things I wish I had known before my first C-section (plus some recovery tips)

I am a three-time C-section mama and proud of it. Of course, it wasn't the type of birth I pictured when I got pregnant for the first time, but after going through the procedure 3 times, I've realized it's not so bad at all. In fact, I've even grown fond of my C-section memories, because it's how my babies made their way into the world safely. Now that I'm a Veteran C-section Mom, I've picked up a few tips and tricks for making recovery a little smoother. 

All 3 of my surgeries were planned and scheduled, for different reasons. My first baby was breech and wouldn't turn no matter what I've tried. My second baby was gigantic, and I moved across the country at 36 weeks pregnant. My new OB just wasn't comfortable letting me attempt a VBAC past 40 weeks, so when I didn't go into labor naturally, we scheduled a C-section. With my third, there wasn't really a question of whether I would try a VBAC, and I was ok with it. I knew what to expect from a C-section!

I was completely unprepared for my first C-section even though it had been scheduled weeks in advance. I kind of figured I would show up and they would tell me what to do! And for the most part, they did. BUT there are a few things I wish I had known ahead of time, and I'm about to spill everything I know. 

Related: What to Pack in Your Hospital Bag for a Scheduled C-Section

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Things I Wish I Had Known About a C-Section

You Might Be Nauseated 

I had no idea how sick to my stomach I would feel during the actual procedure (I think because of the drugs coursing through my body), and directly afterward, too! I really wanted to be a low-maintenance champ, so I kept it to myself at first. That was ridiculous. 

I was strapped down spread-eagle on a table, which is not an ideal position for combatting nausea. Speak up and let the anesthesiologist know if you're feeling sick. He or she can pump some meds to calm your stomach.

By my second and third C-section, I knew enough to chat with the anesthesiologist before the procedure started. I let him know that I had felt really sick during my first surgery, and he assured me he wouldn't let that happen. He kept his word, and as soon as I started feeling nauseated, I let him know and he took care of it right away. 

The Spinal is Going to Suck, but You'll Be OK

I mean, there's no getting around it. You're going to have a needle stuck in your spine while you're hunched over your giant pregnant belly. It's not fun, and it's not comfortable. And worst of all, your significant other won't be allowed in the room yet. 

I don't want to scare you at all, though. I want to encourage you to stay focused on the end result. You will get through this VERY brief moment in the procedure. You are strong, and it's getting you one step closer to meeting your sweet babe. Let your doctors and nurses know if you're feeling particularly anxious about this step - they will be there for you.

You'll Feel Some Pressure

During the surgery, the doctors will be working hard to bring your baby earthside, which means you'll feel some pressure on your abdomen and even your chest. It didn't hurt at all (for me at least - everyone is different), and I noticed the pressure a lot more with my breech baby than with my other 2. In fact, I was chatting away with my husband and the anesthesiologist when suddenly I heard crying. I was shocked! I hadn't really felt a thing!

When I was preparing for the unmedicated birth I wanted (and never got) I learned a lot about picking a focal point and using the power of my mind to breathe through the painful parts of birthing a child. It's no different with a C-section. Parts of the surgery are weird and uncomfortable, so find something to calm your mind and nerves. 

I talked to my doctors, nurses, and anesthesiologist about travel destinations and we talked and laughed through the whole procedure. When my husband joined us, I asked him to keep talking with me, too, so I would have something to focus on besides my body being cut open on the other side of the blue curtain. 

When my husband was taking a picture or not in the room yet, I focused on saying prayers for a safe surgery and thought about how happy I would feel meeting my baby for the first time.

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You Can Take Pictures

In fact, in all three surgeries I've had, pictures were encouraged! Ask your husband to be the cameraman for the procedure. I had to walk my husband through how to work our nice camera, and I set up the camera settings ahead of time. I truly cherish those photos of the first moments of my kids' lives. If you're unsure about your hospital's policy on this, just ask! 

You Can Bond with your Baby Right Away

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Again, check your hospital's policy on this, but mine was incredibly open to me getting skin-to-skin contact right away. In fact, while they were stitching me up I was able to lay the baby on my chest, and a nurse even helped me start breastfeeding right on the table. To be honest, it's kind of an awkward angle to hold your baby, since you're spread eagle on a narrow table, but the nurses are right there to make sure everything goes smoothly. And in the moment, I didn't care! I just wanted to snuggle with my baby.

