The C-section rate in the United States is over 30%, a number than many believe is too high but that makes surgical birth so common that very few people think about the adverse effects.
While C-sections can be a blessing when a child or mother cannot make it through birth any other way, they have side effects that mom may not know about going into surgery.
While it’s common for doctors to require patients to sign a form saying they understand the risks of a C-section, many moms don’t have time to fully read it since it is handed to them right before being wheeled into a surgery room.
Plus, at that point many women have no choice but to undergo a C-section, so they don’t feel like knowing the possible side effects will benefit them much.
It’s actually wise to know what possible adverse side effects might be waiting. In some cases they can be avoided with some advanced prep, and for the ones that are inevitable, it helps mom to know what is coming so when the side effects start she isn’t as scared.
Even vaginal delivery, whether a homebirth or hospital delivery, has side effects. In fact, some of the issues on this list happen to women after any birth, not just C-sections. However, because of the invasive nature of a surgical birth, there are risks that women who give birth vaginally don’t face.
Knowing what the risks are and preparing for them as much as possible is a good way for mom to have a smoother experience when her little one arrives.
15 Uncontrollable Shaking
When the C-section finally ends and mom is given the opportunity to hold her sweet baby, she may be surprised to find that her hands aren’t steady enough to grasp onto her child without assistance.
Seemingly out of nowhere, mom will find her body shaking, and it’s usually especially noticeable on the upper half since the lower half is numbed due to an epidural or spinal. The intensity of the shaking varies, but it can be concerning the first time mom experiences it.
The cause? Drugs, specifically the epidural or spinal given to mom before her C-section.
While the shakes can happen to any women who received pain medication during birth, even a mom who delivered vaginally, this side effect is especially prevalent for moms who undergo C-sections because there is no choice but to take the spinal or epidural. Mom obviously does not want to feel a surgical birth!
The shakes are harmless, but they can be scary, so mom should let the doctor or her partner know if she is concerned. Having help snuggling her little one is advised until the shakes pass.
14 Painful Constipation
Constipation can strike no matter how mom delivers her child, but she is at an increased risk if she had a C-section. Due to the fact that women who have C-sections are not allowed to eat for hours before and after the procedure, there’s often not much in their bowels to move.
Plus, mom’s entire lower half being numb doesn’t make going to the bathroom easier. Everything has to start moving and working properly again, and that can take a while.
Moms who have C-sections also experience a ton of pain in their abdomen, and even trying to push to have a bowel movement seems unimaginable. Unfortunately, waiting to go just makes constipation worse.
If mom has fears about going to the bathroom, she should talk to her doctor about taking a stool softener. She also needs to drink plenty of water. Dealing with constipation while trying to recovery from a major surgery is not fun, so avoiding constipation is important if possible.
13 Unexpected Vomitting
It’s completely unfair to throw up when mom’s abdomen has just been stitched back together, but it is likely to happen. Due to the drugs used during surgery and the surgery itself, nausea and vomiting are common side effects of a C-section.
When mom is given drugs to make sure she doesn’t feel the C-section, her blood pressure will often plummet. This is normal, but for many women it causes nausea, especially for women who already suffer from low blood pressure.
Add to this the fact that many women who are having C-sections are nervous and sometimes experiencing anxiety before they even get to the operating room, and there are a ton of reasons that throw up may happen.
Mom is especially vulnerable when her uterus is outside of her body, which often occurs during a C-section. After the doctor has sewn mom’s uterus closed, he will often remove it to check and make sure everything is closed properly. This is so unnatural for mom’s body that she may feel the desire to vomit immediately.
12 Postpartum Depression
Studies aren’t consistent in their findings, but there have been some that show an increased risk of depression for moms who have C-sections. The reasons are unclear and could range from hormones to feelings of failure, but if mom had a surgical birth, she needs to be aware that depression may strike.
There are support groups to help moms who have undergone C-sections because many moms experience feelings of guilt and failure after the procedure. Though moms shouldn’t feel this way, it’s common for them to blame themselves and to feel robbed of a true birthing experience.
If mom lets herself fall too deeply into these emotions, it’s not hard to see how depression can set in.
Many moms also deal with attachment issues after a C-section. Due to the time lost not getting to hold or feed baby after surgery, moms sometimes feel they can’t connect to their own child, and this causes depression to take hold.
