Whether you’re booked in for a caesarean section birth or you just want to prepare yourself for delivery day, read on for everything you need to know about C-sections and what you can expect on surgery day.
The C-section rate in South Africa is among the highest in the world
Around 77% of babies whose parents are on medical aid are born via caesarean section in South Africa.
There are two types of C-sections
There are two types of caesareans – elective and emergency. Generally, your obstetrician will recommend an elective C-section if there are any potential health risks with a vaginal birth. Emergency caesareans are performed if you or the baby are in distress, you experience problems with your placenta, or your labour is moving too slowly.
A c-section is definitely NOT ‘the easy way out’
A C-section is a major operation and it will only be recommended by your medical professional if there’s a good reason for it. The important thing to remember is that your health and your baby’s health are paramount.
There may be a lot of people in the operating theatre
Along with your doctor, there’ll be at least one nurse (probably two), someone to assist your doctor, an anaesthetist and a paediatrician.
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You’ll still be able to feel what’s happening
Despite having an effective dose of anaesthetic, you’ll still be able to feel your baby being lifted from your uterus, if you are awake for your c-section birth. You won’t experience any pain, but expect to feel pressure and perhaps a pulling sensation as your doctor delivers your baby.
You’ll still be able to have skin-to-skin contact
GP Michelle Groves says, “The recommended advice is to let mom and baby have skin-to-skin contact as soon as possible after birth, as long as there are no complications.”
You CAN breastfeed straight away
Provided the baby comes out healthy, it is put on the mother’s breast pretty much as soon as it is delivered, says obstetrician Dr Gino Pecoraro. Mom can cuddle and get the baby to nuzzle her breast and suck while the doctor is continuing with the surgery. Modern medicine is pretty cool, right?
You may have side effects like shaking
Feeling very cold or shaking uncontrollably after a caesarean is harmless, and quite normal. It usually only lasts a couple of hours post-birth, but it can be scary if you’re not expecting it.
You will still bond with your baby
Your ability to bond with your baby is the same as if you had a natural birth. Michelle says you’ll still be able to feel that amazing connection, but you might need some additional help.
“After a C-section, the mother will have some pain in her lower abdomen, which can reduce mobility. But the majority of new moms will be up and about within a few hours of the C-section and there are always nurses on hand to help with lifting the baby to help with nursing.”
Worried about your c-section scar? It won’t be as big as you think
Gino says your scar is usually small enough to be hidden. “The scar from a caesarean section only has to be big enough to get the baby’s head out, about 10 centimetres. Remember, the skin is stretchy so we can frequently get by with a slightly smaller scar.” The incision will be made about one or two fingerbreadths above the pubic bone, which won’t be visible if you have pubic hair or plan on wearing a bikini.
You might struggle with constipation after a caesarean birth
The combination of pain medication and the surgery itself may lead to constipation which, after a C-section, can be quite unpleasant. Talk to your doctor about taking a stool softener or similar product.
VBAC: You CAN have a vaginal birth after a C-section
Many women believe that if they have a C-section, they cannot opt for a vaginal birth for their next baby. This depends on your personal circumstances and your labour history. If there are no recurring problems, your doctor may give you the green light to have a vaginal birth.
Gino says, “If a woman plans to have a vaginal delivery after a caesarean, it is important she is aware of the risks and that it is done under medical supervision, where there is access to perform an emergency caesarean section if necessary.” Speak to your doctor for advice.
You’ll still bleed vaginally after a C-section birth
Just because you haven’t had a vaginal birth, that doesn’t mean you get to skip the post-birth bleeding, which can last for up to six weeks.
Regular exercise might help you avoid having a caesarean birth
Regular exercise when pregnant not only helps keep you in good shape, it also reduces your chances of giving birth to a big baby and the likelihood that you’ll have a C-section. Studies have shown that women who participated in moderate workouts three times a week gave birth to smaller babies (under 4.1kg) and the number of women who expected a surgical birth fell by a third.
The in-hospital post-caesarean recovery time is not as long as it used to be
Michelle says, “Generally, three days is the average length of stay after having a C-section.” It was not uncommon for women 20 or 30 years ago to be bedridden for up to a week. “We have advances in medical and surgical treatments to thank for reducing our spell in hospital,” she explains.
It’s still surgery
Remember, a caesarean is still a surgical procedure, so you’ll be prepared like any other patient. This means you’ll be expected to have an empty stomach, no food or drink allowed. You may feel extremely thirsty during your contractions and, to help, your midwife may give you ice chips to suck on sparingly. The general rule before surgery, however, is nil by mouth.
There has been a rise in the trend of ‘maternal-assisted’ caesarean
This is when the mother helps to deliver the baby by lifting it out herself. If you want to do this, you’ll have to be sterilised and ‘scrub in’ like the surgeons, but it still carries a high risk of infection for your incision and many medical professionals don’t allow it. Let’s face it, getting involved in your own C-section is not for the faint-hearted!
Your Vitamin D levels during pregnancy are important
Your baby will get their vitamin D from your stores, so it’s important to keep your levels up during pregnancy. Vitamin D deficiency can also increase the likelihood of having a caesarean birth. “Vitamin D deficiency in pregnancy has been associated with pre-eclampsia, high blood pressure, cardiovascular disease and premature delivery,” says Michelle. “Pregnant women should have their vitamin D levels checked with a blood test to see if they are deficient first before starting supplements.”
Recovery from a caesarean may be slower than with a vaginal birth
Women who have had a C-section, whether it be scheduled or an emergency, may take longer post-birth to feel ready to exercise again, and that is totally okay! Dr Preeya Alexander says, “The obstetrician or midwife will guide you regarding return to activity depending on the birth you have had – but generally your body will tell you when you’re ready.”
If you’re afraid of childbirth, you may be more likely to need an emergency caesarean
A study published in BJOG: An International Journal of Obstetrics and Gynaecology found that 10.9% of women with a fear of childbirth delivered a baby via emergency caesarean, compared to 6.8% of women without fear.
Women who develop a fear of giving birth are more likely to experience a prolonged labour, which could increase their chances of having an emergency C-section.
There’s a new trend towards a ‘gentle’ C-section
A ‘gentle’ or ‘natural’ C-section is when the baby is left to wriggle out of the incision unassisted, as it would in a vaginal birth. But some doctors are against it, believing the demand could lead to more women wanting to have a surgical birth when there is no medical reason for one.
Chewing gum might help your recovery
Can a pack of chewing gum aid your recovery? Scientists say yes! If you’re planning a C-section, pack some chewing gum in your hospital bag. A study published in the Journal of maternal-fetal & neonatal medicine found that when new moms chewed gum as soon as they gave birth and three times a day following surgery, their appetites and bowel movements returned to normal faster than those who didn’t chew gum.