In celebration of the birth of our fifth baby, I have some baby posts in the line-up this week!  (Which I wrote ahead of time.)

What to Expect with a C-Section and Recovery

Baby Janie was my fourth c-section.  Not really my first choice, but my second son was breech, and for various reasons we were not able to do a vbac when our third son was ready to be born.  This post is not an attempt to advocate elective c-sections, but there are times when one is unavoidable.

If you are anticipating a c-section delivery, especially for the first time, it can be a little scary!  Here are some tips to help you know what to expect.

What to expect during surgery:

  • Walking in to the OR is the worst part, in my opinion!  It’s cold, and kind of intimidating.
  • The anesthesiologist will do a spinal block.  The first poke is a medication that numbs the skin and stings a little.  After that, the doctor inserts a larger needle with the spinal block medication, but I have not really felt that at all.  After the spinal is complete, you will feel a warm sensation, then tingling, then a growing numbness.  You won’t be able to move your legs at all for about 3-4 hours after they do the spinal block, which is a weird feeling!
  • The nurse will insert a catheter which will stay in place for the next 24 or so hours.
  • A large curtain will be hung in front of your face so that you don’t have to see all the gore.
  • You will feel a lot of tugging and pressure during the surgery, but shouldn’t feel any pain.  The worst pressure is when they are delivering the baby – the doctor will actually be pushing on your belly to push the baby out!  It’s pretty intense, but after only a couple of pushes the baby is out.
  • Once the baby is born, you will be able to breathe more easily, and there’s so much going on that it makes the rest of the procedure go by quickly.  At our hospital, they do a basic cleaning and assessment of the baby and weigh the baby in the OR. Then daddy can bring the baby over to me while the doctor is closing me up.

What to expect during recovery:

  • After surgery, you will spend 1-2 hours in recovery.  You will have your blood pressure taken frequently, and the nurse will periodically poke your belly (ouch!) to see if your uterus is contracting properly.  I have always felt a little dizzy during the recovery period, and with Jonathan I also had a significant amount of shaking.  By the time I’m heading to my hospital room those symptoms are usually improved, although it takes a few hours to really start feeling sort of normal again.  A c-section is major surgery, after all, plus you have just given birth and been fairly loaded up with drugs.
  • At our hospital, the baby stays with mom during the whole process.  This was not the case when I had Gresham in 2006, and it’s a huge improvement!  I was able to nurse both Jonathan and Janie in the recovery room, which made a big difference.

During the hospital stay:

  • The first 24 hours are the most “invasive.”  Your IV will stay in for the first 24 hours to deliver fluids and antibiotics, as will the catheter.  The nurse will get you up and walking a little bit a couple of times during that 24 hours.  Once the IV and catheter are out, it’s so much easier to move around!  Well, relatively more easy…
  • You will definitely want to stay on top of pain medication, and don’t be afraid to take the heavy stuff. Last time, I got behind on pain management, and it was really hard to get back on top of it!  I really hate being on prescription pain meds, but from experience I can tell you that being groggy is better than out-of-control pain.
  • Keep track of when your pain medicine doses should be, and make sure that the nurse brings them on time.  We had significant trouble with that during this hospital stay due to confusion with the pharmacy over my liquid medicines (I can’t swallow pills).
  • Besides the incision pain, you may have soreness from all that tugging and pulling that you felt on your abdomen during the surgery.
  • Get up and move when you can.  It doesn’t sound like a good idea at the time, but walking and moving really are important for a good recovery.
  • Go to the bathroom often.  A full bladder will put pressure on your incision and increase your pain level.
  • Surgery will create a lot of gas in your body!  This slightly embarrassing issue takes a few days to resolve.  Sometimes, the gas will cause shoulder pain.  I had that this time, and it was pretty sharp pain.  Thankfully it only lasted for part of one afternoon.
  • Your bleeding will actually be much less with a c-section.  Finally, some good news!
  • It may take a little longer for your milk to come in after having a c-section because your body is healing from the surgery.  I’ve had my milk come in at slightly different times with each baby, though, so it’s not something you can totally predict. How well baby nurses is also an important factor.
  • It’s really helpful if your husband can stay with you in the hospital.  You won’t be able to jump up every time baby cries!
  • Pack comfortable clothes – you won’t want anything tight on your incision.  Plan to wear maternity clothes home.  It takes a while to get back to your pre-pregnancy size anyway, and the c-section incision makes clothing even more tricky.
  • Be sure to pack enough snacks for Dad and anything else he might need.  With Jonathan, Jordan had a terrible headache while we were in the hospital, and we hadn’t packed medicine for him.  It was at night, and the gift shop was closed, and the nurses couldn’t give him anything.  He had to walk to the other end of the hospital to find an exit that was not locked for the night, and all in all it was a big hassle to be going to the store at that hour!

