Surviving A Cesarean: What to Pack, Buy + Expect with an Emergency C-Section

I want to say that no one expects a c-section, at least not with their first baby, but my friend knows someone that scheduled one on purpose – so that’s not a true statement….

If you’re reading this because you’re in the hospital with your baby beside you and an aching, dressed wound near your bikini line – I’m so sorry. I’m not sorry that your child has arrived earth-side, I’m sorry for the trauma that you experienced getting them here. My (sons) birth story is >>> here if you want to read it and know that you are not alone.

Maybe you’re here because you’re smarter than I was and you’re preparing for the worst. If so, you are STRONG. It takes a strong woman to realize you have no control, only God can drive that car. He drove mine into a ditch and it burst into flames, but He held my hand the entire time and in the end, I was holding my son and that’s what matters.

Here’s a link to a page that describes your options for a “gentle cesarean” – great reference if you’re bringing birth preferences to the hospital.

  1. Surgery = Swelling + Shaking (+ Sometimes Puking). Swelling, bloating, it happens. With surgery you are likely going to be pumped with IVs and so don’t be surprised if you experience either of these. Everyone I know that’s had this surgery has shaken the entire time. I haven’t done the research to know if it’s directly related to the medications you’re given, but I imagine it’s a little bit of that and a lot of trauma. Shaking like you’re gonna shake the baby out of your body instead of surgically remove it…normal. I shook like it was a new dance I’d invented, in the dead of winter, in the Antarctic. Oh, some women throw up the entire time… so if that’s you, this is also normal and I’m sorry! Basically, a full on panic attack while your baby is being cut out of you is likely to happen. Not to mention, I was positive I was going to die. I’d never had surgery before, I was delirious to the point of imagining things and death was my most vivid thought. Hysteria is part of the package when you’re confronted with something completely out of your control and unexpected.
  2. Yes, you will have a catheter. This is kind of common sense, but took me by surprise. It turned out to be the best thing ever. With an epidural comes a catheter and no need to get out of bed for anything. I was so tired of having to pee while laboring and knowing I’d end up with a contraction on the toilet. Those were good contractions, but dang it they hurt.
  3. Have a birthing playlist. If you end up with a cesarean, listening to music will help with the shaking, the nerves, the anxiety. A friend of mine highly recommends this! You can have headphones or have it blasted in the surgery room. She even had a mouth guard for the teeth chattering when she scheduled a c-section for her second birth!
  4. Your pillow is your friend. Right before I attempted to use the restroom for the first time, my nurse handed me a pillow. She said, “cough, sneeze, laugh, pee, poop – push this into your incision.” Not just that, but I soon figured out that by smashing a pillow into my bikini line, it was easier to stand and to sit, too! When we were home I was still employing the “pillow method” (I just made that up). My husband had to follow me to the bathroom and hold my pillow while I did my business. Before he’d say something funny, he’d hand me a pillow. You get the drift…if it causes pain, squeeze the pillow.
  5. Compression. Most hospitals have a belly band, if they don’t give it to you, ask for it. I’ll never chance birthing another child and a hospital not having one though, so regardless, if I have another baby I’ll be packing one. It has benefits for those that have a vaginal birth as well, so it’s not going to hurt to buy one. Here’s a link to the one I bought for home because I basically destroyed the one they gave me at the hospital. If you don’t like the belly bands, reach for a pair of high waisted leggings!
  6. Upstairs bedroom? Welcome home to your new living-room-mattress-on-the-floor bedroom. My bedroom was not upstairs, but it was high off the ground. First thing we did when I got home was use our office chair like a wheelchair and my husband pulled the box spring out from under our mattress to lower it. I’d suggest throwing the mattress on the floor for your first week home and if you’re in as much pain as I was you won’t be doing stairs for a while….
  7. What? My bed at home doesn’t mechanically move?! As soon as I plopped in my bed at home I immediately missed the mechanical hospital bed. It lowered so I could get up. It had support so I could sit up. Invest in a bed rest pillow immediately. In fact, if someone can get it for you same day or if you just buy one prior to birth – do it. It’ll be nice for breastfeeding or bottle feeding regardless of a cesarean. I’ve found them cheapest at Target. (Here’s a cute furry one for $18)
