You won’t feel any pain during the C-section, although you may feel sensations like pulling and pressure. With a planned C-section, the anesthesiologist will give you the option to be unconscious (or “asleep”) during the delivery using general anesthesia or awake and simply numbed from the waist down using regional anesthesia (an epidural and/or a spinal block).
Many women want to be awake to see and hear their baby being born. A curtain will be over your abdomen during the surgery, but you can take a peek as your baby is being delivered from your belly.
However, women who need to have an emergency C-section occasionally require general anesthesia, so they’re unconscious during the delivery and won’t remember anything or feel any pain.
C-sections today are, in general, safe for both mother and baby. However, there are risks with any kind of surgery. Potential C-section risks include:
- increased bleeding (that could, though rarely, result in a blood transfusion)
- infection (antibiotics are usually given to help prevent infection)
- bladder or bowel injury
- reactions to medications
- blood clots
- death (very rare)
- possible injury to the baby
Some of the regional anesthetic used during a C-section does reach the baby, but it’s much less than what the newborn would get if the mother received general anesthesia (which sedates the baby as well as the mother). Babies born by C-section sometimes have breathing problems (transient tachypnea of the newborn) after birth since labor hasn’t jump-started the clearance of fluid from their lungs. This usually gets better on its own within the first day or two of life.
Having a C-section may — or may not — affect future pregnancies and deliveries. Many women can have a successful and safe vaginal birth after cesarean but, in some cases, future births may have to be C-sections, especially if the incision on the uterus was vertical rather than horizontal. A C-section can also put a woman at increased risk of possible problems with the placenta during future pregnancies.
In the case of emergency C-sections, the benefits usually far outweigh the risks. A C-section could save your life or your baby’s.
As with any surgery, there’s usually some degree of pain and discomfort after a C-section. The recovery period is also a little longer than for vaginal births. Women who’ve had C-sections usually remain in the hospital for about 3 or 4 days and need to stay in bed for at least a day after the delivery.
Right after, you may feel itchy, sick to your stomach, and sore — these are all normal reactions to the anesthesia and surgery. If you needed general anesthesia for an emergency C-section, you may feel groggy, confused, chilly, scared, alarmed, or even sad. Your doctor can give you medications to ease any discomfort or pain.
For the first few days and even weeks, you might:
- feel tired
- have soreness around the incision (the doctor can prescribe medications and/or recommend over-the-counter pain relievers that are safe to take if you’re breastfeeding.)
- be constipated and gassy
- have a hard time getting around and/or lifting your baby
After about 6 to 8 weeks, the uterus is usually healed and you can probably get back to your normal routine. In the meantime, you’ll need to avoid driving or lifting anything heavy so that you don’t put any unnecessary pressure on your incision. And as with a vaginal delivery, you should refrain from having sex until about 6 weeks after delivery and your doctor has given you the go-ahead.
Frequent walking may help ease some post-cesarean pains and discomfort. Among other things, it can help prevent blood clots and keep your bowels moving. But don’t push yourself — take it easy and have someone help you get around, especially up and down stairs. Enlist friends, family, and neighbors to lend a helping hand with meals and housework for a while, especially if you have other children.
Although breastfeeding may also be a little painful at first, lying on your side to nurse or using the clutch (or football) hold can take the pressure off your abdomen.
Also, C-sections scars fade over time. They’ll start to decrease in size and become a natural skin color in the weeks and months after delivery. And because incisions are often made in the “bikini” area, many C-section scars aren’t even noticeable.
Call your doctor if you have:
- signs of infection around your incision (swelling, redness, warmth, or pus)
- pain around your incision or in your abdomen that comes on suddenly or gets worse
- foul-smelling vaginal discharge
- heavy vaginal bleeding
- leg pains
- difficulty breathing or chest pain
- feelings of depression
Emotionally, you may feel a little disappointed if you’d been hoping for a vaginal birth or had gone through labor that ended in a C-section. Although it can be disheartening when the traditional way doesn’t work for your delivery, having a C-section does not make the birth of your baby any less special or your efforts any less amazing. After all, you went through major surgery to deliver your baby! It might not be the birth experience you’d imagined, but you can finally meet the little one you’ve been nurturing all this time!