The sacred section: your guide to a positive and empowering abdominal birth.
A few weeks ago, I shared the story of my son’s birth on Instagram and got an overwhelming response about the way I described his arrival.
It went a little something like this..
“So despite our best laid plans for a home birth, Cosmo had other ideas and, like his brother, was born abdominally. This is Hypnobirthing.
Our labour started on Saturday morning, my waters went, and after a lovely dog walk in the woods, we came home, my surges strengthened, so Simon ran me a bath and we called our amazing midwife, Rene.
When she got to us, my temperature was running higher than any of us were happy with and we decided to make the transfer across to hospital. Lingering at the back of our minds was why our baby, having been head-down for 10 weeks, suddenly turned breech at 37 weeks, and then back again at 38 weeks. By the time we got to hospital, it seemed as if he was embarking on the 180 turn yet again, and combined with my signs of an infection, we were all on board with the midwives and doctors who wanted to bring him earthside as quickly as we could.
So within 30 minutes of leaving our home nest and arriving at hospital, we were being prepped for theatre, and 30 minutes after that, we heard a sparrow-like squawk, the screen was lowered and I watched my son being lifted from my belly and into our lives. It felt amazing.
Simon cut his cord and after a quick check over, he was brought over to me for skin-to-skin and I just couldn’t stop sniffing him. He was so soft and peaceful and in that moment I couldn’t imagine not knowing him.
Back in recovery, I fed Cos for the first time and it was just magic. I had this beautiful moment with Simon and Rene where we just acknowledged that Cosmo was in charge all along, and when we finally started listening to his signs, he had the birth he needed. No it wasn’t what we planned – far from it in fact – but it was mine and his and ours and I love that. I felt so held, nurtured and supported by Simon and Rene throughout, and the care we received during our stay in hospital was incredible – I can’t thank the staff at Chelsea & Westminster enough.
My experience has cemented everything I believe about the power and spirituality of birth, and the importance of listening to your body, your baby and your instincts above all else. A positive experience outweighs whatever a perfect one may be, and I am grateful and excited to use the birth of my boys to help other women understand and embrace this.
For now though, if anyone needs me, I’ll be cuddling my boy and thanking the universe for her ever-mysterious wisdom..”
I have lost count of the number of DMs and emails I received off the back of that post. Messages from women who were preparing for a c-section and suddenly felt like they could have some control over it; women who were suffering from PTSD from emergency or unplanned sections; and women who, having given birth this way five or more years ago, finally felt like their baby’s arrival had been validated as a birth.
One of the biggest obstacles I face as a birth worker and author on the subject, is when people can’t compute how I can teach hypnobirthing having not given birth vaginally. I’ve grown to understand though, that more than anything else, this boils down to what your understanding of hypnobirthing is. For some, this will be finding the tools to achieve a home, drug-free water birth (I’ll admit this is why I was drawn to it eight years ago), but my understanding and application of hypnobirthing now couldn’t be further from that: I’ve had two births in theatre and of course the privilege to have worked with hundreds of couples – every single one of whom has birthed uniquely. My experience as a mother and a teacher has taught me (and continues to) that birth is completely sacred in its individuality, and that hypnobirthing offers a set of tools for a woman to acknowledge and embrace that.
My approach to birth education is based in my deep-rooted belief that women and their partners benefit most from a sound understanding of how their birthing body is designed to work through pregnancy, birth and beyond, and to equip them with the tools to support this on an emotional level; to empower them with the confidence to ask questions, understand their options and make informed decisions; to navigate the often-unpredicatable nature of this magical process; and of course to wholly believe that a positive birth experience – whatever that may look like – is theirs for the taking.
So what I wanted to do in this post, was to shed some light on abdominal birth and give it the spotlight it needs and deserves for all the mothers and babies who will experience their journey this way. I will break things down into preparation and birth, and then recovery, and I’ll also try to answer the questions I received following my post on Instagram. Here goes!
How you prepare for your baby’s birth will largely depend on whether your section is planned (elective) or unplanned (emergency). If it’s planned, you will have a lot more time to make your birth a personal and well-considered one, whereas if it’s the latter, things may be a little less in your hands. With that in mind, even if you’re planning a vaginal birth, it’s well worth having a few things in your physical and emotional toolkit that will enable you to navigate an unexpected turn whilst retaining elements of choice and control.
