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Preparing For a C-Section

By Amalah

Dear Amalah,

Here is a little of my back story to my question. Almost two years ago, I had a baby, 9lbs. 6 oz. , baby girl, now a very busy toddler. She was born with a vaginal delivery. Yes, it was hard and I pushed for two hours. However recovering from a vaginal birth was difficult but manageable. I wasn’t on narcotic pain medicine. I was awake and breastfeeding within 20 minutes after she was born. Adjusting to life with a new baby was trying at times but not physically impossible.

Fast Forward …Two weeks ago I had to have an emergency laparotomy for a ruptured cornual ectopic pregnancy. And as traumatic as that whole experience has been, I am already fretting about the future.

Since the operation involved cutting and stitching on my uterus I was told that any future pregnancies would need to be delivered via C-section. I know many women deliver happily and successfully with C-sections, some women even prefer them. However my experience with recovery from this surgery , which has an incision similar to a C-section, has been ” Good lord how would I ever recover from something like this AND take care of a newborn” It has been very painful and difficult to say the least. And without the round the clock help of my family and friends I would not ever have been able to care for my toddler in my recent state.

My question (and honestly I am not bringing this up intending to cause you unnecessary stress, because I know you worry a lot as well) since you have experience with C-section recovery while caring for a newborn, is how DO you care for a newborn after a C-section and how do you think you will handle caring for your new little bundle and your rambunctious big bundle with ” a boo-boo- tummy” , to put it mildly?

I know I am way ahead of myself and I should save concerns like this for when I am actually pregnant again. So maybe you can table this topic for now and answer it for me in the fall, after you have successfully lived through the experience . And by then hopefully I can tell you that I am successfully pregnant. 🙂

Congratulations again,

So. Obviously, I did end up putting this question on hold until after the baby (my second) was born. And although I’m *technically* on maternity leave right now, with the Smackdown Throne of Bossiness currently occupied by a slew of capable guest authors, I decided to dust this one off now (six days postpartum, ahem) while the experience is fresh and you’re most guaranteed total honesty. The way we mothers forget some of the more brutal parts of our birthing experiences must be an essential bit of evolution, because how else can I explain those first few shellshocked hours post-surgery, when all I could do was lie in bed wondering what in HOLY HELL just happened to me? Was that really the same thing as three years ago? Whoa.

First, though — and I’m sure you’re well aware of this — a c-section, while major abdominal surgery that results in a nice-sized incision, is a very different recovery experience than an emergency laparotomy. A c-section results in a baby, and your brain and your hormones kick into high gear and take over and are well aware that it’s in your (and your baby’s) best interests to heal as quickly as possible. You get the same post-birth blissful high as a vaginal birth, your breasts get to work nourishing your baby and feeding you endorphins and stimulating uterine contractions and really, it’s kind of amazing to physically feel your body spring into action and heal itself, while mentally shielding you from paying too much attention to your pain and shock.

And yet, dear God, there is pain. No doubt about it. I’d completely repressed my memories of the first two or three days and how painful they were and how weak and helpless I felt. When the nurse walked in and announced, “Good news! I’m taking out your catheter and then we get to WALK TO THE BATHROOM!”, I wanted to ask her to leave it IN, just so I wouldn’t have to deal with the pain and awkwardness of getting out of bed and being responsible for my own bodily functions again.

But! I was in the hospital for all of that. In the hospital, in bed, with only one child to worry about and an endless stream of nurses, friends and family to help with that child. By the time I was discharged, I felt worlds better. I could walk around on my own, take showers, fetch my own ice chips, retrieve my own baby from the bassinet and pace around the room to soothe him to sleep.

And now I’m home. Six days post-surgery, and really, I’m doing extremely well. Considering how awful I felt just last Thursday, you’d think a lot more time had passed. I take a prescription-strength dose of Ibuprofen three times a day for pain, but if I miss a dose by a few hours I’m no longer reminded with really terrible pain — I just feel pretty bruised down there. I was also sent home with Percocet, but just like last time I feel like the Ibuprofen works just fine on its own. Getting out of bed is pretty much the only thing that triggers real discomfort now — the key is to rely on your upper body and elbows as much as possible, and to merely swing your lower body around before pushing up with your arms instead of using your abs or pelvis.