  8. Document all medication. The last thing you and your delirious partner are going to remember when you’re home is the last time you took a pill. Every pill that goes in your mouth needs to be written down. We kept a notepad by our bed. If I was in a crap ton of pain, I’d glance at the notepad, do a little math and decide if I could take another pain pill. You need to be able to rest to heal so don’t boycott the pain meds. I’m an advocate for avoiding prescriptions, but not at all costs. You need to weigh the risks here and narcotics after major abdominal surgery isn’t only logical, but necessary – this coming from a mom that intended to forgo an epidural and have a “natural” vaginal birth. That lasted 35 hours…. *sarcasm intended*
  9. Food? No matter what, you’re not going to find an easy way to get dinner on the table, c-section or not. Maybe you made a bunch of crock pot meals and stocked your freezer? If you did have a c-section and the instructions aren’t easy for your partner to follow, that’s probably not going to happen. I survived off of Daily Harvest smoothies. This isn’t an ad. I bought a subscription to Daily Harvest intending to cancel after my first box and I fell in love. It’s literally a subscription smoothie company. My husband poured (nut) milk in the cup and dumped it in our nutribullet and BAM I had food. Not just food, but decent nutrition to help me on my breast feeding journey. I also instacarted a ton of Bonafide Provisions frozen bone broth soups (french onion, tomato, chicken and vegetable). Bone broth is phenomenal for postpartum recovery. ($25 off Daily Harvest here)
  10. Mental Health Matters. PTSD and depression are REAL things that you may be experiencing postpartum, especially if your c-section was unplanned/an emergency. Don’t dismiss your mental health, get help. Talk to your doctor, talk to your partner. You’re not alone. I couldn’t look at photos from my son’s birth for over a month. I couldn’t touch my incision/scar for over a month either and not unless I was in a bathtub (great tip, if you’re working towards touching your incision and you’re allowed to take a bath – start there).
  11. You will bleed. Didn’t have a vaginal birth so you’re not going to bleed like a horror film, right? Wrong. You’ll still need the diapers, the mesh undies, the giant pads. You will still be shedding the home your baby had for 9 months and you’ll also be healing. You’ll still need abdominal massage (torture) from your nurses.
  12. Laxatives are like a hospital right of passage. One that I happily declined. I wanted the chance to potty on my own before I took yet another medication. Especially one with side effects that were rather common. I opted for a dose of magnesium (Calm drink mix I packed in my hospital bag) and a little prayer. I’d have taken it if I needed to, but I didn’t. They still tried to give it to me, almost immediately after surgery. This is one I’m glad I declined.
  13. Bring home the mesh panties. I actually bought these on Amazon as soon as I was home so I could just throw away each pair daily, they were disgusting. Trust me though, you won’t be wearing low-rise anything for a while because that is exactly where that nice new (painful) incision is. My cute low-rise thongs took a backseat to high rise, mesh undies for weeks (yes, plural, no shame in my game).
  14. Vaginal ice packs make great incision ice packs…. Not much to say here. The hospital has ice packs for postpartum vaginal deliveries that fit perfectly on top of your incision.
  15. Silicone Stripping. This is one thing my doctor told me to start doing as soon as I was home to aid in smoothing out my scar. The stripping I use is here.
  16. Interdry Fabric. I did not use this, but it was suggested to me by a follower. After some research, this looks like a very good way to keep your incision site dry. If your postpartum belly has any sort of overlap with your incision, this could be a difficult task and the interdry fabric will help.
  17. Peri bottles aren’t just for vaginal birth. Cleaning down there is nearly impossible and a peri bottle will ease that burden for you. Not to mention, filling mine with cool water actually helped me to pee for the first time (not an easy task after a catheter). Here is the one I bought and preferred to the hospital version.
  18. Massage. Research scar massage and once you get the all clear from your doctor, start. Scar massage can greatly reduce the look of a scar and help to smooth it out. The cosmetic benefit isn’t the main reason to do scar tissue massage though, relaxing and making that scar tissue mobile is vital for your future mobility. I’m talking pain during intercourse, pain when using your abs, pain, pain, pain – if your scar isn’t mobile. Some women have no issues, but if you’re one that does, it’s never too late to start. If you’re near a big city, you may be able to find a Physical Therapist that performs scar tissue massage.

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