What to Expect After the C Section

I’m a big believer in the value of setting the right expectations in order to be able to respond to any given situation in the best way possible. You can imagine then how unpleasant it has been for me to learn that motherhood is basically one lifelong battle between my expectations and reality, and reality is hell bent on winning. Just adding rungs in my ladder to Heaven right?

For anyone who’s planning a C Section though, the good news is you can get a fairly decent idea of what to expect of the recovery. There are a kajillion articles out there already on blogs and medical websites covering this topic, and I combed through a lot of them as I prepared for mine. If you want to check out the ones I found most helpful, go here, here, and here. I’ll try not to be repetitive, but instead offer what I didn’t get in all that research. Take it all with a grain of salt though. We’re all made differently, so your experience will have its own little… surprises.

At the Hospital:

  1. If you plan to breastfeed, communicate with your doctor that you’d like to have skin to skin as early as possible.

Early skin-to-skin contact is recommended for getting off to a good start with breastfeeding. This doesn’t mean skin-to-skin will happen as soon as baby is born though, and that doesn’t mean you won’t have a good breastfeeding relationship. You won’t be able to hold your baby until you’re stitched up at the earliest, usually about 40 minutes after you have delivered unless there are complications. In the meantime, your husband can offer skin-to-skin, which is a great bonding experience that dads don’t normally have. If you’re delivering at a “baby-friendly” hospital, this would all be standard practice, but if not, communicate that this is what you’d like to do. Be aware that there are occasions where this still won’t be possible, for example if there are any complications with the surgery, or if the baby has to be taken directly to NICU. In those cases, you may have the option to pump and bottle feed which is a good question to bring up during a hospital tour.

  1. You may have an appetite early on, but take eating slow.

When I got out of surgery, all I wanted to eat was a big juicy hamburger. When I got one, I took one bite and couldn’t take another. My mom had even made crawfish etouffee for my first night back at home, and I could barely swallow a few bites. It was too rich! Your stomach will probably be a little funky until that anesthesia wears off completely. Don’t worry though. If you end up breastfeeding, you will know hunger like you never have before and could likely put away two hamburgers at one sitting without thinking twice.

  1. Beyond the threat of addiction, the narcotics can really mess you up.

I was put on oxycontin in the hospital and only took it as needed. (You also get morphine in your IV during the surgery.) So long as I wasn’t moving around a lot, I was perfectly able to manage the pain with prescription-strength ibuprofen and tylenol, but when I needed to move around, I needed the good stuff. What I realized eventually was that oxycontin took all the emotions I was feeling and amplified them, and made me extremely drowsy. Not helpful in my already-amped up, beyond exhausted, overwhelmed-with-all-the-baby-feels postpartum state. There is a push starting to happen within the medical community to find equally effective alternatives to narcotics, so talk to your doctors and nurses about whether something is available if your symptoms are similar to mine. In any case, don’t try to diminish the pain you are experiencing, and be honest about your pain levels.

  1. Bring a heating pad and your nursing pillow.

Hospital beds are AWFUL! I got an incredibly painful crick in my neck during my two-night stay even with all those pain meds, and that stupid pain lasted over a week. As if I needed one more thing to hurt. Once I got out the heating pad, it went away. Having your nursing pillow on hand as well will help make sure your baby doesn’t lay on your incision as you both learn the new skill of breastfeeding. It’s also helpful to have so the lactation consultant can help you with proper positioning while you’re in the hospital. The kind I liked best can be found in a previous post here.

At Home:

  1. Get a belly band!

Before the C section, I scoffed at the idea of getting a belly band. As far as I knew, they existed purely for vanity reasons, and I refused to conform to society’s ideas of what my body should look like. I just had a kid for pete’s sake, and I was ok with looking like I did, thank you very much! Except I didn’t consider that a huge incision in my gut would make me feel like I was splitting in half anytime I tried to stand unless I had reinforcement around my middle preventing that from happening. Fortunately, a nurse told me told me of this fact and sent me home with a freebee, but it wasn’t great. Shop around for a good one ahead of time that will stay smooth under clothes. 

  1. You will get the shakes when coming off of the anesthesia.

And when I say the shakes, I mean at times it’ll be full-body convulsing. This will probably start in the hospital, but mine lasted for a week. Maybe more – those early weeks are still fuzzy. I mainly experienced this anytime there was a temperature change, ie when I’d get out of bed and get back in. The shaking wouldn’t stop unless my husband would wrap me in a bear hug to transfer body heat, or I turned my heating pad up as high as it would go.

  1. Make sure whatever seat/bed you spend your time in has good back support.

You’ll learn pretty quickly just how often you use your abdominal muscles, and just how much they are out of commission. That couch you used to love to sink into is now your most painful nightmare, as you probably found out at the end of your pregnancy anyway. Make sure that the seat you use doesn’t require much effort in order to get up, meaning it needs to be something cushy but with really good back support. A boat load of sturdy pillows or one of these can sometimes be all you need.

  1. Set up a Meal Train to coordinate all the meal offers.

This was a lifesaver! We had many friends who were practically begging us for when they could bring a meal and meet the babe. Using the Meal Train website made it effortless to communicate dietary needs, directions to our apartment, ideal time for delivery, and we could include places where we liked to get take-out for those who wanted to help but couldn’t bring a meal. It took all the work out of coordination. It was also a great way to have friends stop by for short visits to meet the baby in a way that wasn’t overwhelming.

  1. Plan for someone to help with older children for at least the first 4-6 weeks after surgery.

You’re not allowed to lift anything heavier than your newborn for 6 weeks after the surgery unless your doctor clears you sooner (unlikely) or you decide to risk it (unwise). Meaning any other kids are SOL on getting picked up by mom for any reason at any time. This can become problematic with any child who isn’t self sufficient, ie still eating in a high chair, still sleeping in a crib, etc. If you’ve had an emergency C section and don’t live near family, don’t panic! A lot of employers nowadays grant paternity leave, and even if not, most companies are understanding of dads needing to take a few days vacation/ sick days to hold down the fort until something can be arranged.

  1. Inform yourself on the amount of time needed to recover before trying to conceive another child again.

I have heard all kinds of different numbers from women with different doctors on how long to wait after a C section before trying to conceive again. Some doctors have told these women they have to wait two years! Doctors in two different practices told me that 9 months between surgery and conception is the minimum requirement to safely attempt a VBAC (if that is desired), while a year is ideal. Still every woman is different, and I’ve heard of many women having successful VBACs with shorter timelines between C section and conception. If you’re having trouble finding a doctor who will support your desire to attempt a VBAC, visit the ICAN website to see if you have a chapter that meets near you, or plug into Facebook groups to connect with other women who can share their experiences and resources. Also, breastfeeding is not birth control!! Even exclusively breastfeeding women have had their fertility return as early as 6 weeks postpartum.

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