If mom starts to feel down after surgery and can’t seem to feel better, she needs to let her doctor know. There’s no shame in seeking help.
11 Swelling In Extremities
Many moms swell during the end of pregnancy, so this may be a side effect that is hard to notice if swelling is already present. However, if mom didn’t feel like her body was blowing up like a water balloon before a C-section, it’s likely she will feel like it is after.
Swelling post-surgery is largely due to the IV fluids mom is being pumped full of. She will likely retain some of those fluids and will see evidence of this in her feet and legs. The hormone progesterone plays a role as well, and progesterone is found in large doses in pregnant women. It causes women to retain water.
It's important for mom to let her doctor know if she is experiencing any sensitivity or strange feelings in the swollen areas since this can be a sign of a blood clot. However, post-surgery swelling is innocuous and will generally take care of itself as mom releases excess fluids and her hormones stabilize.
10 Possible Infection
To be fair, infections can occur after any birth, and a woman who delivered vaginally but needed an episiotomy to open the exit wider for the baby are at higher risk than women who didn’t require one. However, moms who have C-section are at a higher risk of infection, mainly because of their incision.
Post C-section wound infections occur due to bacterial issues, and some women are more likely to suffer from them than others. A woman who has already had a C-section or one who didn’t take the recommended antibiotics before surgery is at a greater risk, as is a woman who is obese or has diabetes.
The materials used to close the wound also matter. Women who receive staples or nylon sutures stand a higher risk of having an infection according to a 2012 study. Polyglycolide sutures are recommended for the best outcomes.
If mom feels an infection coming on because she is running a fever or has abnormal pain around her incision site, she needs to tell her doctor immediately. Help is available, and this is not a time to wait it out.
9 Excessive Blood Loss
Every mom loses blood during and after having a child. It’s why we have the privilege of going home in the equivalent of an adult diaper. With vaginal deliveries, blood loss is around two cups for mom, but that amount doubles for women who undergo a C-section, even if nothing goes wrong.
Unfortunately, more can go wrong during a C-section, so excessive blood loss is a bigger risk for moms who have surgical births. About six percent of women will suffer from postpartum hemorrhage, a condition where they lose too much blood during or after the C-section.
Mom could also suffer from atony, a condition where her uterus does not contract quickly enough after birth. Those contractions are essential to slow down bleeding, so when they don’t occur mom may lose too much blood too fast.
Medications and blood transfusions help with many of these problems, and excessive blood loss doesn’t happen to the majority of women who have a C-section. However, everyone leaves wearing the adult diaper.
8 Secondary Injury To Other Organs
Mom expects her uterus to be affected by a C-section. It does have to be cut open to get the baby out. What mom might not know is that other organs may be injured in the process, leading to complications after the baby is delivered.
In a percentage of C-section cases, mom’s bladder or bowels will be injured. Her cervix or urinary tract may also be damaged. What usually happens is the doctor accidentally cuts the wrong organ while removing the baby. The more C-sections a mom has, the higher chance that she will suffer from one of these surgical injuries.
Signs of a secondary injury are usually noticeable quickly, but if mom has already been sewn or stapled up before anyone realizes what has happened, additional surgeries may be necessary to correct the secondary injury. This is a scary situation and takes mom away from her child after birth, but it’s necessary to correct the other problems that occurred to ensure mom heals properly.
7 Complete Numbness In Areas
There are a couple of different kinds of numbness mom will deal with related to a C-section. Thankfully, there is the complete numbness that occurs when mom is given a spinal or epidural. This feels weird and unnatural, but it is one of the best things ever because it ensures mom does not actually feel a scalpel pierce her flesh.
It wears off hours after surgery.
The other lasts longer, and sometimes it never actually goes away. That numbness is related to mom’s C-section incision. At first, it feels like a fluke that every time mom touches the site or accidentally brushes clothes up against it that she feels the numb tingling. Then, after a couple of months it just feels freaky.
This is due to all the poor nerves that were sliced during surgery. As things reconnect, not everything feels the same. Mom may not feel the numbness at all after a while, or she may only feel it in certain sections of the incision site. Other moms never lose that numb feeling when they scratch or touch the site, but they get used to it over time.
6 Horrible Headaches
For moms who have never experienced severe headaches or migraines, post C-section is not the best time to start. However, it’s very likely that mom will have a headache or migraine after surgery.