- Write a set of abdominal birth preferences
When your baby is born in theatre, you may be surprised to know that there are still plenty of things you can do to make your experience a calm and enjoyable one. Write some birth preferences – just as you would for a vaginal birth – outlining things that are important to you and your partner. This can include:
- Music – create a playlist of music you would like played in theatre. Where time and circumstance allows, the team in theatre will be happy to let you play your own music. Music is so emotive, and choosing tracks that anchor you in feelings of love and security will ensure the room is full of oxytocin, and mean you remember what you were listening to and how you felt as your baby entered the world.
- Skin-to-skin – when your baby is born in theatre, you’ll be wearing a hospital gown and hair net, whilst your partner will be in scrubs, but this doesn’t mean you need to lose out on that wonderful skin-to-skin contact with your baby once they’re born. Put your gown on like a shirt so that it’s open at the front (or just keep one arm/shoulder out) and ask your doctor or midwife to ensure monitors are put on your back rather than your chest. As soon as your baby is born and is well, they can be brought straight to your chest to enjoy the (very many) benefits of skin-to-skin contact. If you have a general anesthetic you could ask for your partner to have skin-to-skin with baby as soon as possible after the birth.
- Essential oils – burning or diffusing oils isn’t going to be feasible in a surgical environment, but put a few drops of an oil you find calming and comforting onto a hanky and have that by your head during the birth. As with music, our sense of smell is an emotive one that has the power to generate positive emotional responses and alleviate stress or fear.
- Delayed cord clamping – provided there aren’t any circumstances that inhibit it, your baby can still enjoy the benefits of delayed cord clamping when they’re born abominally. Tell your caregivers that this is important to you and when your baby is born, they can lift your placenta into a bowl so that the cord can be kept in tact until it stops pulsating.
- Practice your Calm Breathing technique
Remember that we don’t often find ourselves in an operating theatre, so even if your section is planned, it’s a good idea to have a simple technique to help you remain calm and at-ease in an environment you’re not used to. Practice breathing in through your nose to a count of 4, and then out through your nose to a count of 6. Extending your exhale will short-circuit the body’s stress responses, and leave you feeling relaxed. It’s a great one to use whilst your spinal anesthetic is being administered, and as you await the birth of your baby. It’s also a great one to use if you’re going to breastfeed, too!
- Consider your birth partner’s role
Whilst you’re going to be surrounded by a team of medical professionals at this point, your birth partner is still the person in that room who is the expert in YOU, and you want to use this to your benefit just as you would with a vaginal birth. Think about how you want your partner to support you during the birth: can they offer eye contact, close physical contact or a gentle stroke down your arms whilst your anesthetic is being administered? Do you want to talk to them during the operation or would you like them to sit quietly next to you? When your baby is born, would you like them to stay with you or follow what’s happening with your baby? Considering what their role will look like will help you work as a team in your first moments as parents.
- Think about your post-birth set-up
When your baby has been born and you have been sewn back up, you will go to a recovery room where you’re likely to be for 2–8 hours after the birth. Depending on where you’re having your baby, this may be a small ward or a private room, but either way, have a think about how you can maintain a peaceful environment as you recover and bond with your baby. Extend this thought to your recovery at home. You won’t be particularly mobile at first, so get together everything you’re likely to need (see checklist!) in one place next to your bed so that your set-up is a comfy and convenient one.
Abdominal birth checklist
Whilst you’re waiting to be taken down to theatre, consider having..
– Eye mask
– Essential oils & handkerchief/flannel
– A towel from home
The first three things will help you to remain comfortable and relaxed (especially if you’re waiting on a ward that may be bright or noisy) and mean you can focus on your breathing and getting those happy, comfort-bringing hormones going around your system ahead of the birth. Taking a towel from home and having this against your skin before the birth means that you can wrap your baby in it post-birth so that they benefit from your smell and the transfer of your microbes.
During your c-section, consider having..
