A c-section (caesarean) is an alternative way of delivering a baby as opposed to the more common vaginal delivery (natural birth). A caesarean section is more invasive when compared to a natural birth as it is a surgical procedure which requires anaesthetic.
Having a c-section can have a big physical impact on a mother so it is important that you are fully aware of what is involved with a c-section, how long recovery might take, and some of the possible side effects of having a caesarean.
Through the below article we are going to look into all aspects of a c-section, from what a caesarean is and it's history, to recovery times, the dos and don'ts after a c-section and more...
What is a C-Section (Caesarean Section)?
A c-section (stands for caesarean/cesarean section) is an operation to deliver a baby through a cut made in the mother’s abdomen (just above the bikini line).
Most c-sections are emergency cases and are used as a last resort if a vaginal birth is not feasible. However, c-sections are sometimes planned during an earlier stage of a pregnancy if a vaginal birth is deemed too risky; this is called an elective c-section. Though your doctor will only suggest a c-section if necessary, you can also request an elective c-section yourself if it is not for medical reasons. Whether it is to do with anxiety about giving birth or other personal reasons, your doctor will take you through the procedure and all the risks involved before you make your decision. You may also have the opportunity to discuss your worries about natural childbirth with a healthcare professional too.
Some of the reasons a mother may need to have a caesarean birth are:
- The baby is in a breech positions (feet first) and the doctor or midwife cannot turn the baby by gentle pressure applied to the belly
- The mother has a low-lying placenta (placenta praevia)
- The mother has pregnancy-related high blood pressure
- The mother has certain infections such as genital herpes or untreated HIV
- The baby needs to be delivered immediately because it is not getting enough oxygen or nutrients
- The mother has previously had a c-section
- The mother is carrying multiples (twins)
If you need to have a c-section, you will be given either a spinal or epidural anaesthetic which will numb your lower body while you can remain awake to meet your new baby, however, a screen will be placed in front of you so you do not have to watch the procedure.
A cut will be made in your tummy and uterus above your bikini line which is about 10-20cm long and your baby will be delivered within 10-15 minutes. The doctor will hand you your baby straight away so you can hold them. Meanwhile, you will be given an injection of oxytocin which will help to reduce blood loss and help the womb contract after your baby is born. Your wound will then be stitched up with either dissolvable stitches, traditional stitches or staples that would need to be removed after a few days. According to the NHS, this procedure usually takes 40-50 minutes in total.
The origin of the c-section is a bit unclear, but the procedure has been carried out for hundreds and hundreds of years, if not longer, and is mostly considered a safe procedure.
What Happens After You Have a C-Section?
After a caesarean operation you will be moved from the operating table and onto a bed, all the while being able to keep skin-to-skin contact with your new baby. You will be moved onto a small ward where you can rest and where a midwife will help you find a comfortable position to breastfeed your baby.
In the time after your operation you will have a midwife or nurse to do the following:
- Give you a drip in your arm to ensure you are getting enough fluids and nutrients until you are ready to eat and drink – which you can usually do as soon as you feel ready
- Check that your anaesthetic is wearing off
- Monitor your breathing, blood pressure, wound dressing and if you need any more or less pain relief
- Give you compression stockings to reduce chances of blood clots
- Check how much vaginal bleeding you have and if your maternity pad needs changing
- Put in a catheter to drain the urine from your bladder
How Long Does it Take to Recover After a C-Section?
The time it takes to recover from a c-section can vary greatly depending on a few factors. Most guides suggest it will take 4-6 weeks to recover fully, but when it comes to going back to activities such as sex and exercise, it could take 6-8 weeks before you are ready, maybe even longer. Many expecting mothers have concerns about how long it will take to get back on their feet after a caesarean, but you should know that each person is different and may recover more quickly or more slowly than the next. The most important thing is to make sure you are taking care of yourself as well as your baby. If your body is getting what it needs it will certainly heal faster.
Snugglebundl: Great For Helping C-Section Recovery
The Do’s and Don’ts After a C-Section?
It is normal to want to slip into your pre-birth routine and try to get back to normal life after your baby is born. Let’s be honest, no one likes to feel restricted or unable to do the things they enjoyed or could do easily before their c-section or pre-pregnancy; but taking things slowly and allowing your body to recover at its own pace will be the healthiest and quickest way for you to get back to your normal self. As such there are some things you definitely should and shouldn’t be doing when recovering from a c-section.
After a c-section you should:
- Relieve Pain: Your doctor should advise you on what pain relief to use in the weeks after your caesarean. The most common painkillers used for c-sections are ibuprofen and paracetamol which are both readily available in supermarkets and pharmacies.
- Take Everything Slowly: In the weeks after your baby arrives, be sure to have a free schedule so you can rest as much as you need to. This not only gives you plenty of time to care for and bond with your new baby but takes off some of the pressure of daily life. You will know when you are ready to get back to your regular physical and social activities because you will be pain free and feel ready and energised to do so.
- Care For Your Wound: Like any surgery, after a c-section you need to ensure you take care of your wound and stitches to avoid infection and fast healing. You can do this by making sure you keep the area dry and clean, washing the incision daily with soap and water (this can be done when you shower). After cleaning, pat the incision dry gently. If your doctor used incision tape on your wound, don’t take it off, wait for it to fall off on its own. Don’t use any products on your wound without checking with your doctor first.
