How to Prepare for a C-Section: A Real Mom's Guide

I wasn't prepared for a c-section, but I learned a lot from the experience. These tips can help you prepare, even if you aren't expecting to have a c-section.

Published July 18, 2023
woman with c-section

I didn't plan for my daughter's birth to end with a c-section, but it did. Because of that, I wish I would have spent some more time preparing for the possibility of a cesarean, so I wasn't quite so shocked by the process and the recovery.

My unplanned c-section was definitely the best choice for mine and my baby's well-being, but it came with a lot of details I wasn't quite prepared to handle. By having some insight from moms who went through it, your birth and postpartum experience can be as positive as possible.

Why Preparing for a C-Section Is Important

My entire pregnancy was spent preparing for natural labor, vaginal birth, and unmedicated pain management. That's not the right choice for everyone or every pregnancy, but it's what I wanted at the time. I watched all the videos, read all the books, and listened to all the natural birth podcasts I could find.

pregnant woman

It Could Help Reduce the Fear and Anxiety

Being prepared could help mitigate some of the worry and anxiety new parents have. I both feared and expected to avoid a cesarean delivery. I don't do too well with minor cuts and medical intervention, so being awake while my abdomen was sliced open sounded, quite literally, like my worst fear. Unfortunately, at 41 weeks and 6 days, my midwife, team of nurses, and obstetrician decided that a c-section would be the safest way to bring my daughter - who was very reluctant to make her appearance - into the world.

My husband and I, after assessing the pros and cons of both options in the hospital room, decided they were right. There was a very high likelihood that she would get stuck in the birth canal, putting both of us in danger.

The c-section procedure itself went smoothly and much like my doctor said it would - and only took about 40 minutes. But the only thing that kept the anxiety from bubbling over into panic was my doctor's reassuring words that he would safely get our baby earthside as he squeezed my hand over the surgical curtain.

You'll Have a Better Idea of What to Expect Post-C Section

Once my baby girl was born and I knew she was safe, most of my fears completely disappeared. But, there were a few things down the road of c-section recovery that I was not at all prepared for.

If I could go back in time and have a conversation with my pregnant self, I would advise her to look into and prepare for the possibility of a c-section. Then she could focus more on falling in love with her newborn daughter and less on how to navigate this unexpected journey to motherhood.

Need to Know

There are lots of positive c-section stories. In fact, other c-section moms I've spoken to have explained that their second and third c-sections were much easier to recover from since they knew what to expect.

What You Need to Know About C-Section Recovery

If you're a first time mom or you've only ever had vaginal births, it's important to know what you can expect during the cesarean and during recovery. Many of these details will differ greatly from a vaginal birth.

woman with newborn baby
  • Recovery won't be easy: This is probably the hardest part of having a c-section. Though the process won't be simple or painless, it will get better with each passing day.

  • C-sections are not the easy way out of birth: In fact, c-sections put a lot of stress on your body and mind. The birthing process may be shorter, but it is still birthing a human, and that is never easy.

  • You will likely need help: You'll be recovering from major abdominal surgery. Help from those around you can be extremely important.

  • You can still nurse within the first hour: As long as your c-section goes smoothly, and the baby doesn't need a NICU stay, you should still be able to nurse toward the end of the first hour after birth if you choose to (you'll need to account for the time it takes to close the incision).

  • You'll have a longer hospital stay: You'll likely be kept at the hospital from three to five days after delivery if you have a c-section.

  • The first steps out of bed are the hardest: When I first stood up, with the help of two nurses, I honestly thought I would never walk again. The area of the incision and the weight of your uterus make that first walk from the bed tough, but it will get better with time.

  • You'll probably walk within 24 hours of surgery: I know that sounds wild, and looking back, it still feels that way. But nurses will most likely assist you in taking that first trip to the restroom 12-24 hours after your cesarean.

  • You're probably going to be extremely emotional: This is true after any birth, but if you went into the process expecting a vaginal birth, you might feel overwhelmed at the loss of that experience at first. As with all the other c-section details, this too will heal over time.

  • You might throw up: This is also common during vaginal births. But after a cesarean, your body will be adjusting to hormones, a lot of intravenous medication, and a little bit of shock. Nurses will not be grossed out by this and will probably expect it.