– A Spotify playlist (saved and available offline!) – make this about an hour long
– A portable, wireless speaker (charged!)
– Handkerchief/flannel with a few drops of an essential oil like Lavender
A c-section tends to take around 45 minutes, so it’s worth making your time in theatre a comfortable and personal one. This is what normally happens..
- You will sit upright on a bed whilst a spinal or epidural anesthetic is administered. You will normally be given a pillow to hug forward onto so that you can keep still and remain comfortable. A local anesthetic is applied to the area before your spinal, so the injection itself will only feel like a sharp scratch, and then a bit cold and ticklish.
- As the anesthetic gets to work, you will feel your legs start to go numb and you will lay down. The anesthetist will check it’s effectiveness by spraying you with cold liquid and asking how it feels, and then adjust as necessary.
- A fabric screen is placed across your body so you can’t see anything from below your ribs, although your team will keep you informed of what’s happening and what you can expect to feel.
- An incision about 10-20cm long will be made across your bikini line. You can’t feel this at all, all you’re likely to experience is a feeling of movement/pulling.
- If you’d like to, the doctors can lower the screen so that you can see your baby being born.
- As soon as your baby has been born, they will be checked over and then come straight to you for skin-to-skin contact whilst you are being sewn up.
- Once the birth and closing is complete, you will be lifted onto a proper bed and then wheeled back to recovery with your baby.
Abdominal birth recovery checklist
Whilst an abdominal birth is usually straightforward and fairly quick, it’s your recovery that takes a lot longer and will be something you want to put a lot of thought and consideration into. Here are what I consider to be must-haves in your birth bag for the days following your baby’s birth:
– Arnica tablets (a homeopathic remedy that’s brilliant for bruising). If you have a homeopath, you could actually ask for a more bespoke post-section remedy. Mine made me a remedy which included Arnica, but also healing elements for grief, invasion and trauma, as this birth was a lot more physically complicated than my first section 8 years ago. I have no doubt that this aided my physical and emotional recovery.
– Spatone: if you lose blood during the birth, it’s likely you’ll be given iron tablets in hospital to aid your recovery. These can make you really constipated though, so Spatone (liquid iron) is a much better option, although you’ll need to supply it yourself. Take with orange juice to boost absorption into the body.
– Lactulose: A liquid laxative that helps with constipation post-birth, and will help break down trapped wind and make going to the toilet so much more comfortable! Especially important if you are taking iron supplements.
– Peppermint tea: Again, this really helps soften the bowels and any trapped wind, which can be a painful after-effect of abdominal birth.
– Reusable bottle: Bottles like this are great for keeping hot drinks hot and cold drinks cold, and keeping hydrated post-birth is really important. You can’t fit much in a hospital polystyrene cup! I got mine from Chilly’s Bottles and I use it all the time.
– Snacks: You will not have eaten before your c-section, so are likely to be really hungry by the time you’re back in recovery. Take plenty of easy-to-digest snacks with you, including plenty of dried fruit to help with constipation and nothing that might make you cough (which can be painful after surgery).
– Support cushion/pillow: Getting comfy after abdominal surgery can be really tricky, so a large, firm cushion means you can sit up and be supported properly without having to keep readjusting lots of thin hospital pillows! I really rate the bbhugme, which isn’t cheap but is adjustable to your needs and sees you through your pregnancy, the birth, and into breastfeeding and beyond. I’ve definitely got my money’s worth if I think about it cost-per-use!
– Big pants: Paper pants are not something you want to be negotiating after giving birth, so just buy some nice big cotton pants that will pull up over your scar and tummy and keep a maternity pad in place. I bought a few packs of a size up in these from Sainsburys. Opting for black is a good idea, and at £6 for a pack of five, you won’t be too upset if you need to bin them once they’ve served their purpose.
– Cotton shirts: You won’t want to be wearing anything with a tie or waistband after your section, so taking in a few cotton shirts like this one (avoid synthetic materials that will make you sweat more) is ideal for comfort in terms of breastfeeding, having a catheter (which you will for the first 24 hours), and going to the toilet in the days that follow.
