By Ali Weatherford

Last week’s article was about breastfeeding after a cesarean birth. This is really important information because about 1 in 3 births are cesareans in the United States. It is a very common surgery, but most people go into it without much understanding about what it might be like and might feel overwhelmed and stressed before, during, and after the birth because they are unprepared.

It’s true that most people feel overwhelmed about birth regardless of how the baby gets out! Birth preparation is very important for everyone, but it often leaves out the full experience of cesarean birth. In my standard birth classes, I don’t get to spend enough time talking about cesarean birth. The majority of people DO have a vaginal birth, so it makes sense to put most of the focus there. Also, even more people PLAN to have a vaginal birth and a lot of those people don’t really want to think about cesareans. It can feel too overwhelming and even scary. But I do teach a separate two-hour long class about cesarean birth, because there is so much information that I think expectant parents should have.

Planning for a Cesarean

Most often, people come to this class because they find out ahead of time that they will need to have a cesarean. Sometimes people who are planning a vaginal birth come because they want to feel fully prepared for all the possibilities, but that’s a lot more rare. I haven’t personally experienced cesarean birth, but I’ve been able to hear the stories of so many people who have, and it’s clear that there are some things that could have helped them have a better experience if they had been informed and prepared.

The same is true for cesarean recovery. Preparation and information can make all the difference in how the experience goes for you and how you FEEL about it.

Cesarean Options

First, it’s essential to understand that if a cesarean becomes the path that your birth needs to take, it does not mean that you no longer have options.

Just as in vaginal birth, there is a lot of variation in how a cesarean is done, how a cesarean is experienced, and how people recover. There are many different ways to do the surgery, and all doctors are different. Hospital facilities are different, and may or may not offer certain options. What matters is that you know what the options are for your cesarean birth so that you can request and choose the best ones for you and your family.

It’s also important that you know what is happening along the way and can understand the needs you and your baby might have for health, safety, and recovery. If you can take a C-section class to help you prepare, it might help you feel more confident and less worried.

Recovering from a C-section

While cesareans are common and even routine, they are far from simple. A C-section is major abdominal surgery. It’s critical to treat it as your birth and not just a medical procedure, but also to recognize that it’s a big deal for your body. When you can go into it with that mindset, you will take good care of your body afterward and hopefully have a complete and problem-free recovery.

Remember to be very gentle with yourself, and recognize that if there are problems with your recovery, you did have major surgery! Understand that everyone’s recovery journey will look different.

Take it slowly and ask for help. Having supportive people around to help you with daily living after a cesarean is a critical piece of a healthy recovery. Getting the rest that you need and having the time to take care of your healing body are key to recuperation.

I also love to recommend seeing a pelvic floor physical therapist. These providers can help you prepare to have a great recovery and also help you if you have problems later. Don’t think that you have to be doomed to long-term or permanent pain and discomfort because you had surgery. There are things that can help. If you have trouble accessing pelvic floor physical therapy or just prefer to learn on your own, I love to recommend this online course.

It’s also important to prepare yourself emotionally. No one wants to have a “bad” childbirth experience. Everyone’s definition of good or bad is different. Some people have wonderful cesarean births and are able to think about, talk about, and even share the birth story with others. Other times, the experience feels very stressful and is something they would rather forget. What makes the difference? In a lot of cases, just preparing for a cesarean makes all the difference. Even if your plan is to have a vaginal birth, can you consider what a cesarean might be like? Can you think about the options and have a Plan B birth plan? When you can set up the expectation that a cesarean is possible and develop some informed preferences, you might be better able to stay present during your birth experience if a cesarean does become necessary. When you can stay present and continue to feel like you are participating in the process, you will be more likely to have good feelings about the birth.

During the Cesarean Birth

During the birth, you’ll benefit when you can shift gears and consciously decide to let go and follow this new plan. This is how your baby will come to be with you, and it will help if you can accept that peacefully. This is your birth story now, and you want to embrace the experience mindfully. Here are some things that might help you achieve this:
You can keep your focus on the fact that you will meet your baby very soon (cesareans are fast!).
You can focus on the fact that you are receiving great care and support so you will both be safe.
Rather than focusing on the experience as a surgery while it’s happening, recognize that THIS IS BIRTH! There are some differences from a vaginal birth, but there are also a lot of similarities. It’s great to keep the focus on the similarities.

  • Accept comfort and encouragement from your partner and/or doula during the birth. Keeping your focus there might help you too. You are receiving love and support.
  • Have other comforting things to focus on. You might like to have music or other soothing sounds playing on a speaker or headphones, or you might like to have your baby’s ultrasound picture to look at for comfort and motivation! Having some essential oils with nice smells on a tissue to focus on can sometimes help with relaxation as well.
  • Some people like to talk to their babies or sing a lullaby. They can hear you, and babies can recognize their parents’ voices. It might be soothing for both of you.
  • Other people like to visualize being home with their babies. Picturing all the snuggles and good moments you are about to have can remind you of why you are there.
  • Remind yourself that your body has done a lot of amazing things. Just because a cesarean became necessary does not mean that your body has failed. Things just happen sometimes. Your body did a lot of work to get this far, and it will continue to do so after. It’s important to appreciate and nurture your amazing body.

A Positive Birth Experience

Having a positive birth experience is associated with better recovery, lower rates of postpartum depression, better breastfeeding, better parenting, and better relationships. That’s a lot to put on one experience, but it is a very big experience for everyone. A positive birth experience does not mean it HAS to go a certain way, it just means that you interpret it as positive. For most people, that means they were prepared for detours and were able to shift gears quickly, and they felt supported and heard by their care team.

It’s worth spending some time and focus on that emotional preparation. When you’re prepared, you are less likely to get swept up into a birth experience that you did not plan. That can feel very chaotic or even scary. Through preparation, you do have the power to have a positive birth experience regardless of the directions you end up taking to get to the finish line.

Watch the video below with Dr. Rebecca Maidansky of Ladybird PT clinic in Austin, TX to hear more about preparation for and recovery after a cesarean. And use the discount code BFSUCCESS for 25% off the Managing C-section Scar Pain & Recovery course.

Our articles are not intended or implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment.

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