How to Prepare for a Great C-Section

I never considered the possibility that I would have a c-section. My first son was born at home without complications, and my husband and I were planning another home birth for our second child. My second pregnancy was just as easy and enjoyable as my first (yay for no morning sickness!), and at my 35-week appointment, the baby was in a good position with his head down.

Much to our surprise, at 37 weeks, we discovered that our baby had moved into the transverse (sideways) position. Suddenly I was faced with the possibility that he might have to be born via c-section, and I was absolutely terrified. I cried. Over the next two weeks, I tried everything to get the baby to move – handstands in the pool, chiropractic care, funny positions on the couch, and finally, an external cephalic version in the hospital. Nothing made him budge.

At 39 weeks with a still-transverse baby, I had to accept the fact that a c-section was going to be the only safe option for delivery. I cried about it some more, but then resolved to be mentally prepared for the experience so that I could be relaxed and happy on my baby’s birthday. However, most of the resources I found online about c-sections were covered with admonitions about how to avoid them and reminders that it is MAJOR ABDOMINAL SURGERY that shouldn’t be taken lightly. (Seriously, why does everyone have to say that phrase over and over in all caps? I get it already!)

So there I was, nervously facing a scheduled c-section, having tried everything I could to avoid it. I didn’t want to be a panicked mess on the day of my baby’s birth. I spent the next week working to find a sense of peace, and in the end, I had a beautiful c-section experience. If you’re in the same situation as I was, I hope these suggestions will help you to have a joyful birth experience as well!

How to Prepare for a C-Section

Word Play

I only had a week to get used to the fact that my baby was going to be born via c-section. Every time I thought about it, I was overwhelmed by scary images of being sliced open on a cold operating table and being left with a Frankenstein-like scar afterward.

Then I remembered a little word trick that some natural-birth advocates use. If you’ve read many natural birth books, you’ll notice that lots of them don’t use the word contraction – they say things like surge or wave. Why? I think it’s because contraction has become too synonymous with pain, so for many women, it automatically invokes a sense of fear. Use a different word, and you don’t think about the pain aspect so much.

Therefore, I made a conscious effort not to use the words c-section, operation, or surgery. It was simply birth. This took my mind off my fears and reminded me of the joyous event that was going to take place.

Visualization

I checked into the hospital about 10 days before my due date to try an external cephalic version, a procedure where the doctor tries to turn the baby into the right position with his hands on your belly. Unfortunately, it didn’t work for us. I had to stay for an hour after the procedure so that they could monitor the baby, so I took the opportunity to talk to the nurses about what to expect on the day I checked in for the birth. Although it made me nervous to talk about it, I knew I needed a play-by-play of what was going to happen.

I also watched some YouTube videos of c-sections from the perspective of the parents. It was such a relief to see those moms smiling and talking through the procedure. It wasn’t torture at all! (Warning: There are a lot of YouTube videos out there with graphic footage of what’s happening on the sterile side of the curtain. I steered clear of those – that was more detail than I wanted or needed!)

Finally, I asked a few close friends about their c-section experiences and recommendations. Not only did I get some great practical advice, but it helped remind me that these friends are happy, healthy, active women who recovered just fine – and so would I.

Each night before bed, I would close my eyes and visualize our arrival at the hospital, getting an IV, getting in a wheelchair and being rolled to the operating room, receiving the anesthesia, having my husband sitting by my head, and finally, seeing our baby for the first time! The first time I went through the visualization process it made me extremely nervous (yes, I think I cried). But after a week of doing it, I felt a lot more confident!

Music

While I was in labor for my home birth two years ago, we played gentle music and kept the lights low to create a relaxing atmosphere. Unfortunately, you can’t really control the ambiance in the OR – the lights will be very bright and the doctors and nurses in the room will probably be chatting away about what they did over the weekend. (Actually, the chatting was kind of comforting – it reminded me that they knew what they were doing and it wasn’t a tense life-or-death situation!) However, I really wanted to have my own music with me, especially for the 10 or 15 minutes between the start of the surgery and the time when we got to see our baby!

I made a playlist on my iPhone and asked my husband to lay it down next to my head. Once our son was born, my husband walked to the other side of the room to take pictures while the nurses cleaned him up. For those few minutes while I was alone and still being stitched up, I had my music to keep me happy and relaxed. I think I even might have been singing along to it out loud – I was just so filled with happiness that I couldn’t help myself!

