I don’t think anyone really thinks that the first time they give birth will be via a C-Section. I certainly didn’t.

As a first-time mother, I naturally wanted to be as prepared as I could. I read all kinds of articles, attended webinars, spoke to other mothers, and eventually got to a point where I felt confident in visualising the ‘perfect’ birth. So when I found out at 34 weeks that my baby was breech and I was asked to consider a C-Section if she didn’t turn, I was more than a little thrown. Sure, I’d read a little bit about it and seen other Mamas post about their experiences but I hadn’t genuinely thought that that would be my experience too. 

Now, the first advice I would give to any new mother regarding birth, is to be prepared for the possibility of a C-Section. A Caesarean Section, also known as a C-Section, is a major surgery performed to deliver a baby via incisions in the abdomen and uterus. There are a few reasons why a C-Section might be necessary.

You might need an emergency C-Section if:

  • Your labour doesn’t progress
  • Your baby is in distress
  • You go into labour but your baby is not in the right position
  • You have a health condition which would make a vaginal birth more dangerous

You might have a planned C-Section if:

  • Your baby is not in the right position for a vaginal birth
  • You are carrying multiples
  • You have had previous C-Sections
  • Your baby is considered too big to safely birth vaginally
  • Placenta issues

While it is generally a safe surgery that’s becoming increasingly common, as with any medical procedure there are risks to be aware of.

Risks to you:

  • Excessive bleeding (also known as post-partum haemorrhage)
  • Infection (of the wound, or the uterus lining)
  • Surgical damage (bladder or surrounding organs accidentally nicked during surgery)
  • Blood clots
  • Increased risks during future pregnancies

Risks to your baby:

  • Breathing issues, especially for babies born before 39 weeks
  • Surgical damage (nicks to the skin during surgery)

Make sure to discuss any concerns with your doctor and they can let you know what steps they’ll take to minimize the risks. Hearing from other experienced Mamas could also alleviate any concerns you might have. Before I had my C-Section, I was terrified that I would feel pain during the surgery in case the anaesthesia didn’t work! But all the C-Section Mamas I spoke to assured me that I wouldn’t feel a thing, which made me feel much better about it.

Now that we’ve covered reasons and risks, here are some helpful tips to get you through the before, during and after.

Before

These are some of the things you should think about and plan ahead according to your circumstances:

Confinement 

In Malaysia it’s very common to go through a period called ‘pantang’, which is your confinement, or recovery phase. Confinement ladies are specially trained to help you in various ways such as cooking healthy foods, massaging you and doing traditional things like herbal baths to aid recovery. You can choose the level of care you receive, and whether it’s in house, daily visitations, or if you’ll go and stay at a confinement centre. It’s best to book well in advance of your due date and to let them know that you’ll be having a C-Section.

Food 

If you’re not having a confinement lady, consider asking friends and family to drop off food that can be easily frozen and reheated.

Help with baby & recovery

Consider asking a family member to stay with you for the first few weeks while you recover from the surgery. You will not be able to do much especially during the first week or so and will need help caring for the baby (baths, changing diapers, etc.) as well as help with general housework. This will give you time to rest and recover.

Useful items to prepare

  • High waisted underwear that won’t press on your wound.
  • Loose, comfortable clothing that’s nursing friendly if you plan to breastfeed.
  • If you’re going traditional, you’ll want to make sure that your ‘bengkung’ is C-Section friendly (Boss Mama has these!).
  • Compression socks to help prevent blood clots.
  • Pain management such as Panadol. If you plan to breastfeed, discuss with your doctor beforehand to make sure your pain management options are breastfeeding friendly.
  • It may be handy to have antacids and laxatives on hand because surgery can make you bloated and constipated.
  • Period pads for postpartum bleeding. You can find postpartum specific pads, but maxi pads with wings work just fine too.

