No matter what type of birth you’re planning (and hoping) for, you shouldn’t rule out the possibility of a Cesarean section. While the C-section delivery rate recently declined for the first time in 14 years—from 32.9 percent in 2009 to 32.8 percent in 2010—the number of women delivering via C-section in the United states is still approaching 1 in 3, and about 61 percent of those are first-time surgeries, mainly C-sections performed when problems arise during labor.
Unexpected or not, there’s no reason a C-section has to be a totally negative experience, says Dana Sullivan, a three-time C-section veteran and co-author of The Essential C-Section Guide (Broadway Books). Knowing how to prepare for and “personalize” a C-section can make the surgery less traumatic and help speed recovery.
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Whether you want to avoid a Cesarean or make the surgery as uncomplicated as possible if you do need one, pay attention to your weight early on. Researchers at Seattle’s Swedish Medical Center found that women who were overweight when they got pregnant were twice as likely as lean women to have C-sections.
Obese women had three times the risk. “They have more surgical complications as well—from anesthesia and with healing,” says perinatologist and study co-author Tanya Sorensen, M.D. Other research has shown that overweight women labor longer (which can lead to a C-section) and have lower success rates when attempting a vaginal birth after delivery (VBAC).
When you’re packing your hospital bag, adding a few extra items can improve your stay in case you have a C-section. Some women pack cranberry juice, which is believed to reduce the risk of a post-catheterization urinary tract infection; others bring chewing gum or molasses to hasten notoriously balky post-surgery bowel function.
At home, prepare a comfortable nest for yourself and your newborn, with diapering supplies, snacks and water, a breastfeeding pillow and your phone all within easy reach. Wearing a postpartum support belt can help reduce strain on your abdominal muscles, as can moving to the edge of the bed or chair and using your hands to push yourself up. If you live in a two-story house, keep essentials on both floors to minimize stair climbing, and don’t drive for at least two weeks after your surgery.