Revealed: The Truth About Cesarean Sections

Having a C-section can be stressful and confusing. Let us help to dispel any myths so you can rest—and give birth—easy.

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The history of the cesarean section dates back to Ancient Roman times and is believed to be named after Julius Caesar, who was born by the method. Way back when, C-sections weren’t performed very often (most of the time they were under emergency conditions), and not much was known about them. Fast forward centuries and how things have changed! These days, over 30 percent of babies every year are safely birthed via C-section.

Even with hundreds of years of research and medical progress behind us, having a C-section can still be a stressful experience. Well-meaning friends and family often try to help with their own tips and advice, but that usually just serves to make the whole thing even more confusing. With all of the rumors and myths flying around about C-sections, let us help ease your worries. Read on about what you need to know about giving birth via cesarean.

Once you have one, you can never go back.

Many women worry that once they have a cesarean birth, they’ll never be able to birth a child via vaginal delivery, known as vaginal birth after cesarean or VBAC. But studies show great success rates of vaginal delivery—60 to 80 percent—after C-sections, according to Dr. Adam Paxton OB/GYN at Newton Medical Center in Newton, NJ.

The Guide to Effective Care in Pregnancy and Childbirth also concludes that “the available evidence does not suggest that a woman that has had more than one previous cesarean section should be treated any differently from the woman who has had only one cesarean section.”

The American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists suggests there are a number of factors that would determine the decision whether to give birth one way or the other and that a mother should work with her doctor to determine the safest option for her and her baby.

You can’t breastfeed.

This is a common worry among expecting mothers that is thankfully unfounded. Shilpi S. Mehta-Lee, assistant professor of Maternal Fetal Medicine at NYU Langone Medical Center, told the Huffington Post that a woman’s method of delivery does not affect her ability to breastfeed.

All women, no matter how they have given birth, should have the opportunity to provide for their newborn. 

It’s important to note that the initial transition from colostrum to mature milk may be slower (possibly a day or two) in women who have given birth via C-section, but there are ways to bond with the baby and increase milk production.

As a mother’s milk does emerge, she should consult with a licensed lactation consultant or attending nurse, because they’ll be able to provide breastfeeding positions and baby lifting/carrying options that will minimize stress on a C-section incision and help ease belly discomfort.

You can only have a certain number of C-sections.

Doctors concur that there is no predetermined number of C-section surgeries that is safe for a woman to have. She may be able to have multiple C-sections over a lifetime, or a doctor may suggest that she have only one.

Although some studies have shown that medical risks may go up with each procedure, it’s important to note that each pregnancy is individual and should take a mother’s medical history and previous experience into account.

You can’t hold your baby after.

Everyone agrees that skin-to-skin contact is really important for mom and baby after birth, but sometimes the medical staff gets nervous about a new mom holding a baby when she has just undergone surgery.

The best thing for an expecting mother to do is talk to her doctor about possible concerns, discuss the hospital’s protocol, and ask if there’s a possibility for someone on her birth team to oversee the process.

You can’t exercise for 6 weeks.

The ol’ stay-in-bed-for-weeks-and-heal routine is so old school. The truth is doctors want new mothers to get moving! They want them up and walking to promote healing the day after they give birth.

A three-mile walk may be a little lofty of a goal, but they usually recommend a daily slow lap or two around the hospital floor to get the lungs and muscles working properly again after surgery. 

If there have been no extensive issues like blood loss, blood clots, or bladder injury, a doctor may allow a mother to start doing upper-body exercises and longer walks at week three. After the six-week checkup she should be cleared for general exercise.

It may take some time, post-surgery, to build up strength and endurance (and certain squatting and leaning exercises may still be too uncomfortable), but rest assured that muscle memory will kick in and she’ll be moving and grooving in no time!

Your abdomen will never be the same.

The C-section involves the cutting of the abdomen, which is major surgery, but the good news is the shape of your abdomen will eventually return to normal! It will take a bit of time though.

Doctors recommend that a new mom can start doing ab exercises to tone her belly after 6 weeks. The key is to start slowly with basic exercises and gradually increase the intensity.

Although your belly will start looking better pretty quickly, it’s important to remember that many women report it taking up to a full year to really feel and look normal.

And your scar? The good news about C-sections being around for centuries is that these doctors have gotten really good at sewing your abdomen up and making the scar as small and unnoticeable as possible. Postpartum support garments and Spanx can help with healing in the early weeks.

Getting intimate will never be the same again.

Getting intimate after childbirth ranks up there in a couple’s top concerns (and fears). When can you start? How is it going to feel? Will it still be good? Will it hurt? Will your partner still find you attractive? This topic has been known to give many a new mom a set of panic attacks.

Doctors recommend that as long as your body is physically ready (and your head is emotionally ready), there are many benefits to getting it on after having a baby: physical benefits like hormones being released to help the uterus return back to its normal shape and psychological benefits like feeling more loving and connected.

It’s recommended that you wait 4 to 6 weeks after you give birth, though, to allow for the cervix to close, for bleeding to stop, and for any tears to heal.

You’ve failed as a mother.

Nothing enrages new moms who have given birth via C-section more than the occasional know-it-all, super crunchy mom who responds to her surgery with a pitying look and a patronizing “I’m so sorry you couldn’t give birth naturally.” In fact, there are support groups dedicated to this!

Last time we checked, if a mother was pregnant, then a baby appeared out of her body, she in fact has given birth…regardless of the mechanism. 

There will always be pressure from certain communities to give birth a certain way that they claim to be natural (e.g., without induction, without pain medication, vaginally), but circumstances, babies, and moms are all unique, and no one should be bullied into other ways of thinking.

The important thing to concentrate on is delivering a healthy baby and staying positive and healthy to care for your newborn—no matter how you gave birth.