FFHQ Pregnancy Expert and Midwife Avril Flynn explains the best way to prepare for an elective c-section.
In Ireland, the Caesarean Section rate is between 25% and 40%. It is a reality of modern birth that c-sections happen. However, if you fall into the bracket of people where it is planned or elective (as opposed to emergency) then there are plenty of things you can do to make it a bit easier on yourself, your body and your baby.
There are lots reasons why you might have an elective c-section: if your baby is in a non-head first (cephalic) presentation (for example if they are bum first or breech), if you have had two or more previous sections, if there is a medical issue with you or with baby that may prevent you from having a vaginal delivery then you will know about it and can do some forward planning.
What some people don’t know is that you can still have a birth plan, even if you are not having a vaginal delivery. A birth plan, or as I prefer to say birth preferences, is just a written list of likes or dislikes that you wish to happen around the time of birth.
Regardless of how you birth your baby, you are still the most important person in the room and can still have a good experience. Just because you are having a delivery in an operating theatre, this doesn't change.
If there is anything that you particularly want or don’t want to happen, then speak to your care provider and discuss any concerns or wishes you have. The breathing techniques and visualisations exercises I teach in my antenatal classes (along with plenty of other classes) are applicable and can be used during a c-section to ensure you feel calm and in control.
Some options that might be open to you are what is referred to as gentle caesarean, whereby the baby is allowed time to “birth” from the abdomen. It is not available in all units or circumstances, but discuss it and see and see what is available from your doctor of the maternity unit.
If you're getting an elective c-section, make sure and ask questions like how long will you be in theatre for, who can be there with you (birth partners can nearly always attend). It may still be possible to do skin-to-skin or to have the drape down low so you can see your baby being born (as long as you aren’t too squeamish). You can also ask if you can still have delayed or optimal cord clamping or if you are very nervous, you could ask if you could have your birth playlist in theatre or listen on earphones.
All these things and more are becoming common now and it's important as consumers of Irish maternity standards that we ask, advocate and demand the best possible care.
Breastfeeding After A C-Section
One of the downsides of a c-section is that breastfeeding can be a little more challenging to initiate. Thankfully, in lots of units, mum and baby are kept together and not separated but even if you are separated from your baby there are things you can do to prepare.
Speak to the lactation consultant in the hospital. They are a wealth of knowledge and will know how things work in the unit where you are going to have your baby.
They can show you how to hand express some colostrum, prior to birth. This can be given to the baby in the event of a delay in the first feed occurring.
I have written before that skin to skin is for dads too, so if for any reason you and your baby are separated, your birth partner can feed the baby the colostrum and do skin-to-skin in your absence, if you don’t feel well enough.
Transition to Parenthood
A c-section, whether it's an elective c-section or an emergency one, is major abdominal surgery and the only surgery that you are then handed a tiny little baby to look after! If you know you are going to have one then a little forward planning at home can really help.
You won’t be able to drive for approximately 6 weeks or lift anything heavier than your baby. So make sure there is plenty of food batch cooked and frozen and that you enlist the help of friends and family to give you a hand or to bring you and baby anywhere you need to go.
If you don’t have much family around or even if you do, booking the services of a post-natal doula can really ease your transition to parenthood.
Remember, no matter whether your baby makes their entrance vaginally, or via c-section, you have still given birth! It can still be a really positive and amazing experience as long as you feel listened to and cared for properly. So ask all the questions, write down your wishes and make sure your voice is heard loud and clear. I will be covering more tips on how to successfully recover from a c-section in my next article.