You'll Have a Catheter

Don't worry, your lower half will already be numb during this part. Because of the spinal, you won't be able to walk for the first few hours following the surgery, which means you won't be able to go to the bathroom, hence the catheter. Honestly, I didn't even notice it. 

Your Face Might Itch

This is honestly the strangest side effect of a C-section, and not everyone gets this, but my face itched like crazy after all three of my surgeries. The only problem was, I didn't remember anything about this symptom the second and third time until the itching started up! If I ever have a 4th C-section, I will have to remember to let the nurses know before my surgery even begins. Again, communication is key! They can add something to your IV to relieve the itching sensation. 

Know your Options with Pain Medication

Let me preface this point by reminding you that I am NOT a medical professional and I am not giving you advice about what pain medication to take or not take. You need to figure that out with your own doctor. I'm just sharing my experience here because I wish someone had told me the first time!

After my first C-section, I happily accepted any and all pain medication they offered me. What I didn't realize was that the narcotics contributed to constipation. Not. Fun.

The second and third time around, I asked for just ibuprofen. I was able to manage the pain just fine with that. And really, staying on top of your pain medication is so important, because you don't want to be miserable while caring for a newborn. It's just something to be aware of so you can ask your doctor or nurse about it, and come to a decision together with them.

C-Section Recovery Tips

Move around

As soon as your catheter is removed and you get the ok from your doctors and nurses, go ahead and start walking around your hospital room. I like to make my way to the bathroom and take a nice long shower as soon as I'm able.

This is not for everyone, but I also like to put on a bit of makeup and do my hair. It feels so good to be human again after being poked and prodded nonstop for the surgical procedure. 

If your hospital lets you, do some (slow) laps in the hallway and take your significant other or a visitor with you. Walking is so good for after a C-section because it increases your circulations and helps "get things moving" in the digestion department. 

Increase the amount of walking you do each day after you get home from the hospital. Weather-permitting, get outside and enjoy the fresh air. If not, just do some laps around your house. 

Drink Tons of Water

Sometimes I feel like a crazy old lady who thinks drinking more water fixes any ailment. Tired? Drink more water. Sick? Drink more water. A toothache? Drink more water.

But anyway, in this case, you should definitely drink as much water as you can handle after your C-section for 3 reasons:

1. It will help combat constipation.

2. It will help flush out all the meds and drugs in your system. (And help you get rid of all the fluid you're retaining)

3. It will help establish your milk supply if you're planning to breastfeed.

Pay Attention to your Nutrition

I attribute my quick recovery from my second and third C-section to excellent nutrition during my pregnancy and postpartum.

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During my pregnancy, I drank two superfood shakes every day to make sure my body was getting the protein, vitamins, and minerals it needed to grow a baby. I brought my shakes and blender with me to the hospital so I could enjoy them postpartum, too! 

I also added a fiber supplement. This particular fiber supplement obviously helps get things moving, but it also contains probiotics and trace minerals to help improve your gut health. You can also add in a collagen supplement to help your tissues heal.

Once you're given the green light to eat after your surgery, focus on foods that are rich in fiber (lots of fruits and veggies), protein (lean meats, nuts and nut butter, eggs), and vitamin C.

Get Up the Right Way

This seems like a small thing, but pay attention to how you are getting up from the bed or couch. Don't use your abs to lift your body up; rather, roll over to your side and push yourself up with your arms. Trust me, your healing abdominal muscles and incision with thank you!

Use a Belly Binder

I know reviews are mixed on this because you don't want to completely depend on the belly binder instead of strengthening your own ab muscles, but I will say that using one when I recovered from my 3rd C-section made such a huge difference.

I wore it the majority of the day for the first 6 weeks, then for just a few hours a day after that. It helped protect my incision and made it easier for me to do everyday tasks without feeling like my insides were falling out.

At some points during my recovery I had no choice but to lift my giant toddler, so wearing the belly binder gave me peace of mind. Even with the belly binder, make sure to use your legs to lift, not your abdominal muscles. 

For the first week or so, I used a cheap one from Amazon. I had ordered a Belly Bandit BFF in size small but didn't fit into it right away as my uterus shrunk back down and I was still retaining water.

Don't Overdo It

I know this seems to clash with my advice to walk a lot, but speaking from personal experience, you need to listen to your body and not try to do something you're not ready for. When I was recovering from my second C-section I was feeling really good. We had just moved and were in the process of setting up our new home. 

