Caesarean Sections (C-Sections)

By Amanda Selk, MD, FRCSC on December 16, 2013

Q: What is a caesarean section?

A: A caesarean section is a surgery that is sometimes necessary to deliver a baby. An incision (a cut) is made on the abdomen. Usually the incision is made side to side, just above the pubic hair, which is sometimes referred to as a “bikini” cut. Less commonly the incision needs to be made up and down. The abdominal muscles are not cut but are moved out of the way, a cut is made in the uterus, and the baby is delivered out of the abdomen and then all the different layers inside are carefully repaired. 

Q: How long does the surgery take?

A: On average, the surgery takes about an hour but it can vary. Sometimes it is longer, especially if mom has had previous surgeries in the same area, such as a previous caesarean section, which can lead to scar tissue formation within the abdomen.

Q: Will I feel the cutting?

A: The anesthetist (a doctor who specializes in pain management) will make sure you don’t have any pain. If you have already had an epidural, they add drugs to give you more pain control. Sometimes they give an anesthetic called a spinal, where they put a needle in your back to give you some freezing so you can be awake for the surgery but still be comfortable. Spinal and epidural anesthesia
take away pain, but you’ll still feel some pressure and touching. A general anesthetic (or “going to sleep”) has become much less common for caesareans as it’s usually safer for mom to be awake, although sometimes a general anesthetic is necessary, especially in some emergency situations.

Q: Can I still breastfeed?

A: Of course you can! As soon as the surgery is over you’ll be able to breastfeed.

Q: What’s the hospital recovery like?

A: For approximately 12 hours after the surgery you will have a catheter, which is a tube in your bladder so you don’t have to get up to pee. During this time, most people are in bed. After the catheter comes out you have to get up to get to the bathroom and start moving
around. It hurts getting in and out of bed. Start eating a little bit first and see how you feel. If you don’t feel sick, you can eat more. On the second day, you can move around more but don’t overdo it or you’ll be really sore the next day. You’ll have a bandage that comes off on the second day and then you can have a shower. The incision can get wet, but don’t scrub it. You can usually go home by the third day (sometimes even on the second day). If you have a side-to-side incision with staples, they can come out before you go home, but if it’s up and down they stay in at least a week. If you have dissolvable stitches then you don’t need to worry. If it’s a removable stitch it can come out before you go home or sometime over the next few weeks in your doctor’s office. 

Q: Now that I’m home, what do I need to know?

A: No Heavy Lifting: For a full six weeks after the surgery you can’t do any heavy lifting. Basically you can pick up your baby and that’s it because you need time for all those inside layers to heal. So if you have a toddler at home you won’t be able to pick her up. No pushing heavy grocery carts or big heavy vacuum cleaners, either. Try and get your family to help with chores. Take it easy with exercise and listen to your body. Walking is fine but I don’t recommend abdominal exercises until six weeks postpartum. Take the Stairs: It is safe to walk up and down stairs although many people find that walking down stairs causes some pain. 

On the Road: When you can start driving a car again is somewhat controversial. If you are on painkillers that make you sleepy, then you shouldn’t be driving. It’s also important that you can control your car, so if you are still having pain please don’t drive. 

Healing: It is common to feel numbness in the skin around the incision. This can take many months to go away, so don’t worry if you have it. In the first few weeks, when the skin is healing, try and leave the incision uncovered (no bandage). You don’t need to put anything on it. Just pat it dry after a shower and then leave it open to the air as much as possible. If you have a fever, notice redness around the incision, have yucky stuff coming out of the incision or your pain suddenly gets much worse, it’s important to contact your doctor and explain your concerns. 


By Amanda Selk, MD, FRCSC| December 16, 2013

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