April marks Caesarean Awareness Month, an event organised by ICAN (the International Cesarean Awareness Network). The rate of caesarean births is increasing both worldwide and in the UK, with around 1 in 4 babies now delivered via c-section in the UK – a number that has doubled in the last 15 years. But despite becoming more common, many women struggle with healing physically and emotionally, particularly after undergoing an unplanned or emergency caesarean. Today, our Online Editor tells us what she wished she had known before her emergency C-section and her tips for recovery.
When I was pregnant with my first child and approaching my due date, I had it all planned out: I’d gone to the NCT classes, taken a hypnobirthing course, painstakingly created my birthing playlist on Spotify and stocked up on maternity pads, witch hazel wipes and perineum sprays. I’d written out my birth plan (no drugs please – HA!), familiarised myself with the stages of labour and how to deal with each one and was feeling – dare I say it – fairly confident about the whole thing. So, when I finally went into labour and arrived at the maternity ward, I knew exactly what to do – or so I thought.
40 hours, a cocktail of medication and an epidural later, the words ‘failure to progress’ where uttered and I was wheeled into theatre for an emergency c-section. At that point I was just relieved the whole thing was ending and I could finally meet my baby. However, when it came to the immediate aftermath and the days and weeks that followed, I was completely blindsided and totally unprepared. Recovery was more difficult and emotionally complicated than I expected, and there were so many things I’d wished I’d known…
Be kind to yourself
After my caesarean, I struggled emotionally. Well-meaning relatives unintentionally trivialised my ‘sunroof’ birth, telling me how lucky I was not to have had to give birth ‘naturally’, without knowing the full extent of a somewhat traumatic birth and my medical notes deemed my labour as a failure to progress. I found myself feeling like I had indeed failed, my body didn’t do what it was supposed to and I’d somehow opted for the easy way out. It took me a while, but I realised NONE OF THAT IS TRUE. Every single birth and recovery is unique and comes with its own challenges, whether vaginal, or an elective or emergency c-section. Whichever way you give birth, whether it’s out of your control or by choice, your body has achieved something phenomenal. Be kind to yourself and allow yourself to heal in the way you need, for as long as you need.
You might need to ask for help
Not only will you be physically limited for the first several weeks while you recover from major surgery, you’ll also be dealing with hormone changes, sleep deprivation and generally figuring out how to keep your tiny new arrival alive. Whether you need someone to just hold the baby while you shower, need expert help with establishing breastfeeding or are struggling with your mental health, reach out to friends, relatives or your healthcare provider. Remember, your wellbeing is just as important as your baby’s – you can’t pour from an empty cup.
It’s going to take time
If you’re normally an active, independent type, you’re going to have to slow down! I was definitely guilty of rushing to get back to normal and hated feeling held back by my body. It’s a good idea to move around and get on with usual daily activities as soon as you’re able to and perhaps include a very short daily walk, but avoid anything too strenuous or lifting anything heavier than your baby. Remember, every recovery is different – you might feel ready to exercise after 6 weeks or it could be 6 months. Don’t compare yourself to other mums or what the books say – listen to your own body and accept your own recovery.
Little things make a big difference
Sometimes all you can do is take things minute by minute so look for small ways to make your day easier. Keep essential items strategically placed around the house so they’re always within reach. A caddy filled with nappies and wipes in the living room means you’re not going up and down all the time. Snacks and bottles of water on your bedside table are a must and help you keep your energy and hydration levels up even at 3am. Make your coffee in a travel mug so you can enjoy it at a reasonable temperature for longer!
You might need to invest in some practical products
There were a number of practical products that helped me immeasurably in those first few weeks – the first thing being these high-waisted hospital knickers. Soft and breathable, they are essential for keeping the c-section wound undisturbed and able to breathe. Clothing wise, again, anything high-waisted that doesn’t sit on the scar is important, or loose cotton dresses. Also look for practical products that help minimise the need for excessive straining – for me, lifting my baby in and out of the Snuzpod bedside crib was much easier than a regular cot and I was also able to do feeds without getting out of bed. A good feeding pillow is a must too, and helps take the strain off your arms and body. Also useful for holding against your stomach when you laugh or feel a sneeze coming on!
Let us know in the comments what helped you with your c-section recovery.