– Maternity pads: Despite your baby not coming out of your vagina, you can still expect to bleed in the weeks (normally 2-6 weeks) following your baby’s birth – this is lochia and is completely normal, but will mean you want to stock up on proper maternity pads. They are also handy for placing horizontally along your scar once the dressing has been removed, to create a cushioned barrier between your wound and your underwear. Stock up on some normal sanitary pads too for when the bleeding gets lighter.
– Pill box: It’s likely that you’ll be going home with a week or so’s worth of pills/painkillers, and I found it super helpful to have a pill box this time around. In those first days where you’re caring for your newborn, it’s so easy to completely lose track of time, but you don’t want to forget to take the medication that will help aid your recovery. Obviously I went for this jazzy colourful one. It’s the little things!
– Touch light: One thing I’d forgotten since my last section was how limited your movement is in the week that follows. The simplest of tasks and movements can seem impossible in the beginning, so making life as easy and comfortable as possible is key to a happy recovery. When I got home I ordered one of these wireless touch lights which has been fantastic for night feeds, but I wish I’d taken it into hospital with me because I couldn’t reach any light switch in the middle of the night when I was on my own with Cosmo. It has different brightness settings, is magnetic and in 8 weeks I’ve only had to recharge it once! Best £15 I’ve spent. We’ve now also bought one for the baby’s room for middle-of-the-night nappy changes!
– LED candles: Along with headphones or a small, wireless speaker, having some soft lighting in your recovery room is one of the best ways to create an environment that generates endorphins and oxytocin that make you feel happy, help you to bond with your baby, and encourage milk production if you’re planning on breastfeeding. There are loads of these on Amazon and they’re great to use at home postnatally, too.
General birth bag checklist
Along with the above c-section specific items, I’d also really recommend including these bits as general birth bag essentials:
– Toiletries (toothbrush, toothpaste, mouthwash, deodorant, face wipes, hydration spray, moisturiser, hair brush and hair bands)
– Hot water bottle or heat/cool packs (good for post-birth aches)
– Face oil (hospitals are SO hot and dry, so an oil like this is my go-to)
– Nipple cream (I’ve always found that applying this religiously from the beginning is key to happy nips)
– Breastpads (I used disposable ones with Oscar, but have found these organic bamboo reusable ones SO much softer and nicer this time around).
– Slippers (labour ward essential!)
– Probiotics (if you have antibiotics during/after the birth, it’s a really good idea to help rebuild live bacteria in the gut with a good probiotic. I use this one and then this one for Cosmo, who had antibiotics too – I just dab a bit on my clean finger and let him suck it off before each feed.)
– A dressing gown and a couple of changes of clothes/something to travel home comfortably in
– A couple of plastic bags to put dirty clothes in
– For baby: 10–15 nappies, 1 pack of wipes, 3 vests, 3 sleepsuits, 2 hats, a cellular blanket, 2 muslins, warm outer suit for winter babies to go home in. I’d also really recommend taking a small child’s sock – if your baby has a cannula in their hand they’ll wear a little splint to keep it in place. Put a child’s sock over the top of this and it stops it getting knocked or pulled.
As with any major surgery, your recovery should be taken seriously. It will of course vary from woman to woman, and from birth to birth depending on the circumstances. For example, I recovered very quickly from my first section 8 years ago, as despite being “an emergency” (i.e. unplanned), it was without complications. This time around we were both being treated for suspected sepsis (we didn’t have sepsis, but an undiagnosed infection), Cosmo was moving into a difficult position during the section which meant they had to work quite hard to get him out, and I also lost a lot of blood (hence the fun iron-supplement chat!), which meant there was a lot more I was trying to recover from. With that in mind, my recovery looked something like this from a timing perspective..
First 24 hours
Around 6–8 hours after your birth, your midwife/recovery nurses will help you to stand up. You will think and feel as if this is impossible, but with their help you will be fine. You’ll take it very slowly and they will help support your weight. In my experience, it feels like you can’t bend or stretch from your core at all, but it’s about unfolding very slowly and gently. It may be that you just stand up and then sit down again, but it may be that you’re able to take a few steps too. Your catheter is normally removed within 24 hours too, and in my experience this is completely painless. You’ll be moved from recovery to a ward.
