Cesareans can be medically necessary, life-saving events for both mothers and babies and they can also be powerful, emotionally resonant experiences. These tips can help make your experience before, during, and after a C-section birth positive and fulfilling.
Almost 1 in 3 babies in the United States are born by Cesarean section, making it one of the most frequently performed inpatient surgical procedures in our country—and a super-common way to meet your baby. Not everyone plans for one, and not everyone is happy to have one. But C-sections can be medically necessary, life-saving events for moms and babies, and they can also be powerful, emotionally resonant experiences. The first thing to remember is that Cesarean births are births. They can be really wonderful experiences that you can value. Not just because it’s your baby’s birthday, but because of what actually happens in the operating room and how you are treated.
Whether you are having a Cesarean for the birth of your first baby or planning on a repeat C-section to grow your family, you have options. These tips can help make your experience before, during, and after the birth positive and fulfilling.
Pick Your Provider
Choosing a doctor you like, trust, and respect will go a long way towards having a great Cesarean. You want to make sure you have a provider who is willing to work with you. If you have special requests for your birth it’s probably good to bring them up early in your pregnancy, at the first visit if possible. You want to make sure your doctor is someone you can talk with easily and honestly; after all, they are the person who will be helping you bring your baby into the world.
Ask (Lots of) Questions
Yes, birth and medical procedures are unpredictable and come with risks and possible complications, but that doesn’t mean you can’t have an idea of what to expect. Try asking your provider what a C-section procedure is usually like at their facility: Women can say,
“Can you tell me what is it like having a Cesarean at your hospital? What things happen with the baby? How soon will I see my baby after he or she comes out?”
Other things to ask: Who will be present in the room? What happens if you or your baby experience complications during the surgery? What happens if baby has to go to the NICU? Ask questions that make sense to you, based on your medical situation, your personality, and your previous experiences. Talk through different scenarios with your hospital team so you can have a good idea of what to expect should anything happen.
Consider a Family-Centered Cesarean
Family-centered Cesareans (also called gentle Cesareans) are gaining popularity all over the U.S. Done for scheduled cesareans or cesareans resulting from a labor that fails to progress or dilate and where the the baby is expected to be healthy, they can include: having the surgery explained while it happens; pulling the surgical drape down (or providing a clear drape) so the mother can see her baby being born; delayed cord clamping with the infant on the mother’s chest; skin-to-skin contact between mother and baby immediately after birth; and the ability of support people to take pictures of the baby directly after the birth.
In traditional Cesareans, medically stable babies are generally brought to a warmer in the operating room, then checked and weighed (and sometimes cleaned), then wrapped up before being taken to a nursery or occasionally given to the partner to hold and shown to the mother briefly. With family-centered Cesareans, a great deal of effort is made to ensure mothers and babies can see and touch each other right away.
Involve Your Partner
While you’re the one giving birth, your partner is part of the experience too. So talk with him or her, find out their feelings, and see what might make your baby’s birthday easy, awesome, and emotionally-resonant for them, too.
Try being very clear with your partner: It can be stressful for spouses, so letting everyone know what their role is will help. Perhaps they would like to do skin-to-skin with the baby if you are not able or willing to do it, or maybe they want to be the person to announce the baby’s sex.
Hire a Doula
A doula for a Cesarean? Yes! Doulas aren’t just for unmedicated vaginal births, despite the cultural assumption. Doulas can help you plan prenatally, come up with questions for your provider, and process previous births. Some hospitals allow doulas in the operating room, while others do not. But a doula can provide help with breastfeeding and recovery in the hospital, as well as emotional and mental support before and after surgery. Some doulas also provide extensive postpartum care.
Plan for Postpartum
Recovering from your birth will also mean recovering from abdominal surgery, so make plans to assure life can be as easy as possible once you are at home. This can include preparing for meals (like freezing meals beforehand or organizing a meal train), setting up childcare or entertainment for older children, hiring help (like a postpartum doula or a house cleaner), enlisting support of your extended family, and just generally providing for your own self-care. Some women set up a special recovery area in their home, which has snacks, water, baby-feeding supplies and other useful items—this allows them to rest and relax during the pivotal healing period.