At home:

  • It can be very overwhelming to have a new baby and be recovering from surgery!  Each day will get better.  Make time to rest each day, and don’t push yourself too fast.  Easier said than done, especially when you have other children, but your health is worth it!  The house will be clean again one day – that’s just not the priority for now.
  • You will not be able to drive for about two weeks after your surgery.  This is because it’s not safe to drive with a painful incision that may keep you from reacting to a car pulling out in front of you, etc.
  • Plan on taking pain medication.  My experience has been that I have needed prescription pain medicine only for the first few days at home.  After that, motrin is fine.  After a week or so at home, I have been off all medications, but that probably varies depending on the person.
  • Getting in and out of bed can be a challenge with an incision.  It might be more comfortable to sleep on the couch for the first night or two at home.
  • Plan on help at home, especially if you also have a toddler to care for.  You won’t be able to lift toddlers for a while after delivery.  If friends offer to help with meals, don’t turn them down!

Have you experienced a c-section?  What tips can you add?


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  1. Meggen Apr 24, 2014

    What a great post, especially for those who have never been through a c-section before. After two successful vaginal births my 3rd was a c-section due to placenta previa. I was very nervous about the c-section but it was made worse by the fact that a spot was skipping in the block (an issue I had had with my epidurals as well) and I had to be given a general anesthesia halfway through. It was horrible!! So besides the actual surgery, my worse part, especially in the hospital was the stomach pushing (brought tears to my eyes several times and the very sharp chest and shoulder pain due to the gas buildup...oh how I wish it had come out the other way..LOL. My big thing was just letting others do even when I was used to that. Getting up and moving around is good but not when you have too. Ask for and accept help! I'm currently pregnant with number 4 and I'm hoping (but know it may or may not happen) that we can v-bac. I like being awake to see my babies born!

    1. Sarah Apr 27, 2014

      I hope you can be awake as well!! Nothing like hearing that first cry. Yes, the stomach pushing is miserable. So nice to be out of the hospital and done with all that!

  2. SC Apr 24, 2014

    Great post! That shoulder pain the THE WORST! Nothing at all helps with it. I've had spinal blocks and epidurals- definitely recommend the spinal block. The epidurals did not work nearly as well as the blocks and it was so painful and scary to be feeling the surgery-had to be put out in the middle of one of them. Even if you aren't planning on a c-section, it's so important to know the details anyway, because you never know!

    1. Melissa Apr 26, 2014

      For the shoulder pain take a warm shower. But to help avoid it drink only room temp or warmer liquids while at the hospital. My first c-section was bad with the pain and that is what the doctor told me to do and I have not had anymore trouble with it for my other 3.

    2. Sarah Apr 27, 2014

      Oh, eek! I can't imagine feeling the surgery! My first son was not a c-section, and I did have an epidural. It only worked on one side for me as well! I've never had trouble with the spinal block.

  3. Pam Apr 25, 2014

    What a great site. I was clueless when I had my first c section 9 yrs ago. I wish I had your site to guide me.

  4. Megan Apr 26, 2014

    I delivered our fourth son by my third C-section three months ago. This time around, someone advised me to get an abdominal binder to support the incision, and it really helped!! You can buy more expensive ones, but I asked the nurse and she gave me one at the hospital and then I ordered a smaller size from Amazon when I got home and my waist was shrinking. (Maybe I would have been fine with a medium at the hospital initially, but oh well!) Thanks for the report on your experience and congratulations on your new baby!

