A caesarean or C-section birth as they’re commonly referred to, is something many mums-to-be fear. You may know you need to have a planned C-section birth (more on that soon) or worry about the possibility of needing one for whatever reason on delivery day. There’s no question that the prospect of having major surgery to deliver your baby is a daunting feeling for many women.
One thing I like to try and remind all my mums-to-be is that there is no such thing as a ‘natural’ or ‘normal’ birth. That kind of language sets women up to feel like their C-section birth wasn’t natural or normal. Or worse, that they failed at birth because they weren’t able to give birth a certain way.
Let’s get one thing really clear. Regardless of how you birth, you gave birth. And birth can be a wonderful, challenging, overwhelming, incredible, scary and exciting experience all at once, regardless of which way it happened. There is no easy way out. No cheating. No right or wrong way to give birth. Childbirth is a completely individual and unique experience for every woman and the primary end goal is to have a healthy baby and healthy mum.
Inside the Birth Beat Ultimate Online Birth Course we have an entire module on C-sections. Over three comprehensive videos, we show you a full section process; from meeting the amazing couple who share their journey, arriving at hospital, pre-operation procedures, inside the operating theatre where you see the whole process of baby Darcy’s birth and then recovery.
Providing you with all the information you need about C-section births and removing those unknowns can go a long way into reducing fears you may have. It’s no wonder women have fears around childbirth in general and C-sections. For many women, their first experience of childbirth is when they’re in labour themselves. No one really talks about it in any great detail, so the mystery itself can make it seem more frightening than it needs to be.
While you may not need a C-section now or end up having one during your birth. However, understanding the process just in case it does happen will minimise any anxiety you may have about them as you go into the birth process.
What is a C-section birth?
A C-section is a surgical procedure whereby baby is delivered via an incision to the abdomen and uterus. The incision is generally horizontal and made just below the bikini line. On average, a healed C-section scar is around 10-15cm long.
C-sections are performed by obstetricians in hospital operating theatres. The procedure itself usually doesn’t take any more than 40mins to an hour. The process of suturing the layers of tissue, muscle and skin back together takes longer than the actual birth itself, but at that point, you’ll be more interested in the fact that your gorgeous bubba has entered the world!
Prior to having your C-section, there are several procedures that need to take place such as having a urinary catheter inserted, the spinal block or epidural and applying compression stockings, however, your healthcare providers will talk you through exactly what you need at each step of the way.
Why might you need a C-section birth?
There are many reasons why you might need a C-section or one is recommended to you.
Some of the reasons you might need to have a planned C-section include:
– You’re pregnant with multiples (in some cases).
– You’ve had a C-section previously. This doesn’t mean you will absolutely need one again but it some cases it may be recommended.
– The baby is in a breech position (head up, bottom down instead of head down). While some healthcare providers will deliver a breech baby, many won’t and if you reach a certain point in your pregnancy and baby is in a breech position, you may be recommended a C-section.
– Infections such as HIV or a genital herpes outbreak which can be transmitted to the baby during a vaginal birth.
– You’re pregnant with multiples (in some cases).
Some of the reasons you may need an emergency or unplanned C-section include:
– Placental abruption – when the placenta detaches from the uterine wall too soon.
– There is something wrong with the umbilical cord, like a pinch, that is impacting the baby’s blood supply.
– Your labour doesn’t progress past a certain point.
– Your healthcare provider detects that baby is in distress (they can detect this through monitoring the baby’s heartbeat) and they need to deliver them immediately.
Are there different types of C-section births?
There are two main types of C-section; those done under general anaesthetic and those done using a local anaesthetic; either a spinal block or an epidural.
Epidural or spinal block:
Having an epidural or spinal block for your C-section means that you’re awake and will get to hear, sear, smell and touch your baby straight after birth. Generally, your partner will be allowed to be in the theatre with you for this type of C-section and will get to be part of the birth too. For most women, it is safe and suitable to have epidural/spinal block C-section and it is generally safer for you and baby.
In some instances, a general anaesthetic may be required to perform a C-section birth. These are a far less common type of C-section as they mean you’re not awake for the birth and your partner will not be able to be present in the theatre. There are several reasons for needing to have a general anaesthetic for your C-section including pre-existing health conditions. Every woman is different and all the risks and benefits are carefully weighed up to ensure the health and safety of you and bub. Unfortunately, in some cases, there is no other option but to perform a general anaesthetic C-section however this is very uncommon.
What does having a C-section feel like?
If you have an epidural or spinal block, you won’t be able to feel anything from mid-abdomen down during the C-section.
However, when your obstetrician is removing the baby from your uterus, you will feel dull tugging and movement. I often describe it as though someone is doing the dishes in your tummy – perhaps not the most eloquent description! However, at no point should you feel pain, more-so slight discomfort, pressure and in some cases nausea.
