How to Prepare for a C-Section

December 6, 2023

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Learn what to expect and how to be ready for a cesarean delivery.

If you are having a baby, there’s a lot to do to get ready: setting up the nursery, picking out the perfect stroller and deciding how you’ll feed and care for your little one. And while most parents don’t plan for a cesarean section, sometimes it is medically necessary: Nearly 3 in 10 babies are born this way, with 1 in 10 being an unplanned or emergency situation.

Whether you have scheduled a C-section or just want to be prepared for any outcome during delivery, here’s what you should know.

What Is a C-Section?

A cesarean section, or C-section, delivery is a procedure in which a baby is removed from the uterus through a surgical incision in the mother’s abdomen rather than delivered through the vaginal canal.

When Is a C-Section Delivery Necessary?

Most of the time, this delivery method is a choice made between expecting parents and their prenatal provider based on complications that arise during pregnancy, which can include:

  • Placenta previa: The placenta, which nourishes the fetus during pregnancy, blocks the cervical opening.
  • Medical conditions: As part of your prenatal care, doctors evaluate a mother’s personal health situation to determine if a vaginal birth would put too much stress on her body due to an existing medical condition.
  • Previous C-section: Many women who have had a C-section in the past will opt for this method again, as delivering vaginally after a C-section could result in complications, such as separation of the previous uterine scar.
  • Infections: In some circumstances, if the mother has a sexually transmitted disease, a C-section can prevent the infection from reaching the baby in the birth canal.
  • Size: It can be difficult and even dangerous to deliver a very large baby vaginally.
  • Position: Sometimes a C-section is recommended if a baby is not in the proper position for delivery — for example, if the baby’s bottom or feet are facing down, known as a breech position, or a shoulder is facing down, known as a transverse position.

In some cases, complications come up when the mother is in labor. Even if parents are planning a vaginal delivery, providers may recommend an unplanned C-section if any of these occur:

  • Labor is too slow or stops.
  • The baby isn’t getting enough oxygen or has an irregular heartbeat.
  • The umbilical cord slips into the birth canal before the baby.

Read More: Pregnancy, Birth and Beyond: Who’s Who on Your Team

How Can I Get Ready for a C-Section?

Before a cesarean delivery, it’s normal to feel scared, excited, anxious, happy or a mix of emotions. Remember that childbirth is a life-changing event, regardless of how your baby is delivered. You can rest assured that you and your providers are making the decision that is in the best interests of you and your baby.

In the weeks before the due date, you might want to make a list of your concerns and questions to review with your provider so you know what to expect on the “big day.” This can cover requests for how you will manage pain and whom you want in the room during delivery.

You can include your wishes related to a C-section, too, whether or not it is planned. For instance, you can ask about options for you to view watch the birth, request that your partner be in the operating room with you or ask for skin-to-skin bonding time with your baby immediately after delivery.

What Is Best to Eat Before a C-Section?

If you are having a scheduled C-section, your provider will give you preparation instructions, including when you can eat and what to avoid. As a general rule, it’s best not to eat solid foods for eight hours before the operation, instead having clear liquids such as juice, broth, clear tea and water. Do not eat or drink anything for two hours before your scheduled C-section. If you are having an unplanned operation and have eaten food within a few hours, be sure to let your provider know.

What Is Recovery Like After a C-Section?

After a C-section, you and your baby will stay in the hospital until your provider determines that you are ready to return home, usually two to three days after delivery. You will be given discharge instructions that include how to care for your incision, what medication to take for pain relief, signs to look for that could indicate infection or another complication, and when to schedule a postpartum visit.

Breastfeeding is just as beneficial to baby and mother following a C-section as a vaginal birth, and medications given to manage a mother’s pain do not interfere with the ability to breastfeed. While you may need to use breastfeeding positions that don’t irritate your incision, such as the football and side-lying holds, you’re still encouraged to breastfeed while in the hospital and beyond.

Here’s how to make your recovery easier for you and your baby:

  • Rest as much as you can in the first week. Ask for extra help from friends and family, avoid lifting heavy objects and sleep when your baby sleeps.
  • If you need to cough, sneeze or laugh, hold a pillow over your incision for extra support. You can also ask for an abdominal binder that can help make your abdominal muscles feel more secure.
  • Don’t take a bath or go in a pool or hot tub until your provider gives you the go-ahead.
  • Drink plenty of water and eat fiber-rich foods to reduce the risk of constipation.
  • Keep your incision clean and dry.

Read More: A Lactation Consultant Answers Your Breastfeeding Questions

C-Section Awareness Month

April is Cesarean Awareness Month. Each year, organizations such as the International Cesarean Awareness Network educate the public on the lifesaving importance of C-sections and empower expecting parents to make educated decisions on their delivery. Many mothers who delivered via C-section share their birth stories on social media using hashtags such as #CesareanAwarenessMonth and #ICANadvocate.