What to expect with a C-section

While a vaginal birth is preferred, a cesarean delivery doesn’t have to be a negative experience

Most women – and their obstetrician – would do anything to avoid a cesarean birth. It comes with risks and a longer recovery time. However, due to certain indications, sometimes a C-section cannot be avoided.

A C-section occurs when the baby is delivered through the abdomen instead of vaginally, explains Dr. Nhi T. Phan, Savannah OB/GYN who’s participating in My Telfair Doc, a team of OB/GYNs dedicated to female health issues. Typically, a C-section is done when there’s indication for one prior to delivery or in emergency situations during labor.

Dr. Nhi Phan
Dr. Nhi T. Phan, Savannah OB/GYN

Some reasons for a planned C-section include if the baby’s head is not down, if a previous surgery to the uterus does not allow for vaginal delivery or if the placenta is covering the cervix outlet where the baby would be delivered vaginally.

Some reasons for an unplanned or emergency C-section could include the baby is not progressing, there are problems with the placenta or umbilical cord or the baby’s heart rate suddenly changes.

Cesarean deliveries account for about 32 percent of all United States births, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. A C-section is a major surgery that is not without risks, such as injuries to the organs, bleeding or infection, and requires a longer recovery period. Because of these risks, obstetricians prefer vaginal delivery, Dr. Phan says.

However, whether it’s planned or not, there’s no reason a C-section has to be a negative experience. As your due date approaches, be sure to talk to your physician about the possibility of a C-section and your own plan of care.

While each patient experience differs, having an idea of what to expect can make the situation less traumatic and be the life changing moment all expecting moms look forward to.

Let’s take a look at some of the possibilities you could face regarding a C-section.

Going into a planned C-section

If it’s a scheduled C-section, mom and her obstetrician will select a date and time for delivery. Blood work may be done ahead of time, as well as a meeting with the anesthesiologist to discuss any possible issues with anesthetics, Dr. Phan says.

Depending on the time of the planned C-section, mom may be required to fast or consume only clear liquids leading up to the delivery. Dr. Phan asks her patients to fast for at least eight to 10 hours beforehand. Talk to your physician about what he or she recommends.

Those having a C-section at the Telfair BirthPlace at the Mary Telfair Women’s Hospital at Candler Hospital should arrive at least two hours early to complete admissions and pre-operative procedures.

During labor and delivery

It varies from patient to patient what to expect during a C-section when it’s an unplanned one. Your physician may ask all or all but one of your guests to leave. More staff may be brought in to assist with the C-section, Dr. Phan says. Mom can remain confident her medical team will take the best care of her and baby.

A planned C-section allows mom to go into labor and delivery a little more prepared as Dr. Phan advises all her patients to ask as many questions as they have leading up to the procedure.

At the Telfair BirthPlace, C-section delivers are done in the OR suites on the Labor and Delivery unit. Typically, one guest is allowed in the room with mom during a C-section versus up to three that a vaginally deliver allows for.

An anesthetic will be given prior to surgery typically in the spine. Spinal anesthesia allows for time so the medication doesn’t affect the baby as much, Dr. Phan says. If for any reason a spinal doesn’t work, general anesthesia may be given.  

Regardless of how mom delivers, as long as there’s no medical indication not to, mom and baby will still do skin to skin and mom will feed baby as soon as baby cues.

C-section recovery at the hospital

Once the C-section is complete, mom and baby will spend time in a recovery room where labor and delivery nurses care for mom and baby together. After that, both mom and baby move down to the Mother Baby unit for the remainder of their stay.

Typically, a C-section requires a total stay of two days up to four days, Dr. Phan says. This ensures both mom and baby are stable and mom is healing properly. That compares to a vaginal delivery where some moms and babies can go home as soon as 24 hours following delivery.

The medication given to those who require a C-section is stronger than general anesthesia and can stay with mom up to 24 hours, meaning she may not feel pain right away, Dr. Phan explains. However, once the medication wears off, moms who delivery via C-section should expect more pain than a vaginal delivery. Additional narcotics on top of ibuprofen may be prescribed to help mom with pain and moving around.

What to expect at home

One of the biggest differences between a C-section and vaginally delivery is recovery time. Typically, women who’ve had a C-section require a longer time to heal. Their maternity leave may be longer, closer to 12 weeks versus six weeks. The recovery period may require:

  • Limited physical activity
  • Not driving for the first few weeks
  • Not lifting anything heavier than the baby
  • Care of the incision site

Be sure to talk to your obstetrician before you leave the hospital about your recovery needs at home.

Mothers who’ve had a C-section also will need a checkup with their OB within one to two weeks following delivery to make sure the incision is healing properly, Dr. Phan says. Then all moms, regardless of how they delivered, have a six-week postpartum follow-up with their OB.

With any type of delivery, mom will most likely feel emotional and fatigued. Dr. Phan advises her patients to sleep when the baby sleeps, stay hydrated and rested, take all the support you can get and don’t be afraid to ask for help, especially if you start to feel depressed.

“Being a mother is a lot of work,” says Dr. Phan, who became a first-time mom just nine months ago, “but it’s worth it.”

  • St. Joseph's Hospital Campus: 11705 Mercy Blvd., Savannah, GA 31419, (p) 912-819-4100
  • Candler Hospital Campus: 5353 Reynolds St., Savannah, GA 31405, (p) 912-819-6000
  • Find us on:

St.Joseph's Hospital Campus: 912-819-4100

Candler Hospital Campus: 912-819-6000