Even if you’ve planned normal vaginal delivery, you might end up having a C-section. Doula Donna Bland gives you the low-down on what to expect.

Mothers have Caesarean sections for a variety of reasons. Regardless of the reason, each new mother should prepare herself in advance for what to expect, just as she would for a normal vaginal delivery. Here are some frequently asked questions.

How much pain can you expect after the procedure?
As with any surgical procedure, there will be pain. The severity will be determined by your pain tolerance levels, but fortunately today there is much care given to pain relief directly after a C-section, and pain can be managed well.

Generally, after the wound has been closed and the incision site sutured, they will give you an anti-inflammatory suppository to immediately begin the healing process and help with pain management.

If you have had a spinal block, which is standard practice these days, (unless there is a specific need for a general anaesthetic) you will experience no pain for up to about six hours after the surgery. Once the spinal block starts to wear off, other pain medication will be offered, either in the form of oral medication or via your intravenous drip.

How long should the pain last?
When the feeling in your legs has returned, the medical staff in the maternity ward will assist you in getting out of bed. It is important to take it slowly at first, but also to regain mobility as soon as you can manage. This will speed up the recovery process and help with pain in the long run.

It is vitally important to try and achieve an upright walking position and not to stoop over, as if to protect your wound. The sooner you begin to walk upright, the sooner you will regain function of your body.

The full recovery period for a C-section is six weeks, but the pain tends to really ease up after about two weeks. This does not mean you should go back to all normal activities.

Also, take your pain medication as you begin to feel the pain – don’t wait until it’s so bad that you can hardly move. Remember, you’ve had major surgery, so take care not to create any unnecessary problems.

Will I be able to take care of my newborn after a C-section?
Because there is pain after a C-section, it may be a little difficult performing certain tasks for your baby at first. Initially, breastfeeding might be a little tricky, but once the spinal block has worn off and you are able to sit more upright, this will be resolved.

Bathing your baby, on the other hand, may be a little more difficult. You might find that holding the baby in the bath is tough because of the pain. Certainly, leaning over or kneeling in front of your own bath wouldn’t be advisable, as this could really hurt you.

It is valuable to have help at home if you’ve had a C-section. If your husband or partner is unable to be at home with you, consider inviting a parent, relative or friend to assist you. It’s not just your baby who requires care at this time – you do too!

A wonderful way for a dad to feel involved and connected with his baby is to handle bath time. Give him that responsibility – it will make him feel needed, and you will have a little time to rest.

Can I expect my stomach to shrink after a C-section?
Your body will change after pregnancy and birth, regardless of whether you have a C-section or not. After a C-section, you should be realistic about how your tummy will look. During the procedure, the gynaecologist cuts through several layers, including muscle. This may result in your tummy losing some of its tautness.

Fortunately, there are many ways to bind a belly, not only to support the wound after surgery, but to help your tummy shrink down a bit. There is no guarantee that you will regain a perfectly flat stomach, but it will certainly help the process.

Preparation for a C-section
I think that most moms-to-be believe no preparation is necessary for a C-section. The truth, however, is that there are things you can do to prepare. This will not only help you achieve a positive birth experience, but it can help with your recovery in the days and weeks following your baby’s birth.

Some of these things may only be applicable if you are having a planned C-section, but some can be done regardless.

  • Write a detailed birth plan. This document is important so that you can let all the medical staff and birth attendants know what you would like from your birth experience. This might include things like wanting skin-to-skin contact with your baby as soon as possible.
  • Consider shaving or waxing your bikini area ahead of time.
  • Prepare meals in advance for the freezer so that you don’t have to worry about preparing meals once you get home.
  • Make arrangements to have help at home if necessary. If you don’t have a support system available, there are doulas who will come and assist you in the first days or weeks after delivery.

Having a baby is an exciting adventure that need not be fraught with concerns of the unknown. Find a professional who gives sound advice and makes you feel comfortable. Be kind to yourself, enjoy your birth experience and remember to get the help you need so that you too can recover.

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