A woman sits near the fireplace with a coffee cup in her hand.  She appears to be relaxing.
One of the most important things you can do in the wake of a C-section is pencil in some alone time to relax and recover. (For Spectrum Health Beat)

In a recent post, we looked at some of the national and state initiatives that aim to reduce the rate of first-time cesarean sections for low-risk mothers.

Now we’ll look at how to provide support for women who undergo C-sections.

First, let’s talk about the many reasons expectant moms will need to undergo C-sections, which include:

  • The baby isn’t in a head-down position.
  • The baby is born breech.
  • Doctors are concerned with the health of mom or baby.
  • The umbilical cord comes out before the baby.
  • Mom is having more than one baby.
  • Labor isn’t progressing but mom is continuing to full dilation.
  • Cephlopelvic disproportion—baby’s head is too big to fit through smallest part of mom’s pelvis.

Most moms don’t expect a surgical birth and they usually don’t plan for it. But it still happens in about 1 in 3 deliveries.

Some of these conditions that merit C-sections are rare, but they do happen. When the umbilical cord emerges before the baby, for instance—a prolapsed umbilical cord—it can create complications. It only occurs in about 0.1% to 0.6% of births.

Many moms have twins, too, but how they’re delivered can affect the outcome. I recently talked to one mom who delivered her twins vaginally—one head down, one breech.

With all this in mind, I asked several moms who had C-sections for tips and suggestions they wish they’d heard ahead of time.

Here’s what they said expectant moms should know in advance:

Make time to heal

One of the first things many moms said: Remember that while you just had a baby and you’re very excited, you also just had major abdominal surgery. What does that mean? Your recovery will take time. There are limitations on what you can and can’t do after a C-section.

Expect a harder recovery

You’ll need to recover physically and you’ll be taking care of a new baby who requires 24/7 attention.

Physically, you shouldn’t be lifting anything heavier than your baby. You need to avoid going up and down stairs as much as possible. For some mothers, this might mean sleeping on a couch or somewhere on the first floor, if the bedroom is on another floor.

You’ll probably also need to splint your incision when you cough or laugh. One mom told me she had to tell others to stop making her laugh, because it hurt her incision too much.

Give yourself grace

Know and realize that even though you hadn’t planned for this surgery, you still gave birth. Allow yourself to grieve.

For some moms this is a difficult thing. It can take time. One mom told me it didn’t help when someone reminded her that she and baby were OK. She still needed time to grieve the loss of what she hoped her body would do but didn’t.

Other important tips:

  • Don’t rush to get back to normal. Take the time you need.
  • Expect pain at the incision site. You will be taking medication to help with the discomfort. One mom suggested using the timer on your phone to remind yourself to take meds as needed.
  • Don’t try to overdo things on your own—allow others to help you.
  • Prioritize sleep over housework.
  • When you are able, gentle walks can help speed recovery. It also helps you avoid constipation and blood clots.
  • Pay attention to your nutrition. Food can help your healing.
  • Remember that breastfeeding is still doable. Don’t be afraid to seek out a lactation consultant.
  • Remember to make your emotional health a top priority. Watch for signs of baby blues, which affects upwards of 80% of moms. Postpartum mood disorders can also be a struggle.