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!

  9. I’m scheduled for a c-section next week due to a breech baby and I SO appreciate your post and all the wonderful comments! I’m nervous, but feeling more prepared by the day. Thank you!!

  10. I know this is an older post but I wanted to extend my personal gratitude to you for writing it. You’re right, it is very hard to find positive information on preparing for C-sections online. Thank you for adding a positive voice! It is so meaningful to all of us, especially those of us that have faced negativity after (or before) their c-sections from the natural birthing community.

  11. This post has been a huge blessing. I’m scheduled to go in today for my second c-section and I’ve been struggling with it because I did everything in my power to try for a vbac. Thank God for the affirmations you wrote I will use them.what a reassurance for my heart!

    • I’m sorry that I’m replying so late, but I hope you had a beautiful birth experience and are recovering nicely now!!! Take care Aubrie!

  12. Congratulations, and thank you so mic for sharing this positive outlook on a csection. I had an easy birth with my first child and now, have to have a csection because of complete placenta previa. Thank you for sharing this. It is a welcome relief as I get ready to prepare for the birth of our child.

  13. Thank you for this positive take on c-sections! I’ve had 3 so far, the first was a case of baby getting stuck after 20 hours of labor, and the next 2 were planned due to the first. Like one of your earlier commenters, I have found it to be an easier recovery than my appendectomy! It’s been frustrating to me to see the super negative response to c-sections, so it’s super great for me to see this positive article!

  14. Thank you, so much, for this post. I have been struggling with accepting a potential c-section (best case scenario, planned, worst case, crash) due to complete placenta previa. I had such a wonderful natural birth experience with my first child, that I was hesitant to think that a c-section could be anything but traumatic and, frankly, inferior. Posts like yours are invaluable in the promotion of the full spectrum of happy, healthy and fulfilling birth experiences – thank you, thank you, thank you! Your affirmations literally brought tears to my eyes and a peace to my spirit that I cannot describe.

  15. I have had two (technically elective) c-sections, both after 55+ hours of labor. This time around a midwife didn’t recommend even trying vaginal birth again, as apparently something about my body just doesn’t want to birth vaginally. That was a tough pill for me to swallow, as I am a firm believer in the benefits of natural birth. However, here are the things I am looking forward to about my next birth experience:
    -Being well rested when I meet my baby. (I was beyond exhausted, and couldn’t even hold my own baby to nurse him the first time.)
    -Knowing what to expect. I’ve been through this, and I don’t need to worry!
    -Being able to pack the appropriate hospital bag.
    -Not looking like a pile of doo-doo in photos! I can have makeup on and ready to go before I give birth.
    -Being a bigger participant in the birth. Since I know I’m going to have a c-section this time around, I chose a doctor who practices gentle c-section and will be able to choose delayed cord clamping and have skin-to-skin right away with my baby. That is exciting!
    -Being able to introduce my kids to their baby brother right away, because we know when it’s going to happen.

    I had two great recoveries, and I am a firm believer that the key to an easy recovery (besides having a great doctor do your procedure) is getting out of bed as soon as you can and walking. I also stayed away from pain meds as much as I could once I was home so that I knew what my body could and couldn’t handle, and that way I didn’t overdo it! (But some people say that it isn’t worth it to tough it out, and just to take the meds. Up to each individual, I guess!) :)

  16. Thank you for sharing such a positive and optimistic article.
    I am due end of May for our second child. Our first born had complications. He had shoulder dystocia, but came out perfect. There was a 17% chance it will happen again. My OB suggested, since I produce big babies, that we should also consider c-section as well. This was one of many articles I’ve read that puts me at ease.

  17. Oh my goodness thank you, thank you THANK YOU!! This was an amazing read and literally made me tear up! I’m pregnant with my second child and my doctor has told me that I will be having to have a c section and I am terrified! This made me feel soo much better. I wish I could hug the mother who wrote this!

