How to Prepare for a C-Section: The Ultimate Guide

How to Prepare for a C-Section

When I went into labor with my first child, I arrived at the hospital with my written birth plan.  It stated that I wanted to avoid all medications and interventions.  When I was about 6 centimeters dilated, they couldn’t find a heartbeat for my baby.  By this time I had already thrown my birth plan out the window and asked for an epidural, but I still thought I would give birth vaginally.  After trying 3 internal monitors and having me change positions, they still couldn’t find a heartbeat and we decided that it would be best to do an emergency c-section.  My son was born perfectly healthy less than 10 minutes later.

It was not at all what I had planned and honestly I didn’t care because I was so grateful that my son was okay.

But if I could change anything about that delivery, it would be that I would have been more prepared for a c-section birth.  I skimmed over those sections in the baby books and I had no idea what surgery or recovery would be like.

My other 4 children were delivered via scheduled c-sections and although I was familiar with recovery, I still was unsure about the actual surgery.  I read what I could find, but I really didn’t feel prepared.  I don’t want that to happen to you!

how to prepare for a c-section

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Whether you are planning to have a c-section or you are trying to prepare yourself for the possibility of one, there are many things that you can do to prepare for surgery, your hospital stay and your homecoming before you head to the hospital.

How To Prepare for a C-Section

What you should ask:

If you’ve never had a c-section before, don’t be afraid to ask questions at your pre-op visit and while they are prepping you for surgery.  Such as:

  • How long do you expect the surgery to take?  Mine were anywhere from an hour to over 2 hours.
  • What kind of anesthesia will you have and are there any side effects?  I had general anesthesia for the emergency c-section and for the scheduled surgeries I had 2 spinals, an epidural and a spinal/epidural combo.
  • How long will you be in the hospital?  Where I live the law states that the hospital cannot discharge you less than 96 hours after a c-section, however, after 3 of my deliveries I asked to be discharged after 72 and because both baby and I were doing well.  The doctor gave the okay for us to leave early.
  • Does the hospital allow skin-to-skin contact in the OR?  My hospital didn’t allow this until my last c-section.  I didn’t even know to ask for it, but luckily they offered it.  However, because my daughter inhaled a little bit of fluid and had some trouble clearing it, we weren’t able to do skin-to-skin until we were in the recovery room.
  • What happens if you go into labor before your scheduled c-section?  For my first scheduled c-section, I was scheduled for 9 am, but my water broke at 1 am.  We headed to the hospital and my daughter was born around 4 am.  (My doctor was scheduled for 4 c-sections that day and we ALL went into labor during the night.)

Prepare for c-section

What you should bring:

  • You only need your ID, insurance card, cell phone/camera and a credit card or money so your husband can get something to eat once you are in recovery.  (Trust me about bringing money for hubby.  We always allow 45 minutes for travel/parking, we have to arrive 2 hours early and my surgeries have all lasted 1 – 2 hours, so my husband has been without food or drink for about 4 – 5 hours.  He’s always ready for a cup of coffee once we are in recovery!) Leave your hospital bag in the car; your husband can retrieve it once you and baby are settled in your room.
  • Have your husband bring a camera into the OR.  For each of my scheduled c-sections I had a nurse who was willing to take pictures of the baby being weighed, etc.  (When my husband came into the OR for my the birth of our third child, he didn’t have the camera with him.  He put it in the locker with his clothes.  Luckily my doctor allowed him to go get it before she started the surgery.)

prepare for c-section

What you should know about the surgery and recovery room:

  • The OR is cold!  If they offer you a warm blanket or warm air, say yes!
  • You may feel nauseous from the anesthesia.  My hospital always gives me anti-nauseau medication before surgery, but I’ve heard that not all hospitals do this.
  • You will feel pressure and pulling.  Even though you won’t feel any pain or be able to move the lower half of your body, you will feel the sensations of pressure and pulling.  For me the amount I felt was dependent upon which kind of anesthesia I was given.  It’s a very weird feeling.
  • Expect the unexpected.  Just as each of my pregnancies were different and each of my children are different, each of my c-sections were different.  With one of them the spinal didn’t work.  I could feel them poking me with a sharp object (the test to see if it’s working) and I could still move my legs.  They had to give me another spinal.  During another surgery, I had a lot of bleeding so closing me up took longer.  During my last one they found that my small intestine had adhered itself to my uterus.  They had to call in another surgeon to separate them.  I don’t tell you any of this to scare you, but rather to be aware that unexpected things can happen during surgery and to prepare you mentally for that possibility.
  • You may get the shakes in recovery.  This happened after my last delivery and it freaked me and my husband out.  One minute I was fine and the next minute I was shaking uncontrollably.  It lasted about 45 minutes and stopped just as abruptly as it started.
  • You will be swollen.  They give you a lot of IV fluids before, during and after surgery so you will be quite puffy.
  • If you are given general anesthesia you will probably not remember waking up and the next hour or so.  I don’t remember seeing my oldest child for the first time.  I don’t remember naming him.  I am grateful that he was born healthy, but I wish we had thought to record those moments for me see to later.
  • If you have a spinal or epidural you will be in the recovery room until you are able to move your toes.  This usually takes a couple of hours.  I really enjoy this time.  It’s just me, my husband, the baby and my nurse.  It’s so quiet and peaceful.  If you plan to breastfeed your baby, you will get started in the recovery room.  For me, having my baby latch on for the first time is one of the best feelings in the world.
  • I just learned that some hospitals offer belly bands!  I was never given one, but the women I know that have used them, swear they had better recoveries because of them.  You may want to ask before your surgery if your hospital has them or order one for yourself ahead of time.


prepare for c-section

Preparing for Your Hospital Stay

  • What to pack.
    • Toiletries (toothpaste, toothbrush, hair brush, shampoo, conditioner, makeup, deodorant)
    • Nursing bras  (I prefer wireless.)
    • Nursing pads (My milk usually comes in while I’m still in the hospital and once it comes in, I leak.  A lot.  I use disposable pads in the hospital and washable pads once I get home.)
    • Pajamas (I prefer to wear a 2 piece set with a button down top.)
    • Socks
    • Slippers
    • Outfit for baby to wear home
    • Snacks
    • Cell charger
    • Magazines, a book or a hobby (I bring a crochet project.)
  • Stay on top of your pain medication.  Don’t wait for your pain medication to wear off to ask for more.
  • Get up and walking as soon as you can.  I’m always anxious to get up and take a shower as soon as I can, even though I take a shower before I go to the hospital.  I find the hot water so soothing and it makes me feel human again.  I’ve heard that other woman have to keep the catheter in until the next day, but as long as I have good urine output they take it out within a few hours so that I can get out of bed.
  • If they give you stool softeners, take them!  If they don’t give you any, ask for some!  I’m always given stool softeners along with my paid meds and I’ve never had any issues, but I’ve heard some horror stories from women that haven’t taken them.
  • Sleep as much as you can.  You’ve just had major surgery and you need to rest.  It’s perfectly okay to ask the nurse to take your baby to the nursery for an hour or two so that you can get some sleep.
  • Expect to be swollen.  Don’t be surprised when you look in the mirror and your face is puffy.  Try to keep your feet elevated to reduce the swelling in your feet and ankles.
  • You won’t be able to eat solid food until you pass gas.  Don’t be shy.  You probably haven’t eaten in at least 12 hours and you will be hungry.  The nurses will listen to your stomach with a stethoscope and you will be asked if you’ve passed any gas.  Once you do, your first meal will be clear liquids and foods such as chicken soup, tea, ginger ale, apple juice, and jello.  I know it doesn’t sound appetizing, but you’ll be so hungry you won’t care.
  • Use the big mesh undies and monster size pads that the hospital provides for you.  They are not pretty, but they do the job.  As I said you will be swollen and your incision will be sensitive so you don’t want any tight fitting panties that are uncomfortable.  I always take a few home with me (along with diapers and wipes)!