You are likely to be in hospital for at least 2 nights/48 hours after your c-section, depending on what time of day you have your baby. It may be longer if there were any complications. You will probably be on hospital-prescribed painkillers for the first 5–10 days after your birth, or at least whilst you’re still in hospital. Make sure you take these at the advised intervals, even if you’re not in pain, as it will ensure you are comfortable enough to look after your baby. In the day or two following your birth, you’ll be able to take a shower with some help from your partner or a midwife, and go to the toilet too. Don’t be scared – it’s just about taking everything SLOWLY, and the midwives in hospital are there to help you with this part of your recovery, so don’t be afraid to ask for their physical and emotional support. You will need to be able to pass urine before you’re discharged from hospital, and you’ll be sent home with painkillers and anti-clot injections. These need to be administered every day at the same time, for anything from 1 to 6 weeks, depending on your personal risk factors. They are quick and easy to give yourself, but if you’re squeamish you can ask your partner to do it for you. When travelling home by car (as the passenger, obviously!), it can be a good idea to place a pillow over your lap so that you can wear your seatbelt more comfortably. Once at home, go straight to bed. You’ll need someone at home to look after you because you should be lifting NOTHING heavier than your baby for the first week at least. Get lots of pillows in bed with you so that you can get properly comfortable and well-supported, and allow lots of time for getting up and down to go to the toilet, as your movement will still feel limited and slow.
Your movement will start to become a bit easier at this point. Your dressing will have been removed from your wound, and you need to keep it clean and dry. A good tip is to place a clean maternity pad horizontally between your scar and your knickers, to stop any rubbing. If you have stairs at home, it will be easier to get up and down them now but you still must take this slowly and carefully. If you’ve finished your painkillers from the hospital, have some Paracetamol on hand at this point, as it’s easy to feel sore if you’ve inadvertently overdone it on the movement front.
By week three, your mobility should be getting much better and your scar healing well. Remember though that there are several layers of scars internally from the incision, so it’s important to still refrain from lifting anything heavy, or over-exerting yourself. Now can be a good time to go for a short walk to get some fresh air and get your legs moving properly after a good couple of weeks of rest, but make your journey short and slow.
Weeks four and five
This was a turning point for me where I felt my strength really coming back and my body feeling “normal” again. It’s strange because immediately after an abdominal birth it feels like your body will never feel the same again, and then you’re pleasantly surprised at how awesome it is at healing. It was at this point that I felt the stairs weren’t at all difficult, or that I could lift the car seat for instance, but do remember that everyone’s recovery is different and there is no rush to do these things – you MUST listen to your own body and take advice from your midwife.
Week six onwards
Hopefully by now you will feel fully recovered from a physical perspective, but you can talk through any concerns with your midwife or GP at your six week check. If you have any concerns before that, do not hesitate to seek help. Provided you are feeling able to, you can start driving again now, and you can take some light exercise, too. For me, that’s been walking the dogs again, but last time around I did post-caesarean pilates from this point and found it hugely beneficial.
Your questions answered
How do I prepare for my next birth after a traumatic abdominal birth?
Try and identify what you found traumatic about your first birth. The best way to do this is to arrange a debriefing appointment with your notes from your first birth so that you can go through them with your midwife. You may find that it was because you felt out of control or that things weren’t explained to your properly, in which case you can make your caregivers aware that it’s very important that you feel involved in decisions this time. It’s also a good idea to talk with your partner and caregivers about what would make your birth a positive experience this time around. You could make a vision board for how you want to feel, and if you know you won’t experience labour because you’re having an elective section, you could spend the day before having a “birth day” to get in your zone, relax, and get all of those happy hormones going. Think candles, lovely music, relaxing in the bath, and listening to a guided meditation. Be sure to write some specific birth preferences too, so that you are an active participant in your baby’s birth.
How long will I be wearing big knickers for afterwards?
You want to be wearing big pants for at least 3–4 weeks after your baby’s birth whilst your scar heals. Remember to buy soft, cotton ones and size up so that you’re really comfortable. Everyone heals at a different pace, so there’s really no hard and fast rule. Do what you’re comfortable with.
Post-op anti-clotting injection tips please!