  5. Catherine Apr 26, 2014

    Thanks for sharing! My first c-section with my 3rd son was an emergency and I was actually put under. This time I'll be opting for a c-section. I'm glad I have something to prepare me! Congratulations on your baby girl! She's so beautiful! :-)

  6. Lisa Apr 27, 2014

    The spinal block can make it feel like you can't breathe - like your lungs aren't working. This happened with my third c-section. It is very disconcerting and made me feel like I was having a panic attack but you are still breathing.
    Also with the pressure (doctor pushing) and the anesthetic you can vomit. Gross to talk about I know but I wish someone had prepared me for that happening. I didn't even get to see my daughter as the doctor lifted her above the screen because of this.

  7. Jessica Apr 29, 2014

    The most helpful advise I got after my c section was to hold a pillow over your abdomen around the incision when you sneeze. The counter pressure saves you a lot of pain.

  8. Christie-Childhood 101 May 13, 2014

    I have had two c sections. Following my last, just two years ago, I had severe and uncontrollable leg shaking for quite some time after the surgery as the spinal block wore off. It wasn't painful or anything but we did delay my Mum bringing my older daughter to see me as it could have been a little scary for her. I also had (what I believe is quite rare) a complication following the removal of the catheter - I could not feel any sensation in my bladder to tell me that I needed to urinate. This went on for over 6 weeks post surgery and I actually developed a number of urine infections in that time as I would be so busy with my preschooler and newborn that I would forget to use the bathroom for too long a time. It was a nuisance but I am so blessed to have two healthy daughters that it was completely worth it :)

  9. Amelia Jun 8, 2014

    This was very comprehensive. The most well done report on c-sections I've seen.

    I've had 5 c-sections with both epidural and spinal. From what I understand the the needle just goes slightly deeper with the spinal and wears off faster. I much prefer the spinal. I've had crazy shaking and vomiting during surgery with all of mine. The best advice I got was to get moving as soon as possible. This really leaves the gas pains immensely both shoulder and abdominal. I think it also helps with pressure on the incision.

    And after my first, I remember being in such intense pain and the nurse asked if I had used the bathroom and I realized I just had to pee. So I've never had that problem since then but I drink a ton of water and go to the bathroom a million times.

  10. Darah Jul 21, 2014

    I'm recovering from my 3rd c-section and on the advice of my chiropractor took a few doses of magnesium supplement the day before and the morning of surgery and it helped a ton with both after pains and gas pain. I still passed a lot off gas but it wasn't nearly as painful! I'm kind of telling everyone :)

  11. Tara Oct 9, 2014

    I found this to be a great resource! I gave birth to my daughter in 2013 via emergency c section & am currently pregnant with #2, due in March! A c section was not part of the plan & I was devestated I didn't get to experience a vaginal birth. My hospital won't allow me to try a VBAC & for someone wanting a large family (four or more), I fear they will limit how many c sections i can have. After reading through the comments here I feel a bit more reassured that we can still have our big family we've always wanted! Did any of you run into the issue of how many c sections your doctor/hospital would allow? Your insight would be very helpful to ease my worries. Thank you :)

  12. Lahana Dec 4, 2014

    I just want to point out this is all accurate I wish someone would have told me all this before I had this done the first time I was so confused on different issues I was having with my c section thankfully after reading many post like this made me feel more comfortable, knowing I wasn't the only one out there I just want to say one thing I know all hospitals are different but if there are some nurses u don't like taking care of you ask your husband to ask for a new one its always helpful knowing the person taking care of u is patient and understanding of your pain even if they have worked there Soo many years!!

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  14. Et Jan 28, 2015

    Thank you very much! This is so helpful! Just wondering - whether the antibiotics and pain releivers that I will have to take during/after c-section will harm the baby, since I plan on breastfeeding. Any info on this?

    1. Sarah Jan 29, 2015

      I breastfed all of mine, and it was not a problem. I had IV antibiotics - I think that's pretty standard. I did find that the prescription pain meds made the baby sleepy. I took them for the first couple of days and then just did Advil after that. But I wouldn't recommend skipping the prescription pain meds if you need them! It's important for you to rest and recover so that you can take care of the baby!