- Drink Plenty of Water and Eat Well: This is always important and benefits you in your every day life, but vital when you are recovering from a c-section. Keeping hydrated will ensure your body is functioning properly and eating well will give your body all the macronutrients and micronutrients it needs to get back to normal.
- Follow Your Doctor’s Advice: It is also important not to take your doctor’s advice lightly. Don’t do anything you are unsure about without asking your doctor first and always follow their guidance.
- Ask For Help: Caring for a new baby is magical but also really hard. Doing so while recovering from a c-section is even more tricky. Whether it is your partner, friends, family or a professional, don’t be afraid to reach out and say you’re struggling. Getting help caring for your baby, doing your shopping or with tasks around the house will help to reduce your stress levels and give you more time to rest.
After a c-section you should NOT:
- Drive For 4-6 Weeks: There is no hard and fast rule about driving after a c-section, however, you should be aware that your car insurance could be affected by your operation. Doctors usually recommend that you wait until your caesarean scar is healed before you drive so that you can feel in control of the car and make an emergency stop without pain.
- Exercise Too Much Before You Are Ready: After your caesarean, it is important to move around as much as possible, such as going for a short walk or walking around the house. This will ease you back into physical activity without putting too much pressure on your scar and reduces your chances of blood clots. However, you shouldn’t do any strenuous exercise such as running, weightlifting, circuit training, etc until your doctor clears you to do so and you feel well enough to cope with it.
- Have Sex: New mums can have sex when they feel healed and ready to, however, just like a vaginal birth, if you have had a caesarean, your doctor is likely to advise you to wait 4-6 weeks after delivery before you resume having sex.
- Laugh, Cough or Sneeze (Impossible, But Try to Avoid It): Laughing, coughing and sneezing can put a lot of pressure on your stomach muscles and your new stitches. As we all know, it is impossible to avoid doing these things, they are a part of daily life! A good exercise is to put a pillow over your stitches before you laugh, cough or sneeze and press it on to yourself, helping to reduce stress and pain for your abdominal muscles.
- Be Embarrassed About Anything: Recovering from childbirth, whether you have a c-section or a natural delivery is different for each woman and frequently can feel undignified or embarrassing; but for all postpartum mums, it requires self-care, patience and tweaking your usual routine to help your post-birth body heal and adjust to caring for a new baby. Try getting in touch with mothers who have been through a c-section and ask for advice, admit to your partner, friends and family if you are struggling and need help. Muscle and incision pain, urinary incontinence, discharge and vaginal bleeding are all normal for about 4-6 weeks after a c-section even if they feel inconvenient and uncomfortable. Always check with your doctor if your symptoms worsen over time or do not begin to get better after 6 weeks.
Can You Lift Your Baby After A C-Section?
Lifting your baby after a c-section should be perfectly fine, but you should take it easy and if you do feel any pain or discomfort then you should lay your baby back down immediately. You must avoid lifting anything heavier than your baby for the first few weeks after your c-section, as this will put unnecessary strain on your weakened stomach muscles. To take the strain off your stomach, try using a Snugglebundl to lift your baby.
If heavy lifting is not avoided after a c-section it can lead to complications such as bleeding, infection and a longer recovery time.
Lifting your baby after a caesarean can be greatly helped by using a Snugglebundl baby lifting wrap!
How Long Does Pain Last After a C-Section?Pain after a caesarean is unavoidable, after all, not only have you just gone through childbirth but a major surgical procedure too, so the post-operation recovery will require patience above all. After your c-section, you will need to take pain relief for roughly 7-10 days, maybe longer. You may feel soreness and bruising around your scar for some weeks after birth and this usually heals in around 6 weeks. In some cases, a c-section can cause nerve damage which can impair some motor function and cause nerve pain around the edges of your c-section incision, depending on which nerves have been damaged. This type of pain is usually described as hypersensitivity, burning sensation or an electric shock type feeling. This can also come with some numbness around your scar and it is not unusual for this to last for several years. However, nerve damage after a c-section is rarely permanent and the pain can subside within 6-12 weeks, but in some cases this can take longer.
How Do You Know Your C-Section Scar is Healing?
Your caesarean wound should have closed and healed within 6 weeks of delivery. At this point there should be nothing seeping from the wound and you will be left with a scar approximately 4-6 inches long. In the 6 weeks after your c-section, the scar should begin to fade from red to pink and depending on how your body heals, it may feel flat or raised to the touch. The tenderness of the scar should reduce as well.
Here are some of the signs and symptoms you should look out for that may indicate that your c-section scar is not healing. None of these should be present 6 weeks after your c-section:
- Swelling or redness around the wound or abdominal area
- Severe abdominal pain
- Painful urination
- Pus or discharge from the wound
- High fever
If you are still suffering from problems with your scar more than 6 weeks after childbirth, then you should seek advice and information from your doctor.
A lot of mums have their heart set on a vaginal birth for many reasons; it is how the female body is designed to give birth to a baby after all. However, caesareans now account for 1 in 4 of all births in the UK, therefore, there is a likely chance that you could be going down that route. If this is the case for you then try to hold on to your original feelings of excitement, as the thoughts of longer stays in the hospital, a more difficult recovery and a surgical wound can often have expectant parents worrying about the delivery of their child.
Having a c-section doesn’t mean you can’t feel empowered and in control about your birth. If you’re having an elective c-section or if you know you are at a high risk of an emergency c-section, be sure to discuss all of the risks and options you may or may not have with your doctor and do your own research so that you feel prepared for any outcome!