Being told you’re having a caesarean section (whether it’s in advance of labor or smack dab in the middle of it) can feel a little unnerving, despite the fact that it’s pretty common. (32 percent of all deliveries are by C-section!) And while you can’t always choose whether or not to have one, you can arm yourself with the facts well before your delivery date, says Jennifer Hollings, MD, an ob-gyn with the Richmond Community Hospital in Richmond, VA. (She’s had three C-sections of her own.) Here’s what to expect during and after the procedure.
Recovery isn’t as bad as you think
You may envision major scars, searing pain, and being stuck in bed for weeks, but Dr. Hollings says that isn’t the case for most women. In fact, many new moms who’ve had a C-section can start walking around (slowly!) within a day, and can ditch the pain meds after seven to ten days. (That said, Dr. Hollings says to stay on top of those meds the first week so you can focus on all that comes with being a new mom.)
…But getting back to ‘normal’ takes patience
If you’re used to regular exercise and running around on a daily basis, get ready to take it slower the next couple of months. “Your body will not return to normal in one day, two weeks, four weeks, six weeks or even eight weeks, but it should be on a constant path of healing and feeling better every day,” says Dr. Hollings. The good news? That’s license to snuggle your baby hard and take care of yourself. (Dishes, laundry, and cooking can wait.) As for working out? Chat with your doctor, but most women need about eight weeks before they’re cleared to head back to the gym.
A vaginal delivery isn’t out of the cards
Mamas who welcome their first babies via C-section often mourn the fact that they’ll never get to experience a vaginal birth, but Dr. Hollings says that’s not always the case: “C-sections are done for so many reasons — and many of them are usually one-time occurrences.” For example, if you had a C-section because your baby was breech the first time around, it doesn’t mean a second baby in good position has to come out the same way.
Your delivery will still be magical
A C-section might not be the birth experience you had always imagined, but it’ll be amazing regardless. “The entire medical team is devoted to the health of the mother and baby, and they want the mother to have the birth experience that she desires,” says Dr. Hollings. “In most situations, a support person is at the bedside, Mom is able to have that close skin-to-skin contact after delivery and even initiate breastfeeding while still on the operating table.” Some facilities have surgical drapes that allow the mom to see the moment of delivery through a clear window, too.
You shouldn’t feel any pain during surgery
While discomfort is a part of any birth experience, try not to sweat the fact that this one comes with an incision. “You will feel pressure and pulling during delivery, but not pain, we make sure of that,” says Dr. Hollings.
Classes are available
If you know you’ll deliver via C-section, a class geared towards understanding this type of delivery may be a good idea. (Dr. Hollings is in favor of this move, but says it’s not mandatory.) You can check in with your hospital to see if they offer a specific class on C-sections, or sign up for a general childbirth class. (There’s a very good chance C-sections will be covered.) If you skip classes all together, you’ll still be fine—the medical team will guide you through each and every step.
The bottom line: C-sections are common, and sometimes the safest way to get baby out. Know that a sweet, memorable birth is still totally possible. “A C-section may not be exactly what you wanted to happen, but it will still be pretty amazing,” says Dr. Hollings.