Affirmations

For those who aren’t familiar with the concept of “birth affirmations”, they’re just short, positive statements that you can repeat before and during labor. Typical natural-birth affirmations might read:

  • My body knows how to give birth.
  • My baby will be born easily.
  • Each contraction/surge brings my baby closer to being in my arms.

I’ll admit, when I first read about birth affirmations I thought they sounded stupid. I rolled my eyes and swore I would never do something that lame.

Lo and behold, though, when I was in a particularly intense part of my home birth labor, I grabbed my copy of Birthing From Within in desperation and started spouting off affirmations like crazy. And it helped! I was in labor land and my brain wasn’t working the way it normally does. I didn’t need a lot of logic, I just needed the repetition of those easy, positive statements – it really gave me an enormous boost of confidence and energy.

Therefore, in preparing for my c-section experience, I thought that affirmations might help to clear away any last-minute nervousness. My list of c-section birth affirmations was a little different, but included things like:

  • God wants us to rejoice at the miracle of birth – no matter how it happens. 
  • God designed my body heal quickly and easily.
  • I am thankful that my baby can be born safely this way.
  • I will feel no pain; only joy at the birth of my son.
  • I trust my doctor, the anesthesiologist, and the nurses.

It’s now been two weeks since the birth of my son, and my recovery has been fantastic! I’m so thankful that my c-section experience turned out so great. If you’ve been through a c-section, comment below with your advice on how to prepare!

Comments

  1. Congratulations! And a wonderful post!
    I have not had a c-section, but am happy to see someone writing about it in a positive way, sometimes they are the only option for a safe delivery, and it is sad to see so many women feel guilty or ashamed that they had to have one.

    • courtney says:

      Thank you! I agree – it’s hard to find much in a positive light about c-sections, but I’m an optimist at heart and had to find a way to make it a positive experience!

  2. I love this post and I am so glad you shared your experience with us! I am having a repeat C-section probably this time as well (the first wasn’t planned either). I have been really stressed about being cut open again as my healing wasn’t the quickest! Thanks again for sharing advice on how to relax and I love the music idea…I can still remb. the dr’s and ppl talking too and even the strong man who held me down to get spinal while my contractions were full blast! Some things I wish I could forget…:)

    • courtney says:

      I hope your repeat is easier than the first! I heard from many friends that a scheduled one is far easier to recover from, so I hope that is the case for you.

  3. I had my first daughter in ’08 vaginally, it was such a breeze once I got.my epidural. …
    But I just had my 36 week visit, my daughter is head up,
    I am going to try the aversion to move her… but the thought of a
    Cesarean scares the sh## out of me.. everytime I think about
    It I can’t breathe, I cry, im terrified.. i already have horrible anxiety
    The thought of being awake and feeling the doctors move my.belly
    Knowing they just cut into.it petrifies me. I loved ur post and advice
    But of.course i can’t shake the panic!

    • courtney says:

      I hope the version works for you! Let me know what happens. I’m honestly not exaggerating when I say that my c-section recovery was easier than recovering from a natural birth. Either way, you will have a beautiful baby in your arms! Wishing you the best.

  4. Hooray, congrats! I’ve had 2 c-sections (thanks, pre-eclampsia!) and while I would have PREFERRED a natural birth (I mean, it IS MAJOR ABDOMINAL SURGERY, in case nobody ever mentioned that to you, lol!) it was also easier in some ways than I’d anticipated. Recovery isn’t a blast, but the recovery from my awful appendectomy was SO MUCH WORSE (and THAT’S the procedure that isn’t supposed to be nearly as invasive!) so what that perspective in mind, I prefer the surgery that gives me a baby to bring home afterwards :) My biggest advice to people has more to do with when you come home from the hospital – my hospital both times gave me those belly wrap things, and I ADORED them for making me feel like my incision site was covered and safe (and it kind of forced me to stand upright when I subconsciously wanted to hunch over to protect it). I thought EVERYONE got those things after a c-section, but neither of my friends ever did, so they’re worth buying online if you don’t get sent home with one. I also loved my saline nasal rinses (because blowing your nose isn’t much fun for a while!) and I had my husband put everything that I usually kept under the sink in the bathroom up on the counter for me so I didn’t have to bend over :) Oh, and I never wanted to wear my maternity pants since they felt too tight over the incision, so for a really long time I wore my husband’s black fleece pajama pants (they had a drawstring so I could tie them up really high and nothing was against my lower abdomen!) Not fashionable, but at least they weren’t plaid ;)

    • courtney says:

      Yes – I was given an abdominal binder as well and wore it day and night for 3 weeks! Brilliant idea about the nasal rinses. I had a cold the week before my c-section, and I was still coughing a LOT for a week afterwards. It wasn’t the most pleasant feeling, for sure…

  5. I didn’t get a week to prepare for my c-section, just a few minutes. It was a non-emergency c-section following about 60 hours of labor, (some of it VERY mild, but I was unable to sleep). After 12 hours in a birth center, 12 hours in the hospital, waters being broken, 2 rounds of antibiotics, receiving pitocin, helping my baby recover from crashing once, c-section was brought up as a very likely possibility. Over a few minutes my husband and I discussed it with some professionals and between ourselves. We had started out in a birth center and ended up hospitalized. We decided that we had done everything we knew how to do in the natural birth realm and had ended up on the other side of the spectrum, and here the professionals were recommending a non-emergency c-section while we could still have one, stating that if the baby crashed again, we would receive one whether we wanted it or not. So we decided to trust God and the hands that He had put us in. My mom cried. I may have cried a little, but felt at peace. I felt so very thankful that I had no nursing problems as a result, and had an AMAZING recovery. I’m pregnant with my second and still get compliments on my incision and how great everything looks! Lol! I had a nurse who had had 4 c-sections who was great. She taught me how to get out of bed and encouraged me to get up the day after and walk as much as I could. I think that helped SO MUCH! I think some people have more pain afterward than I did, so this may not apply to everyone, but I only stayed on meds for less than a week after the surgery, because I needed to have the pain to let me know when I was overdoing it. I think I might have hurt myself if I had not been able to feel everything.

    So my recommendations would be as follows:
    Obviously, do everything within your power to avoid it, but if it’s still necessary…
    -Try not to worry about it. (You won’t feel anything, and it really isn’t as scary as you think it will be.)
    -Nurse ASAP
    -Stay active the next day. Don’t lay in bed the whole time!
    -Get trained on how to get out of a REGULAR bed when you get home.
    -Keep a pillow handy to hold against your incision in case you need to cough, laugh, etc.
    -See if your husband/mom/bff can stay with you for a week, and hopefully two after the baby is born to help you do simple things at home like laundry, cooking, etc. (Can’t even load a dishwasher on your own! You’re gonna need some extra hands! :)
    -Kiss your sweet baby and don’t spend time mourning the fact that you didn’t get the experience that you initially wanted. (Obviously, bad things do sometimes happen, and a case like that would be different. I’m speaking to the majority of cases where everyone is healthy afterward.) They were born, and just because you had a c-section doesn’t mean that it doesn’t ‘count’. It totally does. :)

  6. I adore this post. I had to have an unplanned c-section. I will most likely have to have 2nd and I sometimes get anxiety of it and I’m not even pregnant yet. Your post has really opened my eyes. I will use all of these tips and pass them on to my friends. Bless you!

    • courtney says:

      I’m so glad you liked the post. It’s been four months since the c-section and I have nothing but happy memories of it. I’ll probably try for a VBAC for my next birth, but if it winds up a c-section, I will be at peace with that too.

  7. Thank you for a positive outlook…I will have a repeat csection. My first was emergency so I was completely out, so this second is like the first as I will be awake. My anxiety is off thecharts!

    • courtney says:

      Hey Candi! Friends who have had both emergency and scheduled c-sections tell me that the scheduled kind is MUCH easier to recover from! One other helpful tip I received is that if you are scheduled, there is a possibility that you might get “bumped” if someone needs an emergency c-section, so don’t let that throw you for a loop if it happens. One of my friends had to wait for an hour past her scheduled time, but it didn’t happen to me. I hope that your second time around is easy and you can be relaxed and not fearful – best wishes to you :)

  8. I’ve had two c-sections and my third is scheduled for February. I was most concerned about the impact on nursing – both of my kids were fantastic at nursing. One nursed as soon as they brought him to me in post-op. Second was sleepy and not very interested when they brought her to me, but woke up hungry and didn’t look back for 17 months. I know this isn’t everyone’s experience, but it can happen!

    My biggest piece of advice is if the anestegiologist says, “Let me know if you start to feel nauseous,” tell him/her you feel nauseous now. Don’t wait. With baby 1, dr gave meds automatically. With baby 2, different dr didn’t and I went from, “hmmm, maybe I am a little nauseous” to miserable in about 15 seconds. Being immobile and severely nauseous is not a necessary part of this experience!

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