They’re honestly not as bad as you think as the needle is tiny and they have a click-system which make them super easy to administer. Your midwife will show you/your partner how to do them before you leave hospital, but there are also loads of tutorials on YouTube in case you need a reminder.
Tips to recover emotionally after an emergency section?
Don’t resist grieving the birth you wanted if your abdominal birth was unplanned. We planned a home water birth for Cosmo, and I was disappointed that I didn’t get that, even though I can acknowledge the experience as positive and right for him. We decided to do a “rebirth” with our midwife, where we set up our home birth a few weeks afterwards, Simon and I got in the bath with Cosmo with our playlist on and our midwife took some amazing photos for us. We then had bacon butties and champagne afterwards and got into bed, just as we’d planned. It was so cathartic and really helped me get the best of both births. I think planning your postnatal recovery also plays a big part in your emotional recovery. Having time to rest and acknowledge what your body has endured gives you a sense of pride and awe of the journey you and your baby have been on.
What are comfortable sleep positions, post op?
You will only really be able to sleep on your back for the first week or so because of putting pressure on your scar, but after that you’ll find sleeping on your side comfortable again. I’d really recommend investing in a pregnancy pillow (like the bbhugme I mentioned above), which makes sleeping so much more comfortable when your movement is limited.
How long until I can have a deep bubble bath?
I had my first post-op bath after about 3 weeks. That’s when I felt comfortable getting in and out of the bath and laying up/down with ease, but listen to your body and do what feels right for you. I found bathing with Epsom Salts from this point really helped the aches and pains from feeling stiff, post-op.
Can I have dim lights and music on in theatre?
The lights in theatre need to be bright so that the surgeons can see what they’re doing, but they can sometimes be dimmed as your baby is being born. As soon as you’re back in recovery you can have the lights low and create a relaxing environment around you. You can have your own music playing in theatre – just take in a little wireless speaker and a playlist (made available offline so that you’re not relying on WiFi!). Choose a song you’d like your baby to be born to – it will make that moment so memorable for you all.
How long would you say it takes to fully recover?
The most important thing to remember is that every woman will heal and recover at their own pace, but I’m confident that taking your postnatal rest and recovery seriously is the key to feeling stronger, sooner. Personally, I was getting my energy back from 3 weeks post-op, was feeling physically stronger from 5 weeks, and now at 8 weeks feel completely fine and healed.
How immobile did you feel when you got home?
You have had major abdominal surgery so your mobility will be very limited afterwards. I found it difficult to get up/down the stairs and in/out of bed for the first week. Ideally you want to be set up in bed for at least the first week, with everything you need around you and someone to pass your baby to you, along with anything else you may want/need. If you take that first week of rest seriously, I honestly think your recovery from there speeds up.
How can you help your scar to heal better, and what does it feel like?
I was hands-off with my scar, and was just careful to keep it clean and dry. Putting a maternity pad between my scar and my underwear really helped with this and stopped it rubbing against any material. Sensation-wise, it feels numb still and a bit like pins and needles over the skin, but not painful.
How can I ease the wind and constipation?
Lots of peppermint tea and dried fruit. I also took Lactulose (mentioned above) which really helped. Trapped wind is horrible!
Can I breastfeed after a c-section? Is it true that your milk takes longer to come in?
Yes you can breastfeed after an abdominal birth. Make sure your midwife knows this is important to you and then they can give you extra support with it when you’re back in recovery. Eating well after the birth and drinking lots of water, plus taking your rest seriously will create the best environment for your milk to come in. Lots of skin-to-skin with your baby post-birth, and giving them lots of time at the breast will also encourage milk production. If you know you’re having your baby abdominally, it can be a good idea to seek out support from a lactation consultant who can give you specific tips for your onwards feeding journey. Imogen Unger is super wise on the subject and is amazing if you’re London-based.
When can I start to exercise after a section?
Again this will vary from woman to woman, and it’s important to listen to your body. Guidelines suggest that from six weeks can be a good time to introduce some gentle exercise, but make sure you get the all-clear from your midwife or GP at your six week check first.
How much pain were you in afterwards? Could you pick up your baby or carry him around?