  • You can't eat right away: All those months of planning your post-delivery meal will have to wait close to another 24 hours. For the first few hours post-delivery, you'll only have liquids and then work your way up to your first real meal.

  • Rest is extremely important: Your body just grew a human and you just had multiple layers of skin and muscle sliced through. You need to rest as much as possible. If your partner or nurses are offering to let you sleep, take them up on it!

6 Key Ways to Prepare for a C-Section Delivery

You may not be planning to have a c-section. I certainly wasn't. In fact, it was the very last thing I wanted or imagined. But if you're giving birth at all, a c-section is always a possibility.

Don't do what I did: push the possibility out of your mind and be totally shocked by the process. Instead, be prepared for the potential of having a c-section. Many of these preparations will still serve you in the postpartum days, no matter how you deliver.

Need to Know

If you're having a planned c-section, your doctor should give you specific instructions to follow. These can vary, but may include avoiding shaving and perfumes and stopping certain medications before the procedure.

1. Make Sure You Have Meals for Days

Whether you prepare and freeze them yourself or you arrange for friends and family to drop them off, you're going to want plenty of meals that you and your partner don't have to spend time preparing. Ask for nutrient-rich, comforting meals that you love.

2. Bring a Non-Pants Going-Home Outfit

If you end up with a c-section, you'll have a fresh incision right at the bend of your hips with layers of thick bandaging. Pants probably won't be comfortable. Bring at least one going-home outfit option like a dress or jumpsuit so the waistband of your pants doesn't make the ride home more uncomfortable.

Need to Know

It's okay to leave the hospital looking like you just delivered an entire human. Choose what's most comfortable to you when going home.

woman getting ready to have a baby

3. Get a Belly Binder

This will be key in your c-section recovery and make movement much easier. The hospital will probably provide one for you, but it will be standard issue. Find one you like with great reviews from other moms so you can leave the hospital supported and as pain-free as possible. This is the one I used and loved.

4. Carefully Consider Your Pre-Birth Meal

That last meal before birth is just as important as the first meal post-birth. If you get prepped in the hospital for a c-section (or need an emergency c-section after hours of labor), you won't be provided with food until well you're in the recovery room. Grab a meal that's nutritious and full of protein before you go to the hospital so you can feel strong as you approach the birth process. (If you know you are having a c-section in advance, follow your doctor's instructions for limiting foods or only having liquids eight hours before the surgery).

5. Ask About C-Section Hospital Policies

In the early days of your pregnancy, ask the hospital where you'll be delivering how they handle c-sections. You'll want to know if they allow delayed cord clamping, how many people can be present during the surgery, if you can have skin-to-skin in the operating room, and what their percentage of c-section deliveries is compared to other hospitals in the area.

6. Be Upfront About Your Feelings

This is one thing, looking back, I'm glad I did during my birthing experience. When we decided that a c-section was the safest option, the fears of surgery set in for me. I was terrified for myself and for my daughter. My husband knew I was scared without having to tell him, but the medical team was a different story. So, I decided to be upfront with them.

When the surgeon, nurse, and anesthesiologist came to my room, I cut right to the chase. I told them I was scared and overwhelmed. I expected to be embarrassed or brushed off. But they all provided me with comforting words. In fact, the doctor actually asked me to explain to him every little thing that scared me.

woman about to give birth
Quick Tip

If you end up needing an emergency c-section, you may not have time for these lengthy discussions. Chat with your provider before labor about any concerns you have about a potential c-section. They can help set your mind at ease.

After listing out all of my fears, he gave me honest and reassuring answers. The anesthesiologist even let me know, in a comforting and hilarious way, that she would make sure I didn't go into a full panic in the middle of surgery.

Being up front about my fears helped me go into the operating room with at least a small sliver of confidence. Knowing that the medical team understood my nervousness and was making every effort to bring me comfort was exactly what I needed in those moments. They helped me hold on to hope until I could finally hold my baby girl in my arms.

C-Sections Can Be Beautiful

A c-section wasn't the birth story I wanted, but it might have been the one I needed. Facing my fear of a cesarean turned out to be a beautiful experience in the long run. Should you ever find yourself in the same situation, just know that you are beyond strong and bringing life into the world is beautiful and admirable, no matter how it happens.

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How to Prepare for a C-Section: A Real Mom's Guide