prepare for c-section

Preparing for Your Homecoming

  • Have a well stocked fridge/freezer/pantry.  I’m usually told not to drive for 2 weeks and not to pick up anything heavier than the baby, so you won’t be able to go grocery shopping unless you have someone to take you.  It’s best to have all the food you’ll need for the next week or so to give you time to heal and bond with your baby, instead of grocery shopping.  Make ahead frozen meals are super easy to just stick in the oven for dinner.  If you go into labor early and you are not able to stock up before hand, use a grocery delivery service and place an order while you are still in the hospital.
  • Do your best to be caught up on laundry before you head to the hospital.  Again you should not be picking up anything heavier than the baby, so laundry baskets are out of the question.
  • If friends or family offer to help, take them up on it.  If they are willing to make you dinner, do laundry, watch the baby while you sleep or offer any other kind of help, kindly say yes.  It’s always hard for me to accept help, but I’ve learned the hard way that I need it when I’ve got a newborn in the house.
  • If you have stairs in your home, have a pack & play with changing table and bassinet set up in your living room, along with diapers, wipes, baby clothes, etc.  I’m always told to avoid stairs for a few weeks, but we live in a 2 story house and that’s impossible.  For the first several days I go downstairs when I wake up and I stay on that floor until I’m ready to go to bed for the night.  The only way that I’m able to do this is to have a pack & play set up on the first floor so that there is some place for baby to sleep and to be changed.  We also have one in our bedroom for at night.  The one in the living room is one that borrow from a friend because I only used it for a couple of months.
  • You will still be swollen.  Every day the swelling is a little better, but it can take a couple of weeks for it to go away completely.
  • Listen to your body.  Don’t overdue it.  Rest as much as you can.  When I do too much, my body lets me know that I need to slow down.
  • Enjoy your baby!  No explanation needed!

I hope you now know how to prepare for a c-section.  If I’ve left anything out or you have any questions, please leave a comment or send me an email.

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  1. Michelle says:

    This is all really great information! I love the idea of the pack and play. Stairs will really hinder your recovery. Another thing to add- your scar will shrink! Don’t worry when it looks HUGE at first. Nice article!

  2. Elizabeth Voyles says:

    This is great advice! I had two c-sections myself. I tried for a VBAC with the second. It ended up back in the OR and wishing I’d just scheduled. I especially agree about accepting help from friends and family when they offer. You’ve been through it and need help!

    • Kim says:

      A small part of me wishes I had tried for a VBAC with the second, but I was so scared I would need an emergency c/s again, I didn’t want to risk it. Luckily my doctors have been okay with me having 5. I’ve heard that some doctors aren’t willing to do that many.

  3. Adrienne says:

    This was an awesome list! I am having my fifth c-section this summer but it’s been several years so I love this post. Thanks!

  4. Kim says:

    One thing that they told me in the hospital that I didn’t even think of was to shave down there before surgery. The nurse that did it for me in the pre-op room was surprised I didn’t….I informed her that I couldn’t see down there….

    • Kim says:

      I didn’t even think to add that one because I can’t see down there by the time my c-section rolls around. Thanks for mentioning it!

    • Nina says:

      Very helpful! I’m having my first c-section in a few weeks. I have had a few people tell me to keep up on my meds. About How often should they be taken?

      • Kim says:

        That depends on the medication that they give you and the dosage. You’ll want to ask your nurse.

        Each time I was recovering, when it was time for my next dose, the nurses would always ask if I wanted it or not. I would say yes to stay on top of the pain, even if I if wasn’t in much pain. They would also ask if I wanted them to wake me up at night to take my pain meds, which I appreciated. I hope that helps!

        God bless and congratulations Nina!

  5. Jodi Bryce says:

    Really useful thanks for your detail and honesty here? Got my first planned c section in a couple of weeks and feeling nervous as hell!

    • Kim says:

      So glad I could help. Best of luck to you! I pray that your c-section goes well for you and that you have a speedy recovery!