As for Noah (my first-born)…well. That part sucks. I can’t pick him up, I instinctively tense up and cringe every time he comes near me in bed or on the couch in anticipation of him throwing himself across my incision. I’ve repeated that I have a big boo-boo on my tummy dozens of times, and that I can’t pick him up right now. (Although to be fair, it’s not like I did much picking up for the past few months either, being all enormously pregnant and such.) I try to engage in the “safe” activities (playing with trains on the floor, reading bedtime stories from the floor while he lies in bed, etc.), and stay away from anything too physical or that could result in an accidental body slam.

I’ve also relied more on my husband and family to care for Noah, but I think that’s something you do no matter HOW the second baby gets here. No one else can breastfeed the infant, but plenty of people are capable of making a peanut butter and jelly sandwich. In fact, all of the stuff that I would say is hard — genuinely, overwhelmingly hard — has nothing to do with the c-section and everything to do with simply OMG we have two children.

Getting a toddler ready for school on time after being up all night with the baby. Helping a toddler go potty while the baby is attached to your boob. Trying desperately not to lose your temper for the hundredth time in a day because the baby just pooped again and your phone is ringing and the toddler is being a little defiant jerk just for the hell of it.

I did handle the preschool pickup solo today, WITH the baby in tow and everything. It was…tiring, and I was reminded when I got out of the car afterwards that it was time for my pain medication. But I did it. And it felt good to do it.

Don’t forget to visit Amalah’s must-read weekly Pregnancy Calendar.

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About the Author

Amy Corbett Storch


Amalah is a pseudonym of Amy Corbett Storch. She is the author of the Advice Smackdown and Bounce Back. You can follow Amy’s daily mothering adventures at Ama...

Amalah is a pseudonym of Amy Corbett Storch. She is the author of the Advice Smackdown and Bounce Back. You can follow Amy’s daily mothering adventures at Amalah. Also, it’s pronounced AIM-ah-lah.

If there is a question you would like answered on the Advice Smackdown, please submit it to

Amy also documented her second pregnancy (with Ezra) in our wildly popular Weekly Pregnancy Calendar, Zero to Forty.

Amy is mother to rising first-grader Noah, preschooler Ezra, and toddler Ike.

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  • Bekki

    November 13, 2008 at 9:43 am

    Just to throw my two cents in…I had my appendix out when I was in college. I didn’t get one of those fun keyhole (tiny incision) surguries, I got the whole cut you open with a 6 inch hole! I had a really difficult time after. I had to go home for more than a week. I stayed in bed and had my family wait hand and foot on me. I was on heavy meds for like 2 weeks. It sucked.
    However, today, I’m 2.5 weeks post delivery with a c-section (and 13 lbs of baby–twins!). I feel pretty much back to normal. I was off the pain meds in less than a week. I actually was up and around without too much trouble the night of the surgery. I didn’t even need the wheelchair on the way out of the hospital! How much of that was just pure adrenaline about going home and having to take care of two babies, I’ll never know.
    I think Amy’s right. Your body knows you have things to do and that you need to get back in the swing of things ASAP.
    Also, my boys were early (35.5 weeks) so they got rushed off to NICU. If I had had full term kids, or just a singleton, my hospital supported breastfeeding right after birth. Just make it clear that you’d like to start within an hour or whatever, and hopefully they can make it happen. My whole clean up/stich up took all of 20 minutes, so I totally could have been breastfeeding soon after.

  • Jean

    November 13, 2008 at 11:11 am

    I second what both of these ladies said. I had a c-section with my son and by the time I left the hospital (four days after birth), I was functioning just fine. I couldn’t life anything heavier than my baby, but other than just some soreness, it was great. I only took my pain meds at night because getting up from bed, like Amy said, was tough at first. Within two weeks, it was all good. Plus, I didn’t have to deal with stiches in the nether regions, or problems going to the bathroom or anything.

  • Amy

    November 13, 2008 at 11:30 am

    I did not have a c-section, but I do have 2 kids, and I totally recommend a sling or a mei-tai. The Mei-tai’s are my favorite because you can tie them up so many different ways and can be used much longer than the little slings. Here’s a site that has some pretty good looking ones with neck support – These things make doing the dishes and other chores SO MUCH EASIER with two kids.

