Saturday 17 September 2011

How to Prepare for a Caesarean Section

Dr. Howard Vogel, Third From Left, Is Assisted by His Daughter, Dr. Ann Vogel, as They Perform the Last Caesarean Section of a New-Born Child in Union Hospital in New Ulm, Minnesota...

When I was pregnant I watched a lot of programmes on television about childbirth, and read lots of books and magazines. I was looking forward to experiencing labour, to pushing my baby out. I was intrigued as to what it would feel like, how I would cope. In the back of my mind I knew that there was a strong possibility that I would have a caesarean section. No one medical prepared me for this, apart from my Mother In Law, a very experienced mid wife. She felt I may develop pre eclampsia, and she prepared me by saying "don't write a birth plan and just go with the flow".

It is said there are two types of caesarean sections, planned (elective) and emergency. Mine was a little different, a planned emergency! It wasn't your typical emergency section, as there was plenty of time to discuss it and explore alternatives, and I had to give written consent. Often, with an emergency,  labour has commenced and then a caesarean needs to be performed due to foetal distress or other complications. Sometimes a caesarean is planned, for example, if the baby is not in the correct position for vaginal delivery - ie breach or transverse, or for other reasons such as the mental health of the mother.

My section was a combination, it was emergency because it was to save my life and that of my baby, and it was planned because I had 24 hours notice. Here are my tips for planning and getting through a caesarean section. I don't have any experience of having a term section but hopefully my tips cover both scenarios.

1. Bridget Jones knickers. Buy big knickers, not disposable ones, in soft cotton a couple of sizes bigger than you normally wear. Usually the cut will be made along your bikini line and you don't want briefs that sit there, or they may irritate your scar. I bought mine at 24 weeks and popped them into my hospital bag.

2. Comfy sleepwear/loungewear. I bought beautiful pyjama pants at Marks and Spencer, not maternity ones, they were black stretch jersey and very accommodating. I lived in them. They looked so smart I could wear them as trousers, and often did in the early days!

3. Kamillosan. This ointment is almost like a cushion on your skin. It isn't cheap, a little goes a long way, and it really helped me deal with itchiness around the scar area.

4. Hair removal. Most caesarean cuts will be a long the bikini line, and you will need to deal with the hair down below. If its an emergency this will be done by your midwife. If you know in advance, it may be worth either doing this yourself or going to a beautician. I found that the hair growth was very painful and annoying, and wished I'd had it waxed. The midwife only had a very cheap bic razor and had to do it quite quickly.

5. Music. My consultant told me afterwards that I could have brought music in. Most operating theatres will have a cd player or iPod docking station,

6. Hypnobirthing. I did some self hypnosis classes during pregnancy. I found that the self hypnosis was absolutely wonderful for getting through the slightly daunting first bit of the procedure, the spinal anaesthetic. I found it kept me calm and still. So if you have done hypnobirthing or are considering it, it is still a useful technique even if you don't have a lambing end delivery.

7. Have a couple of conversation topics ready for the procedure. Your birth partner can go with you if you have a spinal block, if you have a general anaesthetic, which is reasonably uncommon, your birth partner will have to wait outside the theatre for you. Corey and I talked about our honeymoon and elephants whilst they did the procedure. It made me feel a lot calmer and provided a distraction from what was happening.

8. Ask your midwives before the procedure about what happens once the baby is delivered and ask for any preferences. In our case, it was a little different, as we knew we would not see Joseph and he would be taken straight to an ante room for treatment. Ask about skin to skin and breastfeeding.

9. Do take care post operatively. Whilst in some ways a caesarean section is straight forward in terms of surgical procedures it is major abdominal surgery and you need to look after yourself. Move slowly, think about what you are doing and how you are lifting and avoid unnecessary lifting and activity. You will need to check with your car insurance company about driving, some preclude you from driving for six weeks.

10. Warm baths. Whilst swimming should be avoided for a few weeks, you can have baths. The Tuesday after Joseph was born I was in bits, distressed, upset and frightened and one of the midwives said to me "what is one thing that would make you feel better?" I plaintively cried "a bath". Swiftly the bath was run, the nicest towels found for me, and I felt wonderful afterwards.

11. Cry. I felt crushingly disappointed that I had to have a caesarean. I was pissed off at myself for failing my baby. I was angry at myself, and I just felt so let down by pregnancy. It is good to cry, to let those feelings out, write them down if it helps, then let it go.

Caesarean sections are a completely valid way of birthing a baby. Whilst it may not be what you expected or wanted, you may find that the actual process is much nicer than you expected. Whilst a frightening situation, my caesarean was actually enjoyable, and is one of the most memorable moments of my life. I will always wish things could have been different, but I am proud of my scar, and proud of my husband (who can't stand the sight of blood) and proud of my little boy for being so brave.


  1. Excellent advise. I shall certainly take it on board come December when my next baby is due.

  2. Great post. Was only thinking about this the other day and I what I would have done differently had I know I was going to have a section. Like shave my legs!!!

  3. I wish I had been able to read this before I had my caesarean, your tips are great and I wholeheartedly agree with them. I had my caesarian at 38 weeks and I also had a planned emergency. Unfortunately, I didn't have the Bridget Joneses Knickers in my bag so had to send someone shopping for some after the operation!

    A major difference in my case though was that the spinal wasn't possible due to my vertebrae being too compacted, so I had to be completely knocked out. As such I would like to add another tip for those who find themselves in that situation:
    - Discuss you wishes for the procedure and bub, as after you are out of it you won't wake up until well after the little one is born. I hadn't done this but luckily my husband knew me, and my family, well enough to prevent my family from seeing my little girl until after I had, and was there as soon as I came out of recovery to let me know all the details (beyond the midwife having already told me that my baby was well, healthy and with my husband).