The anaesthetist will be there with you the entire time, so if you’re concerned at all or something doesn’t feel right, let them know.
What is the C-section recovery process?
C-section recovery compared to vaginal birth:
Recovering from a C-section usually takes longer than a vaginal delivery as you’re recovering from major abdominal surgery. But women are often surprised at just how soon they can be out of bed and moving around after their surgery – it all depends on a number of factors such as whether it was an emergency or planned, as well as whether you had a general anaesthetic or spinal/epidural. Within a day of your surgery, you can expect to be up and having a shower, which for many women feels like a major milestone.
Immediately after the surgery:
You will be taken to recovery where you’ll be monitored as the anaesthetic wears off. The good news is that in most cases you’ll be able to hold and even start trying to breastfeed your baby (if this is something you plan to do).
Your urinary catheter will be left in while the sensation comes back to lower half your body. You’ll be encouraged to start drinking lots of fluids as soon as you feel up to it and start eating light meals.
Something many women who have C-sections births aren’t prepared for is heavy vaginal bleeding, much like after a vaginal delivery. Regardless of which way you give birth, be prepared with tonnes of maternity pads (you can’t wear tampons after either mode of birth) – more than you think you might need! Expect the bleeding to last anywhere from 2-6 weeks.
As you recover, alert your care provider to any redness or discharge coming from your C-section wound, if you feel unwell or have a fever, have foul-smelling vaginal discharge, have difficulty breathing or chest pain. These are uncommon symptoms that can indicate an infection or post-surgery complication.
The first 6 weeks post-surgery:
You won’t be able to lift anything heavier than baby or drive. It’s also suggested that you don’t have sex, swim or wear tampons. Day by day, week by week you’ll gradually start to feel more like yourself. Once you’ve been given the all-clear from your doctor and/or physio you can start gentle exercises, but never push yourself and always listen to your body.
Every woman’s C-section recovery process is different.
The key thing is to remember that you’ve not only just had surgery, you’ve also had a baby and are caring for that gorgeous bubba 24/7. That’s an accomplishment in itself!! Slow and steady wins the race with C-section recovery, it may feel like an eternity at the time but if you’re patient and let your body rest and heal, you’ll be all the better for it.
How does having a C-section birth affect baby?
Babies born via C-section are generally healthy and well.
In most cases, as an epidural or spinal anaesthetic is used, only a tiny amount of the anaesthetic is passed on to baby – far less than if a general anaesthetic is used. From that perspective, there is a very minimal risk to bub.
Babies born via C-section don’t experience the same squeezing process of labour. This process helps to remove fluid from their lungs and jump-start the breathing process. In some cases, your baby may need a little assistance to clear the fluid but it usually gets better on its own after the first day or so.
Initiating breastfeeding can be slightly more challenging after a C-section birth. However, with the right support and education, there is no reason why having a C-section alone will impact your breastfeeding journey. One of the main challenges women experience is that their breastmilk takes a little longer to come in after a C-section. Lots of skin to skin time and encouraging bub to suckle at the breast can help to stimulate the production of breastmilk.
If you’re having any problems or need support, ask for it. Don’t be afraid to speak up if something doesn’t make sense to you the first time your midwife or care provider shows you. Learning to breastfeed can be difficult for women regardless of which way they birth, but the last thing I want you to feel is that breastfeeding is off the cards just because you’ve had a C-section.
Can a C-section be a positive experience?
Yes of course they can!
We do have a beautiful blog post about a positive C-section story that you can read here. This was written by our gorgeous Birth Beat Mumma Jess…
“I want to share my birth story with the Birth Beat Tribe because I don’t think there are enough positive C-section stories. While C-sections can be an extremely difficult experience for some, I think it’s important to know that they can also be amazing. Every women’s story is different, but if you know that you need to have a C-section and are feeling upset about it or fearful, I hope my story can help you feel less apprehensive.”
Anything else to be aware of?
You can do all the research in the world about C-sections, but if it’s something you weren’t mentally prepared for or if you experienced one after a traumatic labour, the biggest challenge is often the emotional one not the physical.
Many women feel a sense of disappointment, grief for the birth they dreamed of but didn’t get, frustration or confusion about what happened and why. Some feel like they failed at birth or that their body let them down.
All of these feelings are completely valid. But it’s important to remember that no matter which way it happened; you still brought a life into the world. And there is no right way to give birth.
If you’re struggling to process your birth experience or feel like you may be experiencing postnatal depression or anxiety, take a read of our postpartum mental health check-in post. The post outlines common signs and provides a list of resources for you to get help and support.