  • Elizabeth

    November 13, 2008 at 11:33 am

    Okay, so I maybe shouldn’t say this in order to avoid scaring people, but in the interest of honesty and a complete pictures, I thought I’d add that my experience was different. There was no post-birth high, my milk took extra time to come in (even though I was also pumping to help bring it along), and I needed my Percoset for over a week. Maybe I am just a wimp, maybe it’s because my body tends to take things pretty hard, or maybe it was because I was in active labor for 34 hours before the c-section and my body was just exhausted (which wouldn’t be a problem in event of a planned c-section). I think everyone’s experience is just different.

  • boofyq

    November 13, 2008 at 12:40 pm

    I had a c-section with my twins (12lb6oz worth) and had a great recovery (aside from the fact my incision opened up twice after I got home — not painful, just messy).
    With the c-section, you get 3 days in the hospital to recover, and then it really is best to have some help for a week or three when you get home. You’ll want to limit the number of trips up & down the stairs, and you shouldn’t pick up anything (or anyone) heavier than your (one) newborn (EXCLUDING carseat) for a week or so. And you’re not supposed to drive for a week or two. I found that as long as I drove DH’s automatic car, I could get around ok by myself but I couldn’t carry my babies in their carseats for a bit. (see earlier reference to opened incision and quick trip to doctor on my own)
    I took an Rx home for percoset but never filled it. I was all set by the time I left the hospital — a few advil here and there were fine. Colace was a big help, though, let me tell you. No one told me to take that in the last weeks of pregnancy when I was so constipated!
    Everyone has different recoveries from every kind of delivery. Plan to take it easy and have some help. Sleep as much as you can in the first couple weeks — it’ll help keep you slightly sane (or slightly less insane) when the hormones kick in and you’re trying to adjust to this crazy new reality (in your case, going from 1 kid to 2 kids). Good luck — I’ll bet you’ll do fine! 🙂

  • lizneust

    November 13, 2008 at 1:07 pm

    My two cents –
    I had a hernia in college which eventually required surgery. It was the first time I’d ever had surgery and oh my LORD did it hurt. It was weeks before I could sneeze or laugh without crying. I thought I was the world’s biggest wuss.
    Fast forward to 2003 and I’m being informed that my wonderful birth plan is being tossed in favor of get-baby-out-now c section. I didn’t have time to think about it, but despite my fears of a repeat hellish recovery, it was pretty good. In 2005, I had another c section and again it was pretty good – my kids are about the same age apart as Amy’s, and basically the same stuff was an issue (can’t pick up, body blocking, energy, blah).
    So in 2006, when I’m told I have to have my appendix out, I got cocky. I mean, I’d been through 2 c sections, what was a silly old appendix. I told my Mom I’d only need help through the weekend. Yeah. No. HURT HURT PAIN OWIE AWFUL. It was 2 weeks before I felt even remotely normal and at least a month or two before I didn’t wince when I sneezed.
    All of which is to say that not all abdominal surgery is created equal. I think if you canvass most women who’ve had c sections (whether they’ve done natural or not) they’ll tell you it just wasn’t that bad. Basically, you can’t pick up your older kid, but you’re not afraid to poop. It’s a trade off.

  • Myra

    November 13, 2008 at 1:23 pm

    Great post, Amalah! I had a vaginal delivery for #1 and c-section for #2 due to placenta previa (the c-section was a last minute call). While the recovery was challenging I agree that the hardest part was recalibrating our life/routing to suddenly having 2 kids. My eldest at 2yrs was a doll though, and was happy to snuggle baby & I in the big bed. Since I had her enrolled in preschool a couple of a.m.’s a week it also helped greatly in developing her independence and confidence. And yes, you have to learn to let others help you. As for milk production, I think everyone’s different. Mine came in as though it had never left and my body healed itself with me largely unaware of how busy it was doing just that. I never felt sorry or regretful; I believe I was as satsfied, happy and exhausted as the first time around. And good old Advil, Tylenol (you can take both at the same time; stagger them) as well as Colace were all I needed.

  • Taryn Scarfone

    November 13, 2008 at 1:48 pm

    I would get a second opinion about whether you really need a cesarean in the future. I had a c-section with my first son and it was awful and very traumatic. I’m due in January and having a VBAC. I had my uterus cut open and stitched with the first c/s obviously and can still have a vaginal birth this time. Look around for another doctor. I don’t know where your incision is (which does make a difference) but if its low and transverse its not hard to find a VBAC friendly provider.

