Very few women go into their first pregnancy knowing they’re going to have a Cesarean Section (c-section). Even though my first pregnancy was extremely complicated, a vaginal birth was always the plan…right up until it wasn’t. My first c-section was in an emergency situation, so there wasn’t time for anyone to tell me what to expect. I’ve since had two more c-sections, and these are the things I wish I’d known before that first time I was rolled into the OR.
~An epidural or spinal block only keeps you from feeling pain.
I had NO IDEA that I would be able to feel pressure, tugging, and pushing during my c-section. I remember laying on the table and screaming, “I CAN FEEL THAT!” The anesthesiologist then explained that the epidural/spinal only blocks pain, not sensation. So know that you’ll feel tugging on your stomach, and lots of pressure, especially when it’s time to pull the baby out (usually someone is pushing – hard – on the top of your uterus, which is right at the base of your rib cage).
~You will bleed.
Not from your surgical site – that’s all closed up. This bleeding is like a heavy period, and it’s called lochia. I was totally puzzled as to why I was bleeding down there, since a baby hadn’t come out that way, but it’s totally normal. It’s also normal for a nurse to come and push on your uterus to help expel some of the extra blood and tissue your body is trying to pass. The bleeding will be heavy for a few days and then slowly taper off – but know that as you increase your activity level, you could bleed a bit more.
~You might get the shakes.
My entire body shook violently for at least an hour or two after my c-section. Luckily, my husband remembered his sister also shaking after she’d had her first baby, and he calmed me down. My body was responding to the regional anesthetic (an epidural) and my wildly fluctuating hormones. The shakes subsided after a few hours, and they were minimal after my second and third c-sections, when my anesthesiologists gave me spinal blocks instead of epidurals.
~You’ll have to walk before you think you’re ready.
After my first c-section, I wasn’t allowed to walk for almost twenty-four hours, and even that seemed impossibly soon to be up and around. My nurse explained that the sooner I was walking, the sooner I would heal. She helped me out of bed at my own pace, and I only walked about forty paces on my first stroll. After my second c-section, the nurses had me up and walking only five hours later, and they had me doing laps every few hours. It sounds incredibly painful, but your body can do it.
~Gas is your enemy.
I was four days postpartum before I experienced THE GAS. I had pain in my uterus/stomach that was so intense I literally thought I was dying. Luckily for me, I was standing next to a nurse when it happened, and he talked me through it. After a c-section, your body’s internal organs are settling back into their places, and your digestive system is rebooting. Ask your nurse or doctor immediately for anti-gas medication (simethicone or gas-x) and take it as often as you’re allowed. It will make a huge difference.
~Stool softeners are your best friend.
Remember how I said above that your digestive system is rebooting? Well, just like you want to take your gas medication religiously, you’ll want to regularly take a stool softener (your doctor will likely have to write an order for this, too). Many hospitals require you to have a bowel movement before you’re discharged home, and a stool softener can speed up this process and make it much less painful.
~Laughing/coughing/sneezing are a pain in the gut.
I never realized how many muscles I had in my stomach until the first time I sneezed post-surgery. I had such a stabbing pain right after I sneezed that I put my hands on my incision to make sure it was still closed! Keep an extra pillow handy to press against your incision whenever you feel a cough, sneeze, or even laugh coming on.
~Binding your stomach helps with pain.
I thought the idea of wrapping something tightly around my incision sounded insane, but then I tried it and now I’m a stomach-binding convert. The support around my entire incision and lower back made a huge difference in how I was able to move around in the days and weeks post-surgery. I used this one, but some hospitals have free ones so be sure to ask.