I felt like the pain from the section was managed completely with the pain relief given in hospital, but I was getting a lot of pain from trapped wind which I didn’t have with my first birth 8 years ago. I couldn’t pick Cosmo up by myself in the days following his birth but felt fine holding him, and then fine picking him up after a week or so. I did feel stiff and sore for the first couple of weeks, but the more I rested, the easier that became.
Any tips on how to relax for the spinal?
This is definitely the best time to listen to a guided relaxation track and practice our Calm Breathing technique to short-circuit the body’s stressor response. Focus on relaxing your body completely and breathe in through your nose for four, then out through your nose for six. Having a pillow in front of you to lean on will help you to keep still and relax your body. You could also play a track you find comforting, or have your partner stroke your arm or hands gently.
Not delivering vaginally, should I still expect any recovery “down there”?
Even when you haven’t delivered your baby vaginally, you can still expect to bleed for 2–6 weeks after the birth. This is known as lochia which is caused from the placenta coming away from the wall of the womb. It will start off red and fade to a pinkish/brownish colour as the days and weeks go on, although you may notice more fresh blood if you’ve moved around a lot or if you’re breastfeeding, which encourages the uterus to further contract. You’ll also need to get back to your pelvic floor exercises even when you’ve birthed abdominally, as your pelvic floor has still taken the weight of your baby throughout your pregnancy, and potentially the labour too.
How did you get your head around the idea that it wasn’t part of the plan?
When it became evident that I was showing signs of an infection, I’ll admit I was disappointed to have to leave our little nest at home, with the pool all set up and our candles on. It felt so calm and romantic and I was sad to be leaving that behind. In the car on the way to hospital I focused on my breathing and recited a few affirmations quietly to myself (“my baby knows how and when to be born”, “I trust my baby and I follow their lead”, amongst others). By the time we got there and it was clear that my baby was going to be born abdominally, I knew I had the choice to dwell on not getting what I wanted or enjoy the excitement of my baby’s imminent arrival, and also appreciate and acknowledge that magic of birth that’s really outside of anyone’s control. I think sometimes, the changing circumstances of birth serve as good preparation for the unpredictable nature of parenthood, so trusting and embracing the process was my main focus.
Are padded section belts worth it?
I’ve personally never used one or felt I needed it, but I imagine it will depend completely on how your body feels as if it’s recovering. I’d say it’s worth getting in touch with a good women’s health physio who may be able to advise on exercises and accessories that could aid your recovery.
What do you wear for comfort and ease of breastfeeding in hospital?
Something cotton (hospitals are hot and the postnatal sweats are real) and I’d go for a longish shirt that cover your nether regions without the need for trousers or anything with a waist band! Something with buttons down the front will enable you to feed with ease, and take a couple of soft, non-wired nursing bras. I’d also recommend taking a pair of slip-on shoes to go home in, as you won’t be able to put on anything difficult, or bend down to do up laces.
Does the numbness around your scar last forever?
Hmm, I think this is one that varies massively from woman to woman. I’ve known loads of women who have regained complete feeling in their scars, but personally I never got the sensation back from my first scar 8 years ago. In a similar way, some scars will stay fairly visible or dark, whereas other will almost completely disappear. Using a natural oil on your scar once it’s healed, and massaging gently, can help with both of these things, but I do think that genetics play a part here too.
How long do you stay in hospital for?
Depending on the time of day your baby is born, you will stay in hospital for at least one night and normally two. If you or your baby encountered any further complications, or need IV antibiotics/fluids, then it may well be longer. Having a few home comforts like your own pillow, headphones and a couple of essential oils, will make this time much more comfortable.
How do you manage your recovery when you have other children at home?
I genuinely think that most post-section problems occur when women try and do too much when they get back home, so you must must must take your recovery very seriously. If someone has major surgery, plans would be made for that person’s recovery afterwards, and an abdominal birth should not be considered in any lesser way than this. If it’s your first birth, then a week in bed and a week on the sofa is what you should be aiming for at the very least, but this can obviously be more challenging if you’ve got other children at home. Rather than focusing on how undoable it might feel, try and turn your attention to the little things you can do to make life easier on the other side. Ask friends and families to cook you meals for the freezer, or do a bulk order from somewhere like COOK or The Food Doula, and see if you can do some favour swaps on school pick-ups or play dates for older children. Don’t feel guilty about letting siblings have more screen time than usual if it makes your life easier, or find books/games that they can sit and do in bed with you as you recover. If you have a partner, take the time to talk together about how he/she can help postnatally so that you’re working as a team from the outset.