Birth plan & mental prep

Even if you are planning a vaginal birth, having a little paragraph for a potential emergency C-Section is a good idea. That way, if you do have to have one, your preferences are recorded. Mental preparation is important, so do some research about the actual procedure and talk to other experienced Mamas for some positive vibes. Ask your doctor about the pain management options during the surgery. The two common types of anaesthesia for a C-Section are regional (where an area of your body is numbed, and you remain awake during the procedure) and general (where you go to sleep and wake up after the birth). You may be able to choose depending on your medical history and preference. Understand the pros and cons of each before deciding.

Hospital bag

You’ll want to have your hospital bag packed well in advance of your due date with items for yourself, your partner and baby. You’ll generally be staying in hospital for 3-5 days depending on your recovery and the hospital. Every person has different things they might need for the hospital stay, so do some research on what to pack. You’ll find there are many useful lists on the internet that can be tailored to your needs. Personally, I packed everything I thought I would want like my fluffy robes (hospitals are cold right?!), socks, change of clothes, heaps of toiletries, a book (seriously?) and various other things but didn’t end up using most of it. I wore hospital gowns the whole time and only got changed when I was going home. I also only showered a few days after I got home as I was in too much pain and didn’t want to get the wound wet. The things I found most useful for me were baby wipes, pads for the postpartum bleeding, snacks which my husband ate, my laptop to watch movies, and the extra-long charger cable for my phone.

During/The Hospital Stay

Depending on whether you go private or public, your experience may vary slightly, so this part will be a little more personal as I share my own experience. I chose to give birth in a private hospital (Kelana Jaya Medical Centre) as policies for public hospitals had changed due to the pandemic and husbands were not allowed to be present for the birth or stay in hospital. As this was our first baby, it was important that my husband be there with me.

We checked in early on the Friday morning of my scheduled C-Section. Even though I was perfectly capable of walking, they insisted on wheeling me to our ward. I was incredibly nervous and excited. The nurses were friendly and did their best to make me feel at ease. Once we settled our things in the room, it was a matter of waiting to be prepped for surgery. We watched something on my laptop, I think it was Modern Family, but I couldn’t concentrate. Finally, a few people came in and started getting me ready. I was put in what I called the wheely bed and wheeled down to the operating theatres.

Waiting to be prepped. 

Heading to the OT. Nervous but still throwing peace signs.

Once in the OT, the anaesthesiologist came to speak to me. She was a warm lady and explained exactly what would happen. They would insert a needle for my spinal block, and I would feel numb from the waist down. They would do a test to make sure that I couldn’t feel anything before proceeding with the surgery. This greatly reassured me as I mentioned previously that my biggest fear was that I would still feel pain despite the anaesthesia! Once the spinal block was in place, they would insert a catheter. I would be shaved to make sure that the space was clear for the incision. The actual procedure would take about 45 minutes until birth, then more time to be stitched up after that. I nodded yes to everything she was saying. I was doing my best to stay calm but, in all honesty, my heart was racing. I was terrified, and they knew it. “Take some deep, calming breaths,” the anaesthesiologist advised. “Your heart rate is very high.”

I did my best to calm down but it felt like my body wasn’t listening to my brain. I did feel a little better once my husband was scrubbed in and by my side, holding my hand. Once they got started and I received my spinal block, I was laid down and a sheet draped across my belly so I couldn’t see what was going on. The spinal block first felt like pins and needles going down my legs, then a strange numb sensation. They asked me if I could feel what they were doing. I couldn’t. I felt oddly dissociated from everything that was going on. My husband held my hand and watched the whole procedure. I couldn’t feel pain, but I felt the pulling as they were getting my baby out. She was breech so her legs came out first and then her head got a little bit stuck. I was being tugged from behind the sheets, and the anaesthesiologist was reaching over me to help push my baby’s head from the top. It was extremely uncomfortable for a few minutes, and then I felt a lightness. For the first time in a long time, I could breathe without feeling an uncomfortable weight. Baby was out! First thing I asked my husband was, “Does she look like me or you?” He replied, “She looks like herself.”