  15. kim Feb 12, 2015

    The tugging pulling the baby out actually kind of tickled, I was shaking like crazy from the spinal though, and I asked the doctor if that's what people with Parkinson's feel like? The whole OR was laughing. Overall while the pain meds lasted it wasn't all that bad. The gas pain the next few days was AWFUL the pain was in my shoulder and I couldn't lift my arm. When you get home though if your bed is high from the ground I would definitely take it off the bed frame it will totally help the incision pain when you get in and out of bed

  16. cristy Feb 21, 2015

    Both of my babies were delivered by c-section. I can tell you that the care you get varies by hospital! The experience with my son was pretty rough. I will spare you the details :)

    The experience I had with my 2nd child was SOOO different! (Of course, I didn't go through 56 hours of labor before the c-section like I did with my first - UGH!) I told the anesthesiologist that I was nauseous and he gave me something that took care of it. The time in recovery was even better - I was able to have ice chips and talk to my dad on the phone.

    The best advice I can give:
    * Make sure you get the care you deserve in the hospital! If you do not feel the doctors/nurses are listening to you, as to speak to someone else.
    * TAKE THE PAIN MEDS!! If you let the pain get ahead of you, it take a really long time to get it under control again.
    * Drink a warm drink with meals and then take a walk after. It really helps with the gas.
    * Use a pillow when you sit up/ stand up/ cough/ etc. It helps with the pain.
    * Use the pillows you used during pregnancy to support your belly for a few weeks after the baby is born. Your muscles need all the support they can get for a while, and you will rest much more comfortably.
    * Accept any and all offers for help :)

    Good Luck!

  17. Jennifer Apr 2, 2015

    Great job on writing this. Very accurate! I am preparing for my 3rd c-section this upcoming July. Baby #1 I labored for 30 hours before opting for a c-section. It went very well, I was just so ready to be done with the labor process! I had no warning on how to recover from a c-section and was definitely more prepared the 2nd time around (scheduled c section). With baby #2 I recovered so much faster! I had lots of help and made sure I had some things in place prior to coming home with #2. I had my house deep cleaned. I'm one of those moms that has a hard time laying around looking at the mess afterwards. I did as much as I could before leaving to the hospital but then hired someone to handle the hard stuff while I was gone. That way I came home to a super fresh home! I also borrowed an extra support arm rails that go around the toilet from my Grandmother. If you have a restroom with nothing to hold on to that could help hoist you off the toilet, (the first few days at home with baby #1 I had my husband come give me a hand up) this worked wonders! I was extremely out of shape for baby #1 and my recovery took about two times longer than baby #2. I continued to exercise throughout my 2nd pregnancy and even more now with my 3rd. I am a firm believer that you spring back so much faster! Hoping for an even faster recovery this go around! Also, take a minute to pamper yourself before delivery. All woman are different, but the best thing for me was to have a pedicure before delivery. You will be laying in bed starring at those things for a few days, might as well make them pretty and soft! Along with any other beauty maintenance you routinely do. It's uplifting in the hospital. You will feel so tired for a few weeks after baby comes, those kind of things will be the last on your list!

  18. Andrea Apr 16, 2015

    Thank you for writing this and I wish I had this information prior to my emergency c-section. I had fantastic nurses and doctors that recommended many of these things (staying on top of the pain, wearing the belt, walking as soon as possible, etc). However; the one thing that I had never heard of with c-sections is that your legs can swell tremendously. I had to be put under general and leg swelling can be a side affect. I was completely alarmed by the size of my legs (from hip to toe) and it was quite painful. I walked a lot in the hospital and drank a ton of water but it took over a week for the swelling to completely go down.

  19. Lynn Apr 19, 2015

    Take all the hospital underwear they can give you! You will not be able to wear your cute, low cut panties for a few weeks after c-section because they fall right on your incision. Have various maternity leggings and camis for recovery at home. Maternity leggings, camisoles, zipper sweaters, and button front nightgowns are a must in the hospital too. Make sure you get some skin to skin time in the recovery room. Also, make sure they give you mess for nausea. They put my baby in my face and I immediately felt sick and had to throw up. All of the pain mess plus no food for almost 12 hours will take its toll on your tummy.