  • Jennifer

    November 13, 2008 at 2:05 pm

    Great posts. I had an emergency c-section for my first and am now 28 weeks with #2 with a planned c-section in my future. I am having a hard time recalling details about my first surgery (which is definitely some sort of self-preservation in care of my brain). I do know that without anything to compare it to it wasn’t that bad and my only regret was that I didn’t do it sooner in the labor process when it could have been a much more controlled, calm situation. My memory is that the first hours in the recovery room were hell, the first day after was tough, but by the time I went home I was ready. I have a terrible time with pain meds so I, too, did ibuprofen without any pain problems and really felt quite capable within a week. It will be different this time around with another child at home, but I think the difficulties will be more related to that adjustment than the physical pain.

  • AJU5's Mom

    November 13, 2008 at 2:07 pm

    I had a c-section 11 months ago tomorrow! By the time they got me unhooked from everything about 30 hours after my daughter was born, I was making down to the NICU to be with her (healthy- just needed O2 and antibiotics due to problems during labor). By 48 hours, my Dr. was surprised at how fast I could get around! I did need some pain meds in the hospital, but I only took a few advil once i was discharged. Getting up and down is the hardest, but if you do a TINY bit more each day it gets a lot better!

  • Jenny

    November 13, 2008 at 2:49 pm

    As someone who hasn’t had kids yet, but did have an appendix out, I was interested to hear that someone mentioned that their appendix operation was worse to recover from then their C-sections. That gives me some hope 🙂
    A couple other things to keep in mind on this….
    1. When you have most surgeries there is something else wrong (i.e. an infection) if your appendix is coming out, it is infected. If you are lucky like me, and it has ruptured, there is a lot of stuff that needs to heal. So you have to heal from the surgery and from the infection. When you are having a baby, there isn’t that underlying infection that causes the surgery. So you just need to heal from the surgery.
    2. Don’t avoid the pain pills, if you are in pain! I generally like to think of myself as pretty tough and I didn’t think I should need to take much pain med. Finally, my mom, a nurse, told me to stop being stupid and take the percoset. Your need to not be in pain in order to do the things to help you heal (walk around, etc). So the pain meds do help with the healing process. So if you are fine with just advil, great, but don’t feel bad about having to take the percoset.

  • Kirsten

    November 13, 2008 at 3:14 pm

    Thanks for all the supportive advice. Great posts everyone. I know it will be hard but now I am less worried about the surgical recovery and more focused on the day to day juggling of the toddler and the Babies. Thats right, I am successfully preggers again, with twin boys. Looking forward to all the friends and family who have already volunteered to help:)

  • Nic

    November 13, 2008 at 8:52 pm

    This post came at the perfect time! I’m two weeks out of having a laparoscopy to remove ovarian cysts (turned into an ovary removal – ugh) and had surgery 2.5 years ago for the same thing, though last time it was more involved with a 6 inch vertical incision. I, uh, may have had a meltdown about a week ago over how I could barely take care of myself and I could NEVER be a mother and take care of someone else. Luckily I feel a lot better now than I did then, and this post helped too. THANK YOU!

  • Danielle

    November 14, 2008 at 7:26 am

    I had a c-section with my second of 4 kids. (My last two boys were born VBAC with no problems.) There is a BIG difference between having an emergency c-section and having a planned one. I was back on my feet the day after, and went home on the third day. My oldest was 15 months at the time. I wasn’t able to pick him up, but I would sit down and slide him on to my knees so I could hold him. He never seemed to notice that I couldn’t carry him around. Take heart! C-sections are not bad to recover from if they’re done well.

  • Sara

    November 14, 2008 at 8:48 am

    I feel so much better after reading that! I am 32 weeks now with a scheduled c-section approaching. I have a 5-year-old at home and was totally freaking out about how I’m going to manage the pain, a new baby and a little one tugging at my boot-straps. I guess you just get through it. This time I’m going to take FULL advantage of the nurses while I’m in the hospital. I also had to laugh when you said:
    “Good news! I’m taking out your catheter and then we get to WALK TO THE BATHROOM!”
    I totally remember that from my first c-section!!! And felt the same way–wishing that I could leave that thing in forever and just stay in bed. Didn’t help that when my nurse came in it was like 6am. Anyway, thanks!!!!