It felt oddly anticlimactic. I was briefly shown my baby girl before she was taken to be checked. My husband went with her. I didn’t know what I was feeling. Getting stitched up felt like the longest time ever. My husband and baby were somewhere else, I was bored and lonely and my body started shivering uncontrollably as a natural response to the trauma of surgery. After what felt like hours, I was finally wheeled back to the ward. My husband was already there but we had to wait a bit until our baby was finally brought up to join us. I was checked over and given painkillers via the IV drip and then we were left alone to start bonding. I felt a myriad of emotions but eventually the pain started to overwhelm me, and I was almost in tears. That day I was given an injection which made me very sleepy and kept the pain at bay. I asked for it again after a few hours when it started to wear off. That night, I agreed for them to take my baby to the nursery so that I could get some sleep and recover. It felt strange and my heart ached for her to be away from me but truthfully, I really did need to sleep and for my husband to be able to be there and focus on me as I felt so overwhelmed by the whole experience.

The first moment all three of us were alone.

The next day I wasn’t allowed any more injections, only a tablet and some painkillers via the drip again. The pain was coming from the wound itself, and the uterus shrinking as well as gas building up inside. The nurses helped with everything including changing me and replacing pads for the postpartum bleeding. I was grateful for how they looked after me, but I also hated them a little because the catheter came out the second day and they made me walk to the bathroom to pee. They wanted me to start being mobile and to make sure that I could pee normally. I really thought I was going to pass out from the first step I took after surgery.

Now I say all this not to scare you, but to make sure that I don’t sugar-coat my experience. It came with a lot of pain, but I managed. It’s okay to admit that the pain can be scary but our bodies are amazingly capable and thanks to modern medicine and painkillers we get through it. Whilst I hated the nurses for making me walk on the second day, the faster you get up and about the easier it gets and the quicker your healing starts. I checked out on the third day and was able to walk slowly to the car and even managed the stairs to get up to my bedroom at home (very slowly though as I didn’t want to cause any damage to the stitches).

My tips for the hospital stay would be, don’t be afraid to ask for help with anything, whether it’s about the baby, your pain, or anything else. The nurses and doctors are there to facilitate your wellbeing and help you in beginning your journey as a parent. And it’s okay to feel like you might not be able to bond immediately with your baby while you take the time to recover from your surgery.

After

Back at home, here are some things that will help facilitate your recovery:

Walking

Walk around your room as much as you can, but don’t overdo it and don’t lift anything heavier than your baby. Listen to your body and slowly increase the duration of your walks. There are multiple benefits of light walking everyday post C-Section. Try to avoid too many stairs though, and no driving until your doctor clears you.

Diet

Make sure you eat foods high in fibre and drink lots of water to help with constipation. The first time going to the bathroom for number 2 can be scary. Do your best to relax and it will be just fine. Water intake is also extremely important for your milk supply if you intend on breastfeeding.

Nursing positions for C-Section recovery

If you are breastfeeding, the normal cradle hold might put too much pressure on your wound. You can try some of these instead:

Credit: @AvonHMO

  • Rugby/football hold
  • Laid back/reclining position
  • Side lying

Laughing, sneezing and coughing

Don’t do it! Just kidding, it’s not like you can avoid it. It will hurt to do these things for a while, but pressing a pillow firmly on the wound when you do these things will help relieve some of the pain.

Wound and scar care

Make sure you keep the wound clean and dry to lessen the chances of infection. Always pat dry after a shower and if you see any signs of infection (red, swollen, pus) go to the doctor immediately to get it checked. Once the wound has started to heal and scar tissue begins to form, you can give the scar and surrounding area light massages as this will be beneficial for recovery. Search how to massage it properly to make sure you don’t end up causing any damage.

Lastly, your body took 9 months to create the life you just birthed. Be kind to yourself and allow your body the time it needs to heal. If you’re going to have a C-Section, I hope you found the information here useful. If you’ve already had your C-Section, happy recovery Mamas!

If you want to speed up your recovery, do give our SlimShape Bengkung a try! Our c-section friendly postpartum bengkung gives you good compression and back + lumbar support to make your daily activities less painful to carry out. Its soft, neoprene material also makes it comfortable to wear throughout the day! Get it now and enjoy discounts of up to 25% the more you purchase, mamas.

February 20, 2022 — Irena De Filippou