  20. Andrea Apr 27, 2015

    Limit the ammount of talking before and after the c-section, that will help with the gas issue. In three months I'm getting my second c-section and my lips will be zipped.

  21. Cody Jul 30, 2015

    I really wish I had seen this sooner. I ended up having to have a c section and I had no clue what to expect because no one had prepared me for it. I went to the birthing classes expecting to have a vaginal birth everything went wrong it was awful. I had to be in recovery for 3 hrs. My baby had to be taken to the NICU and Idk how other hospitals work but surgery and l&d are two different departments so no one could tell me what was going on. I never got to bf because we were apart for so long, I was the last one to meet my baby. Now that I know what to expect I will be more prepared for next time. I will agree with the pain meds though I tried to be brave and skip a night but that was terrible. I ended up sending my hubby out in the middle of the night for ibuprofen.

  22. Mandi Aug 5, 2015

    Thank you for sharing. I am so thankful to see I am not the only one who has trouble with the liquid meds. I can't swallow pills either! Sleeping is hard. The recliner worked best for me.

  23. Emileigh Aug 9, 2015

    I've only had one csection but I want more kids. I ended up needing one with my first. The doctor says I'll more then likely will have to have another if I decide to have more kids. But my question is did your doctor go in through the same spot every time? Or do you have multiple scars? Also I've heard that after your 2nd csection the recovery time is longer and pain is worse because of all the scar tissue is that true?

    1. Sarah Aug 13, 2015

      My scars were all in the same place. With my fourth c-section, my doctor removed all the scar tissue during the surgery and attached fresh skin, and I do think it shortened my recovery time and helped with pain. Overall, I think the first c-section recovery was the worst, probably because I didn't know what to expect! My second and fourth were probably the easiest, although the sleep deprivation was harder with the fourth (fifth child) - probably because I am not NEARLY as young as I was with my first - ha!

  24. Momof4 Oct 16, 2015

    Great post with lots of great advice! I've had three c-sections. First two I was preparing for vaginal/vbac delivery but complications arised that caused c-sections. Third I had no choice. All my experiences were exactly the same, even though at different hospitals, and much like described in this post. The only comments I would add is that pain medication can cause constipation. Make sure you take countermeasures to avoid some major discomfort. I also experience severe reaction to the anesthesia that caused me to itch severely, all over. Drink lots of water to help. And my nurses all warned me that if I could not urinate on my own within 12-18 hours of removing the catheter they would put it back in. Sounds simple enough to do, but I actually had a hard time with it. My last nurse advised taking a warm shower or at least wipe your nether regions with a warm cloth before trying really helps. That advice helped me. And I totally agree, that getting up and walking often helps considerably with recovery.

  25. Keri Mar 10, 2016

    I had two c-sections and this article is right on. My last baby was born 8 months ago and they went through the same scar as my first which I was worried would look bad and take a lot longer to hear. Three months later I had to have an appendectomy and they used the scar again to make one of the incisions. I'm happy to say that after all that I healed a little faster this time than my first and my scar is fading nicely. I do think someone should mention that after having the baby cesarian it is really hard to go number 2. ( I'm trying not to gross anyone out haha) I wish someone had told me to eat more fiber and things like that the first time because it was a horrible unexpected experience. While they do give you stool softeners and gas meds, unfortunately nothing really worked for me so it happened again with my second child. It doesn't mean it happens to everyone but it does happen and I want every woman who has to have a c-section aware. And the pillow over your stomach when you need to get up, works wonders!

  26. jean Jan 22, 2017

    When i had my c section i was awake. With the spineal tap you are awake but can not feel from waste down. My family would tease me that they would know what i had before me so i chose to be awake.

  27. Stephanie Feb 5, 2018

    I ALWAYS take a belly wrap. I purchased a belly bandit, but there are a lot pf different options. The wrap keeps the weight of post baby belly off of the incision.

    Go potty while holing a pillow to your incision. Trust me, it helps.


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