What are your rights in terms of immediate skin-to-skin?
Your rights are that it’s your baby, and your voice is the most important one in terms of your preferences and care. Your midwife/doctor has a duty of care to you and your baby, but provided your baby is well at birth, there is no reason you can’t have immediate skin-to-skin contact. If you want delayed cord clamping, you can also ask that your placenta is brought around in a bowl with your baby so that they remain attached whilst you enjoy skin-to-skin with them. This is where it’s really important to write birth preferences (whether you’re birthing vaginally or abdominally) and talk through them with your caregivers so that you’re all on the same page and working together for the best birth possible.
I struggled to get in and out of bed afterwards – any tips to make it easier?
Me too! Two things that helped me were using my bbhugme pillow to help prop me up more comfortably in the first place, and then to kind of hold my legs/ankles in order to pull up, rather than relying on strength from my core. Ideally you will have someone on hand to help you get in and out of bed in the first week, but the key is taking it slow and just breaking down any manoeuvre into short, small movements.
Is there anything that surprised you about having a c-section, or anything you wish you’d known?
Yes! Number one, the uncontrollable shaking that I got as a side-effect from the spinal during my sections. I don’t think this happens to everyone, but both times I haven’t been able to stop shaking whilst in theatre. I felt completely fine and not in any pain, but I just couldn’t stop my body from shaking, it was really strange! It’s a good thing to give your partner a heads-up about, because they might be wondering what’s going on, when actually it’s completely normal for this to happen. Number two, how scared I was to laugh/cough/sneeze after the birth. It’s strange when you know your core muscles have been opened up and I remember getting really angry if my partner made a joke (which made us both laugh more!) and also paranoid about eating anything that might make me cough. All of that felt fine again after the first week or so though, so just prevent any comedy guests from visiting until after that..
Wow, that took a lot longer to write than I expected, but I hope it’s helpful if either you’ve had an abdominal birth or you’re preparing for one. If I had to summarise my top tips, they would be..
- Think about how you want to feel during the birth of your baby, and create an environment that accommodates that. Write some birth preferences with your partner and your midwife so that you and your caregivers are all on the same page, and can help create the most positive and personal experience for you and your baby.
- Prioritise your recovery. A birth in theatre will be over within the hour, but your recovery from an abdominal birth will take weeks. This time is an extension of your birth and should be treated as such. Maintaining a calm and relaxed environment postnatally will aid your physical recovery, and enhance your emotional availability for your baby. Resting and eating well will mean your body heals faster, and give you the time to process your experience too.
- Own your experience. Whether your baby came out of your vagina or your abdomen, you gave birth. If there were aspects you felt were missing from your birth, recreate them in the weeks following your baby’s arrival. Set aside a day at home with your partner where you turn your phones off, put on your birth playlist, have a dance, cuddle your baby and acknowledge the beauty of your unique journey.
- Remember that every birth is different. No two experiences will ever be the same and there’s something very sacred about that.
- You’re amazing.
If you want to further prepare for your baby’s birth (whatever path that takes!), then you can grab a copy of my book, Your Baby, Your Birth here. It is full of tools and techniques you can use throughout your pregnancy and in any birth, along with first-hand accounts of birth in all of its beautiful forms.
For those of you looking to learn the all-important skills of hypnobirthing in a more interactive way, you can come and join me over at the yesmum birth project – my unique home-study programme – where you will become part of my online community and are free to ask as many questions as you like along the way! You’ll have access to: bite-sized audio classes that you can listen to at home or on the go; short videos demonstrating my breathing and massage techniques; guided relaxation MP3s for every birth; and bespoke help from me and our wonderfully supportive online community until you’re holding your baby. Read more or sign up here, or try one of our MP3s before you buy, by clicking here.