Mother reviewing information on C-sections.

As you prepare for D-Day (Delivery Day!), you’re probably learning about all aspects of labor and delivery—signs that you’re in labor, how to breathe through contractions, what to do once you get to the hospital. Maybe you’re even putting together an awesome playlist to motivate you as you prepare to welcome your baby into the world.

Whether it’s an anticipated part of your birth plan or not, it’s a great idea to educate yourself (and your partner) about a C-section delivery as part of your birth preparations. Because the fact of the matter is—whether you’re planning for a C-section or not, unexpected things can happen during labor and delivery. And the more you know about this type of delivery, the more prepared you’ll feel for all possible scenarios once it’s time to bring your little one into the world.

What Is a C-section?

A C-section, or Cesarean delivery, is a way to deliver your baby surgically (rather than vaginally), where baby is taken out through a series of incisions in the abdomen. About one in three pregnant women deliver their baby via C-section, and most result in a perfectly healthy baby (and mama). But while routine, it’s a major surgery and definitely results in a longer healing process than a vaginal delivery (roughly 4 weeks of recovery).

What are the Reasons for a C-section?

C-sections are usually recommended if your provider thinks it will be safer for you or your baby than a vaginal birth. And while some C-sections are planned, a lot of times they’re performed after unexpected complications occur during labor.

Reasons for a C-section (whether planned or unplanned) can include:
  • The mother has health problems (heart disease, dangerously high blood pressure, etc.)
  • The baby is too big to be delivered vaginally
  • Labor is too slow or stops completely
  • There are issues with the placenta or umbilical cord
  • The baby isn’t in the correct position for delivery (breech or otherwise)
  • Baby is showing signs of distress during labor (such as slowed or increased heart rate)
  • The mother has had previous C-sections
  • There are multiple babies

What Can I Expect if I Have a C-section?

Before Your C-Section

You’ll be taken to an operating room for the birth—so whether you were scheduled for a C-section or you were already in a labor and delivery room—you’ll head to the OR. You’ll be given an epidural if you haven’t already had one (epidurals take away the pain, but you may still feel pressure or pulling sensations), or a spinal block (you won’t be able to feel anything from the chest down). Either one will allow you to stay awake and alert while your baby is born without experiencing any pain—medicine that causes you to go to sleep is only used in emergency situations.

Your doctor will clean and prep your belly for the delivery, you’ll get an IV for fluids and other medicines, and you’ll also receive a catheter to drain your bladder during the surgery. Just like in a vaginal birth, your heart rate, breathing and blood pressure will be closely monitored. Your birth coach or partner will be seated near your head throughout to lend support and hold your hand.

During Your C-section

Once you’re all prepped, the surgeon will make a six-inch incision on your belly (in most cases it’s really low, just above your pubic hair line, and side to side). The first incision goes through the skin, fat and muscle—then a second incision is made to open the uterus. This second incision is just big enough for baby to fit through—and while one doctor supports the baby, another applies pressure to the uterus to help push your baby out into the world!

Fluid will be suctioned out of baby’s mouth and nose, and then your sweet baby will be held up for you and your partner to see. Once baby is delivered, the umbilical cord will be cut, placenta removed, and then your doctor will clean and stitch everything up. If you’re feeling up to it, you might even have the opportunity to do skin-to-skin with your beautiful new baby!

While all of this is happening (from start to finish, C-sections last about 45-60 minutes), practice positive visualizations, concentrate on your breath, and focus on the excitement of meeting your little one. It’s normal to feel nervous during any kind of delivery!

After Your C-section

You’ll be moved to a recovery room and monitored for a few hours—it’s normal to feel shaky, sleepy, and even nauseous. Be sure to ask your provider what their policy is for baby to join you in the recovery room. Once you’re recovered, you will be moved to a hospital room to snuggle, feed and begin taking care of your brand new baby.

Use your recovery time in the hospital (typically 3-4 days) to rest, rest, rest—C-sections are major surgery and you need to focus on healing, mama. Take all of the help you can get in the hospital—have your partner or nurses help with diaper changes and swaddling, and get guidance from lactation consultants on the most comfortable ways to nurse after a C-section.

When it’s time to bring baby home, your nurse will show you how to take care of your incision, and go over recommended pain management. You can expect to have pain and discomfort in your lower belly for one to two weeks, and some vaginal bleeding for several weeks after delivery (be sure to have sanitary pads on hand—no tampons, even after a C-section). Most providers say that recovery takes about 8 weeks.

And—this is important, mama!—no matter how you deliver your baby, lean on your partner, family and friends for help with daily tasks once you return home. Your body has been through a lot, and your focus should be on your recovery and your sweet baby—not dirty dishes.