready for a C-Section?

In the U.S., 32.1% of live births were cesarean deliveries in 2021, according to the March of Dimes. This means you have about a 1 in 3 chance of having one. So the best way to prepare yourself for giving birth by C-section is to recognize that you might need to have one.
Ask your doctor any questions you have about the process, and talk to them about what this might look like for you. If you create a birth plan, don’t get very attached to the idea of everything happening exactly as you want it to. Trying to be chill about your birth plan will help you avoid feelings of guilt, anger, or sadness if your baby’s birth doesn’t happen as planned..

4. What happens during a C-section?

You’ll be given an epidural or spinal block and remain awake during the surgery. After it takes effect, you’ll be numb from the waist down. While you might feel some tugging, you’ll have no feeling during and for a few hours after.
A spinal block or epidural is the preferred method of pain relief for most cesarean deliveries, according to the American Society of Anesthesiologists, because the mother can still actively participate in her baby’s birth. Plus, the baby is exposed to the lowest amount of medication. If you’re having an emergency cesarean delivery, you may receive general anesthesia, which makes you unconscious during the surgery.
If you already had an epidural during labor and then require a C-section, your anesthesiologist will typically inject a much stronger drug through the same catheter to provide increased pain relief.
During the C-section, your surgeon will:

  • Make a horizontal cut of about four to six inches in your lower abdomen.
  • Make another incision in the uterine wall
  • Open the amniotic sac and remove your baby.
  • Cut the umbilical cord and remove the placenta.
  • Close your uterus and abdomen with stitches that will later dissolve.

Your support person can sit near your head and hold your hand during the C-section. If everything goes smoothly, the surgery takes about an hour. Barring any complications, you’ll see your baby raised overhead, Simba-style, in about 10 to 15 minutes.
After your baby is delivered, the surgeon will carefully stitch up the various layers of the abdomen. This meticulous stitching takes longer than the delivery, so it accounts for most of the procedure time.

5. What’s recovery from a C-Section like? How long does it take?

Your recovery time will be longer than that of vaginal delivery. In addition, you’ll have to follow some physical restrictions during the weeks-long healing process. Your medical provider will tell you how to properly care for your wound postoperatively, as well as talk to you about signs of infection and how to prevent it.
Shortly after the C-section, you might feel cold and to get the shakes. You’ll receive pain medication and stool softeners to help with constipation. Soon, a nurse will come by to get you up and walking. Doctors will have closed your incision with either stitches or staples. If you have staples, they’ll be removed within a few days.
If you feel the need to cough, sneeze, or laugh, apply gentle counter pressure to your incision with a pillow to help with the pain. To avoid rubbing on your incision, wear maternity pants or other loose-fitting clothing.
Most women recover from giving birth by C-Section in 6-8 weeks. But, but of course, everyone’s different.

6. What should I avoid doing as I recover from a C-Section?

For at least 6 weeks, avoid:

  • Driving (this one is tricky)
  • Vacuuming (this one’s the easiest to avoid!)
  • Lifting anything heavier than your baby
  • Strenuous exercise
  • Swimming or baths
  • Sex (you’re healing from major surgery and more likely to get an infection, so you’ll have to Netflix without the chill for a few weeks).

What if I Feel Bad About Giving Birth by C-Section?

Some women who delivered via c-section may feel disappointed in themselves that they couldn’t deliver “the normal way” (through vaginal birth). Their partners may feel this way, too.
If you feel angry, depressed, or disappointed after having a C-section, remember that having a healthy baby is more important than how the baby is born. In addition, asking your doctor to explain why you needed a C-section can help you understand why it was best for you and your baby.
It’s good to remember that you can’t control everything. Sometimes unexpected events during labor make a C-section the safest choice.
Try not to worry if you get emotional after your baby’s birth. It’s totally normal! Some of your emotions may be due to hormonal changes many women experience after having a baby.
Make sure to share how you feel with your partner, family, friends, or provider. Tell your provider if you have feelings of sadness or anger that don’t go away after two weeks.
If this article helped you, then you’ll love these:
Counseling and Therapy During Pregnancy
“Why Should I Make a Birth Plan?”
How to Get Ready for Labor Induction

Editor’s Note: This article was originally published on October 10, 2018, and has since been updated.