  • boofyq

    November 14, 2008 at 11:15 am

    Congrats on #2 & #3 Kristen 🙂
    If you haven’t already, find your local Mothers of Twins Club (go to and you can search by zip code) You’ll find a supportive group of moms of multiples who will have lots of advice on handling twins, and newborns + toddlers. Twins are awesome!

  • Molly

    November 14, 2008 at 11:15 am

    I am 3 weeks out of a planned C section for my second child. The biggest piece of advice I can give for making the healing go well is to really take advantage of the downtime you have in the hospital. Sleep as much as possible, and enjoy the one on one time with your new baby b/c as soon as you get home with your second child, c-section or not….life goes on. There is no rest for the weary and like it or not there is work to be done around the house.
    And just like many of you, I came home with ibuprofen and a stronger narcotic. I have only needed the ibuprofin a couple of times and by a little over 1 week post op, I was feeling almost normal. By 2 weeks I was picking up my toddler again and at 3 weeks I feel like the surgery was forever ago and am dieing to get back to excersizing to lose the dreaded baby weight.
    healing from a planned C-section has been much easier than healing from the first one and believe it or not, I actually enjoyed my 4 days stay in the hospital, the pain wasn’t terrible and it was a nice mini vacation away from all of my real life responsibilities (including caring for my 2 year old).

  • MamaCarter

    November 14, 2008 at 1:29 pm

    I had an emergency c last time, and am now 27 days from a scheduled c. My advice is to line up as much help as possible for everything that can be done by someone else. Last time, even though I had a picture pefect heal (no ruptures, etc.) I was in such pain I could barely push open the door to our apartment building 5 days post surgery. So yeah, to say I’m terrified for what is going to happen to me is an understatement. But you do heal. I am mentally and physically preparing everything ahead of time as best as I can. Put everything close to where you will nurse, so you don’t have to swing around your body to grab stuff. Get a nursing stool if you are short, so your legs don’t dangle (and pull on your stomach) when you are nursing. Invest in seriously comfy (LOOSE) pj bottoms/sweats to wear for a week or so at home. And give yourself a break. Yes, you had a baby, huzzah! But you also had MAJOR f’ing surgery. Cry, beg for help, eat bon bons. Do what works.

  • aoife

    November 14, 2008 at 8:09 pm

    I would also like to point out that “once a csection, always a csection” is simply not true. If the person in the original question had a lower, transverse incision (the bikini line), then there is very little reason to require a csection.
    If you really want to have a vaginal birth in this situation (with the lower transverse incision) you will need to do some foot work. It was worth EVERY PENNY i spent on my nurse midwife to have a VBAC – I was up and running the next day. I totally couldn’t have cared for my 5 year old and newborn after another csection.

  • Vintagevamp

    November 15, 2008 at 3:33 pm

    Great post; thanks! I am currently pregnant with twin boys (my first) and have a c-section scheduled for Jan. 5. I’ve really been stressing about the recovery + caring for 2 newborns, but this makes me feel a bit better.

  • JennyMooMeow

    November 17, 2008 at 5:58 pm

    Hey Kirsten, good luck getting pregnant. AMEN AMY! Everything Amy wrote is true. I just baby #2, a girl, on 9/19. And I had a normal birth with yucky episiotomy (Ouch!) and I also have a toddler boy, 2 1/2. The concerns are the same whether you have normal birth or c-section and I’ve relied on my hubby and my parents a lot to handle the toddler. Somehow it will all work out.

  • Chelsea

    March 29, 2009 at 8:13 pm

    with my first daughter, I labored for 23 hours, and ended up in the operating room, scared out of my mind (19-years-old), looking at a c-section.
    she was perfect, though, and I was out of bed as soon as the epidural wore off.
    I was hesitant at first to request pain meds, but after a couple hours of “hmmm… ya know, this really does hurt…” I started asking for them. I filled my percocet prescription on my way home, and they definitely weren’t enough for the pain (high tolerance).
    I had dreamt of the “perfect birth” without any pain management, no complications, etc. I hadn’t even read up at all on c-sections. Now, I’m 39 weeks, and find out tomorrow when my second c-section will be. Truthfully, I feel a little bit like I’m missing out on the “true experience”…again, but I also know what to expect this time around, and that’s making it a lot easier.
    I’m terrified of my toddler, though. She’s ridiculously active (20 months), and likes to take flying leaps off of couch cushions into my lap. I should invest in a giant bubble…