10 Things I Wish Somebody Had Told Me About C-Sections
…or just like breastfeeding, I wish somebody had yanked the iPod buds out of my ears and given my shoulders a good hard shake while they told me.
1) You’ll get “the shakes” immediately afterward. The All-Knowing Internet also calls them “the epidural shakes,” but they seem to be MUCH more common after a c-section than a vaginal birth. Possibly because of the extra firepower (morphine) that’s typically added to your spinal before the surgery. After my medicine was turned off post-emergency-cesarean, I started shaking uncontrollably from head to toe. My teeth chattered, my muscles quivered and jumped, and I thought I was going into shock and dying. After (REPEATEDLY) asking about why I couldn’t stop shaking, a nurse curtly assured me that it was normal and epidural-related. As they wheeled me to the recovery room, they put my son in-between my legs because I couldn’t hold him, and oh, I hated that.
2) Your partner might not be allowed cut the cord.. The doctor will usually cut your baby’s umbilical cord, since your body is pretty much wiiiiiiide open at that point. If your baby is in any sort of distress and every second counts, it is VERY unlikely that the doctor will allow anyone else to cut the cord. For an elective section, you’ll need to ask ahead of time (and remind your doctor immediately before) — it’s certainly not unheard of, though still not standard operating procedure. I was dismayed to learn that my husband didn’t get a chance to cut Noah’s cord, but when I asked him about making arrangements for the second time around, he actually admitted that he’d prefer if the doctor did it, rather than waste time fumbling around with it while my abdomen hung around all open and bleeding.
3) You can breastfeed in the recovery room, usually 20 to 30 minutes after the birth. I was terrified that having a c-section would mean a terrible delay on breastfeeding — that they’d whip my baby away somewhere for hours and hours for some strange reason. The breastfeeding thing is so often given as a “con” for cesareans that I guess I was expecting a real worth-getting-worked-up-over waiting period, but basically the timeline goes like this: Baby out, handed to nurse for APGAR checks and weight, doctor starts stitching, baby is swaddled and brought over to you while stitching is completed, you’re wheeled down to the recovery room, baby immediately gets put on your boob while the nurse cleans you up and does…I don’t know…other important medical stuff. I wasn’t really paying attention, what with the amazing new baby and all.
4) You’ll have a catheter for a good 24 hours post-surgery. Yep. Enough said.
5) They won’t let you eat or drink anything. AT ALL. That blasted morphine again — a lot of women will throw up as the spinal wears off. And you know, that’s terrible for them. Some of us do not throw up, but we do not get a gold star and a dinner roll for our intestinal fortitude. I was STARVING after my sections. STARVING. With my emergency section, I’d gone a good 16 hours without food, and over 12 of those hours I’d spent in labor — 10 of them unmedicated, one of them pushing. And then I wasn’t even allowed to have a glass of water. Hell, I had to beg for ice chips (which I then hoarded, allowed to melt, then greedily drank). I didn’t ever really cry about anything regarding the actual surgery, but Lord have mercy, I cried over the food thing.
6) You’ll be quizzed on various embarrassing bodily-function-related milestones. You aren’t allowed to eat solid food until you fart; you’ll have an IV until you pee a certain (rather tremendous) amount; you’re (often) not allowed to go home until you poop. Don’t wait for the nurses to quiz you on these events either — you’ll wait unnecessary hours alternatively starving to death and getting tangled in your IV cord if you do. I cheerfully rang for the night nurse at 3 am one night to report on my gas habits and inquired about my breakfast — could I get pancakes? Extra butter? Coffee? GAH GAH GAH STARVING.
7) Learn the proper way to get out of bed. This was a real problem for me after my second section. I don’t know why. I couldn’t seem to get up without taxing my abdominal muscles and causing myself terrible pain. I think a nurse actually showed me how to get out of bed last time — and the second time they handed me a hospital booklet about mother & baby care and told me to read it. (HINT: I didn’t read it.) (Until weeks later, when I paged through it just before tossing it in the trash, only to discover a step-by-step illustrated guide to getting out of bed post-c-section.) If you want to know how to get out bed without hurting your incision, CLICK HERE.
8) Your incision will be numb for a long time. The skin around my scar never really went back to normal, sensation-wise. Touching it still feels like I’m touching someone else’s body.
9) Completely terrifying-looking things can happen to your incision. A few days after coming from from the hospital, I got up one morning to go to the bathroom and felt a terrible, unmistakable popping sensation around my incision. I whipped my nightgown off to inspect my wound, fully expecting to see broken stitches and gushing blood. But everything looked…just fine. Felt fine too. But several hours later a large angry reddish-purplish spot appeared under my skin. It wasn’t raised, didn’t particularly hurt as much as ache, and completely freaked me out. I called the doctor, convinced that I had done something awful to myself, and found out that I had popped a small blood vessel, resulting in a hematoma. Basically, I had a really bad bruise. Because of the size and placement, mine was nothing to be concerned about and it went away on its own. Do not mess around if you notice something similar — hematomas after c-sections can sometimes signal a more serious hemorrhage going on beneath the surface, and can also get infected. FUN!
10) The 10th rule of c-sections is that THERE ARE NO RULES. Recovering from my emergency c-section was a breeze. I felt great. I was up and out and wearing my cutest (maternity) dresses within a couple days. It was the scheduled one that kicked my ass, the one that was supposed to be “easy” and “stress-free” and “convenient.” Don’t let anyone (including me!) scare you to death with their story of woe and agony and infected incision sites. Alternately, don’t let anyone (me! meeee!) tell you how fantastic it all ways and downplay the fact that it is major abdominal surgery and should be respected as such. And by “respected” I mean “you get waited on hand and foot by the rest of your family and brought a steady supply of Milano cookies.”
Published July 21, 2009. Last updated January 14, 2018.