Delivering by Caesarean Section (C-Section)
What is a Cesarean Section?
A C-section, or caesarean section, is the delivery of a baby through a surgical incision in the mother’s abdomen and uterus. In some circumstances, a C-section is scheduled in advance. In others, the surgery is needed due to an unforeseen complication. If you or your baby is in imminent danger, you’ll have an emergency C-section.
If you know you’re going to have your baby by caesarean, it’s called a planned or elective caesarean. Your doctor will schedule it to happen before your labour begins. A planned caesarean may be offered to you if:
- Your baby is in a bottom-down, or breech, position.
- Your baby is in a sideways (transverse) position, or keeps changing his position (unstable lie).
- You have a low-lying placenta (placenta praevia).
- You have an infection, such as herpes or HIV that could be passed on to your baby if you give birth vaginally.
If you weren’t planning to have a caesarean, your operation will be described as an unplanned or emergency caesarean.
Although they’re often called emergency caesareans, most unplanned caesareans are not immediately life-threatening. They may happen if:
- You were planning a caesarean, but your waters broke, or you went into labour before the operation.
- You were intending to give birth vaginally, but your labour does not progress or is very slow.
- You or your baby developed a serious complication during pregnancy or labour, but it’s not immediately life-threatening to either of you. You should have a caesarean within about 30 minutes to 75 minutes of the decision, depending on the complication.
- You or your baby had a complication during pregnancy or labour that was immediately life-threatening. Your baby should be born as quickly as possible, and you should have your caesarean within 30 minutes or less of the decision, depending on the complication.
While C-sections are extremely safe, very rarely, complications happen. For Mom these can include reactions to medications or anaesthesia used during the procedure, blood loss and infection (which is why it’s so important to carefully follow your doctor’s post-op care instructions). Blood clots in the legs, pelvic organs or lungs also occasionally occur; while your doctor will take steps to prevent this from happening, it helps to walk after surgery as soon as you’re able. Surrounding organs (like your bowel or bladder) can be injured and require additional surgery to fix.
Babies born by C-section are at a higher risk of transient tachypnoea, rapid breathing caused by leftover fluid in the lungs. While the condition sounds frightening, it usually only lasts for a day after delivery and then goes away on its own. If the surgery was performed before week 39 of pregnancy, your baby may be at greater risk of breathing problems if her lungs aren’t fully mature — but your doctor will be keeping a very close eye on her and treating any suspected problems while you’re in the hospital.
While you may be eager to start caring for your precious new-born, the physical and emotional recovery after a C-section takes longer than it does after a vaginal birth. You can expect to spend around three to four days in the hospital, and it will take at least four to six weeks at home before you’ll feel back to normal.
So remember, slow and steady wins this race. And that’s probably exactly what your doctor ordered: to scale back your activity so that you don’t put undue strain on your incision and your energy level. Ignoring that advice will only lead to a longer C-section recovery, so keep these strategies in mind over the next few weeks to cope with the pain and speed recovery:
Expect your scar to be sore for at least a few weeks, so forgo holding and carrying most things — except the baby. When cuddling or nursing (but not lifting and carrying, yet), place the baby on a pillow over your incision to protect the tender area.
Keep an eye on your incision.
Speed the healing of your C-section incision by keeping the wound clean and wearing loose tops and pants that don’t chafe your belly. Itching and pulling sensations around the incision as well as numbness are all normal and will pass. If you have a fever, feel a lot of pain, or the wound gets red or oozy, call your doctor since these could be signs of infection. A small amount of clear fluid discharge is usually normal, but report it to your doctor anyway.
Take the pain-relieving drugs your doctor provides immediately after the surgery. If you’re nursing, don’t worry — the drugs won’t pass into your colostrum. When your milk comes in, use the painkillers recommended.
Take off the pressure.
Gas build-up can lead to discomfort by causing your intestine to put pressure on the incision, and anaesthesia can slow activity in your bowels. So try to avoid it by steering clear of foods or drinks that you know make you gassy. And if you do feel indigestion, try lying on your left side or back while drawing up your knees, holding your incision site, and taking deep breaths.
Constipation after pregnancy is another symptom that can crop up, so try to relax (no pushing when you’re on the toilet), eat some fibre-rich foods (whole wheat bread, vegetables and fruits) and drink plenty of fluids. Your doctor may prescribe a stool softener or mild laxative if you need it.
Keep healthy snacks and water nearby to maintain your strength and energy
Get moving (in small steps).
You’ll have to wait a few weeks (and until your incision heals) before your Doctor permits workouts. But in the meantime, even when you’re lying down, you can speed recovery by boosting your circulation and muscle tone. For eg, regularly flex your feet, stretch your calf muscles, and wiggle your legs around as much as you can. When you feel up to it, stroll around your house slowly (it will help with gas and constipation too). As soon as you feel tired, sit down. Build up your stamina by walking around for as long as you’re comfortable each day, and head outside to walk when you feel ready. Soon enough, you’ll be back on your feet for good.
THE BOTTOM LINE
Even though it’s still considered major surgery, C-sections are usually very safe. It’s also often healthier for you, especially if vaginal delivery is risky. Studies show that having a C-section doesn’t negatively impact your future fertility or how many babies you can have.
In the end, the best birth is the one that’s safest. Any delivery that brings a healthy baby into the world and into your arms is a perfect delivery.