  6. Blanca says:

    How did you manage up and down the stairs? Did it take long? I live in a 2 story home and can’t even begin to think of the pain of going up the stairs ?

    • Kim says:

      I always try to get up an walking by dinner time on the day of my c-sections and I think that really helps! I walk as much as possible while in the hospital. Once I’m home, I only go up and down the stairs once a day for the first few days. That’s why I’ve found having a pack and play on the first floor is so important for me. Take it slow. Don’t be afraid to ask for help. And stay on top of your pain meds.

  7. Rose says:

    Loved finding this article. I’m going in for my 5th c-section very soon. Overall I’m confident but very aware of the possible complications. Preparation is so key to a smooth recovery. Thanks for sharing your story.

  8. Haley Cascio says:

    I’m going in for my 3rd C-section September 14th 2017 and your post was right on point every topic was perfectly said and worded wish me luck that we will meet our healthy baby girl soon

    • Kim says:

      Thank you for your kind words Haley! I’m praying that your c-section goes as planned and that you have a speedy recovery. Congratulations on your new baby girl!

  9. Desiree says:

    Thank you for your article, it helps a lot knowing you are not alone. I have a c section scheduled in three weeks, my third one. In the first two they gave me general anesthesia because the spinal didn’t work, good to hear I am not the the only one and that it sometimes happens.

  10. Charlotte says:

    Thank you for the information! We are doing a planned c-section for baby number two. My first was a pretty complicated almost c section. He ended up with a broken clavicle, large head hematoma and an extended stay. Apparently, this baby is even bigger. After a lot of consideration, my doc and I decided to do a scheduled c section two days before my due date. I’ve gotten quite a bit of negative feedback on this decision. So while I was positive at my appointment this was right for my baby, I’m of course second guessing now. As I search for information, I really enjoying reading posts such as yours that give me really good tips without a lot of judgement.

  11. Mommyfromfinland says:

    Thank you for a good post! I’ll be giving birth to my seckond child in a few months. With my first one I had emergency c-sec. What I’d recommend is showering the wound with showerhead. It will make the blood circulate. Plus that I’d recommend giving the scar as much air as possible (yeah! That means lifting your nightgown and not being pretty…) These two helped me to recover fast in spite of having a rough surgery.

  12. Abbie says:

    Thankyou sooo much for this information. I just found out yesterday that we’re going to have to have a c-section and I’m nervous as all heck but this article really helped. Thankyou from a first time Mom. 🙂

  13. Georgeta says:

    I had 2 planned c-section and none of them lasted more than 45 minutes. Your post is interesting and has lots of informations but isn’t that bad. I was up and walking in 4 hours after the surgery and if I have to do it I will go again for the c-section because honestly was one of the best experiences. My doctors were funny and made me feel as comfortable as possible. They gave me warm blankets and even played the Pandora music radio in the surgery room. We all had a wonderful time and didn’t happen once but twice. Recovery was fast too. I took lortab for 1 day and I was back at driving in a week. It all depends.

  14. Patty says:

    Great article. It was very helpful. I am having a c section for my second baby due in March and I will definitely ask more questions this time after reading this. Thank you.

  15. Nikki says:

    Good evening your honest advice article was soul delivering! I appreciate everything! We’re havin our 5th baby via our 5th csection and I’m all great now!

  16. Amber says:

    I’m having my second baby via scheduled c-section in a few weeks and My first baby was an emergency c-section so I chose to schedule this one because I know more or less what expect however I am so nervous about getting cut on my scar again I still have stinging and itching here and there and my first c-section was over two years ago, How is the healing on the scar the second time around

    • Kim says:

      I’ve had no issues with the scar healing after any of my c-sections. I still have little to no feeling in some areas (my last c/s was 2 years ago), but the scar itself healed well. Congratulations on your 2nd baby. I hope your c/s goes as planned and you have a speedy recovery!

  17. Tracey says:

    Great advice (based on my 1 unplanned c section). Don’t know if it was covered in the comments, but I would add – buy c section underwear. You can find them on Amazon. Regular high-waisted undies won’t cut it.

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