  18. Lovley post!! I’m a few months away from my third section… First was and emergency, second one I only had 4 days notice as my vbac was thrown off course by a 10lb baby. This one I’ve known from the day I conceived I’d be having a c-section and let me tell you the knowing and waiting is the hardest part. I dont even recall the first two being traumatic at all but the thought of what to come is far worse then the actual event. (kinda like the dentist) a few tips I found handy for the recovery: ask for dissolvable stitches instead of staples. I found when they took the staples out I didn’t feel like the incision was secure. The stitches kind of give you a little more peace of mind. Also I found keeping the incision covered with abdominal pads was more comfortable for me, not only to avoid infection, but to keep from rubbing against clothing and it’s just a bit more padding. Also very important, don’t over do it! When you have this beautiful new baby and your still on an adrenalin high its so easy to get carried away. Even of your feeling a lot better take it easy because it will catch up with you and then… Ouch!

  19. RANDY FULGHAM says:

    very interesting post==thanks for sharing

  20. Thank you for this. I am trying to read everything I can get my hands on, as I’m having a c at 34 weeks due to my cancer. I’m also having another MAJOR (lol) surgery right after so I’m just trying to prepare mentally. So far I’ve remained calm. She needs me to stay that way. God chose this for me. My faith has been strengthened and I’ve been relying on Him in my weakness.
    So thank you for your honesty.

  21. Thank you for this! I’ve been told today that my baby is transverse and I’m really disappointed :( I was really hoping to have a home birth this time… I have another scan in 2 weeks to check baby’s position and will try everything to encourage him to move but I’m pleased to read that it is possible to have a positive experience of a C-section. Thank you for reassuring me a bit :)

  22. Jessica Juarez says:

    I was induced for my first son. I went in to the hospital dialated to 2. Fourteen hours of intense labor and back labor later I only dilated to 3. My epidural wore off and my son was Sunnyside up as they called it and we couldn’t get him to turn. So my doctor said c-section. It was awful bcuz I could feel when they were cutting but the pain subsided as soon as I heard my son cry. I’m scheduled to have a repeat c-section on June 3rd. The closer I get the more nervous I get. This time around I actually have time to think about being cut open and it terrifies me. My doctor says that it will be easier this time around and that I shouldn’t feel anything. I hope what she says is true. Plus side I can’t wait to hold my second son in my arms and introduce him to my almost 2 year old!

  23. Hi Courtney

    Thank you for this fantastic article. I have just been told at 36 weeks pregnant I will need a csection and I have been upset about it but this article has really made my day and will definitely help. There are way too many negatives about csections online so seeing this has really helped! Thanks again:)

  24. Stephanie says:

    thank you for this. I’ve been trying to mentally prepare for my upcoming csection (baby is breech) for the past two weeks but every time I think about it my mind fills with negative thoughts. Your positive outlook has reminded me that all I need to do is change my attitude and thinking. All will be fine in the end, and I’d rather think of this whole ordeal as the birth of my fourth child, not a dreaded csection. Thanks again!

  25. Thank you so much for this lovely article! My son was born emergency c-section. I was induced at 41.5 weeks, he was sunny side up. I labored for hours unmedicated. Tried everything to get him to flip. I finally gave in and had an epidural. Labored more. He still wouldn’t flip. When I pushed, after a while my cervix became swollen and so we had to have a c-section. I will try and have a VBAC with my next but if it’s not in the cards, I won’t feel any shame. So happy to read something positive about c sections. Mine was actually not bad, just unexpected. Id never even researched it or considered I might need it!

  26. Oh I wish I’d read this before my c-section! I was in a similar position, and was admitted to hospital early as my little girl went transverse. She then kept somersaulting around, and I think was only in the same position as the previous check once in an entire week and a bit. (Maybe a future synchronised swimmer?)
    Anyway, I’ll be forever grateful to the anaesthetist attending the birth. He’s the one who said to me he didn’t like yo think of c-sections as operations, he thought of them as births, and he had a lot of songs on his iPod ready to go, but we’re there any in particular that I wanted? He also said that he had particular songs he played for the birth of a girl or boy, but wouldn’t tell me what they were, which meant I was distracted from the surgery by trying to guess, and also by laughing at some of his song choices. He definitely helped keep me sane!

Trackbacks

  1. […] few months ago I shared some tips about how to mentally prepare for a scheduled c-section. Before I posted it, my train of thought went something […]

  2. […] made what seemed like good progress at first, but after my c-section I just gave up for a few months and went back to diapers. Now we are back at it (although accidents […]

  3. […] Owning Your C-Section […]

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