I ran to WalMart by myself to do some décor shopping and to take a break from the kids when I saw a bookshelf that would be perfect for toy storage, AND it was on sale. Instead of asking an employee to help me, I just went ahead and loaded the box into the cart. 

Not only was I in pain for the next few days, but I was afraid I had caused a hole in my incision that I had to monitor and worry about. 

Anyway, I know it's tempting to start vacuuming, lifting things, and resuming life as normal when you're 4 or 5 weeks out from surgery and feeling good, but just listen to your doctors and use this time to actually relax and rest. Accept the help people offer and give your body a chance to heal. 

Football Hold when Nursing

With all three of my kids I used the football hold to nurse them directly after the C-section. I found it to be the most comfortable way to avoid pressure on my abdomen and incision. Having a nursing pillow like the Boppy is a Godsend because you can just tuck the baby beside you. 

Air Pockets

I only experienced this after my second C-section, but I think it's worth mentioning. You may feel like there are air pockets trapped between your shoulder blades after your surgery. I'm not sure if it's related to constipation or the surgery itself, but apparently, this is a pretty common complaint after C-sections. A little bit of Gas-X should help!

Caring for your Incision

I'm not going to give you too much advice here, because your nurses will do a much better job of giving you all the details. Something that worked for me, though, was to bring an extra washcloth in the shower each time that was specifically for cleaning my incision. I would get it really soapy, hold it above my incision, and let the soapy water wash over the scar. Then I would pat it gently with the soapy washcloth.

Make sure to then pat it completely dry with a clean towel after your shower, and keep it covered! A lot of moms like to use a pad over the incision site in the first few days. Compression felt really good to me, so I wore my pregnancy belly band (you know, the one you use during pregnancy to keep your pants up) over it, then put my Belly Bandit wrap over that.

After your 6-week checkup, and when you get the ok from your OB, you can start treating your scar with Vitamin E oil and Earth Mama Organic Skin & Scar Balm

Keep Pillows Around

Pillows make excellent splints when you need to cough, laugh, or sneeze. Just hold it tightly over your belly, and keep one in every room!

Let Others Help 

This was the hardest part after my first and second C-section. I wanted to prove how quickly I could recover (like it's a race?) and how I could handle motherhood effortlessly. After my third baby, I realized the only way I would survive a 3-year-old, a 1-year-old, and a newborn while recovering surgery was with lots of help and lots of grace. 

I am so thankful my mom was able to come help since my husband is a teacher and there was one more month of school left after we had the baby. I was also really lucky to have a church family that put together a meal train for us so I didn't have to cook for weeks after having the baby.

I realize not everyone has the same support, but just keep in mind that if someone offers to help, this is not the time to feel bad about taking them up on it. They are offering because they WANT to help. Even if it means having them sit with your baby for an hour while you nap! 

Give it Time

After each C-section, I feel like the postpartum, gross, leaky, sore, exhausted phase will last FOR-E-VER. I'm so eager for my "normal" life to resume. I want my body back, I want my boobs back, and I want to be able to lift my other kids. 

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Here I am, almost 1 year after my third C-section, and I can't believe how "easy" life feels. How was that a year ago? I'm in the closing stages of weaning my baby, and I'm able to leave the house by myself for hours at a time without having to rush back home to feed someone (I mean when my husband is home on the weekend). 

I can vacuum, lift my kids, exercise, and drive myself. My old clothes finally fit again, and today.I wore a regular bra. That's right. Not a nursing bra. 

And you know what? Typing this out, I almost feel nostalgic for those newborn days. Almost. 

So just know that yes, it may be a tough stage, and you just want your recovery to speed up, but this too shall pass, and soon enough it will be a distant memory.

C-section mama? You got this. You're a warrior. This is nothing you can't handle.

C-Section Recovery Shopping List:

Belly Bandit BFF OR C-Section & Recovery Undies

Bellaband

Superfood Shakes

Fiber Supplement

Collagen Supplement

Boppy Pillow

Vitamin E oil and Earth Mama Organic Skin & Scar Balm 

Further Reading:

What to Pack in your Hospital Bag for a C-Section

Healthy Food and Snack Ideas for Nursing Moms

To The Disappointed Mom Preparing for a C-Section

Healing Diastasis Recti: MuTu System Review

The Ultimate Guide to Losing the Stubborn Baby Weight

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