The spinal that is often used to block mom from feeling any pain during the actual surgery comes with its own risks. Because a large needle has to be placed in the spinal area before surgery, there is a chance that it may hit the covering of the spinal cord, causing a puncture that will later lead to headaches. We have spinal fluid, and when this fluid leaks into areas around the spinal cord due to the access the puncture caused, mom is going to have a headache. She may also notice spinal fluid leaking down her back.
These headaches hurt the least when mom is on her back. In most cases, the situation takes care of itself, but mom needs to tell her doctor or nurse if her headache is severe or does not go away. It’s especially important for her to notify her doctor if her headache is accompanied by nausea. In some situations, a doctor will have to treat a patient to fix the damage that is causing the headache.
Mom may be in the recovery room attempting to nurse her newborn before she feels this next side effect come on. It can start out small and then spread all over the body, and some women don’t experience it at all. It’s itching, sometimes so bad that mom draws blood trying to scratch away the sensation.
Women who received morphine through their epidural or spinal are the ones most likely to deal with this. As a courtesy, may doctors will make sure mom is given pain meds as the surgery is ending so she will not feel the first sharp pains associated with a C-section the minute the numbing medication wears off.
On the one hand, this is absolutely wonderful. It gives mom time to focus on her baby before the hard hitting recovery pain sets in. However, for women who start itching due to the medication, it’s also difficult.
Mom needs to tell her nurse if she is experiencing uncontrollable itching. Nurses can make sure the pain medication mom is still taking in recovery isn’t making it worse, and a nurse may also be able to given her something to stop the itching.
4 Extreme Fatigue
Sure, there are people who call C-sections the easy way out because mom didn’t go through hours of labor, though some women do before requiring a C-section. Competitive types like to point out how hard vaginal birthers work to bring their children into the world while it’s apparently assumed moms who have C-sections just sit back and enjoy the ride.
Nothing could be further from the truth.
Having a C-section is physically and emotionally exhausting, and many moms find themselves so fatigued when it’s over that they’re not sure how they are supposed to care for a child. They do it anyway, but since their bodies are still trying to heal from a major surgery, they remain tired and sore, fatigued before the sleep deprivation from having an infant even sets in.
It’s important for all moms, especially those who have C-sections, to ask for help. Rest is essential to the healing process, so don’t let fatigue settle in and accept it as the norm.
3 Possible Problems With Future Pregnancies
C-sections not only have short-term side effects. They can actually affect future pregnancies.
Though a vaginal birth after a C-section is possible(VBAC), many doctors will not perform them, and some moms aren’t good candidates for the procedure. That means mom will likely end up with another C-section, and if she does VBAC, she is at a slightly increased risk for uterine rupture.
Moms who have C-sections are also more likely to have issues with the placenta when they become pregnant again. Placenta previa, a condition where the placenta grows too low in the uterus, sometimes even covering the cervix, is more common after a C-section, as is placenta accreta, placenta increta, and placenta percreta.
All three of these occur when the placenta grows too deeply into the uterine wall. This leads to too much bleeding, and in severe cases a hysterectomy may be required to stop the bleeding.
2 Feeling Detached
Every mom loves her baby, and every baby instinctively wants to be close to mom. However, C-sections can make the attachment process difficult for several reasons that have nothing to do with mom’s love for her child.
During a vaginal delivery, both mom and baby experience hormone surges that are meant to help them bond when labor is over. A C-section causes mom and baby to bypass these hormone surges, especially if mom didn’t labor at all before her C-section.
Mom is also usually heavily drugged during a C-section so she won’t feel the procedure or the very intense pain connected with it. Doctors keep mom on medication even after the C-section is over, and all the drugs roaming in the system can make mom feel detached from herself and her child.
A C-section also doesn’t offer the same opportunity for bonding that a vaginal birth does. The cold temperature of the operating room and the sterile environment mean the baby is often taken to a different location while mom is still being put back together. This delays the bonding process.
All of this can be overcome and some moms have no problems with bonding even if they had a C-section, while many moms who deliver vaginally may have detachment issues. However, C-sections do present some unique challenges in the bonding department.
1 Longer Recovery
The good news is mom will usually be required to be off work longer to recover from a C-section, so she will have a couple of extra weeks with her baby. The bad news is these extra weeks are required because recovering from a C-section is difficult and takes longer than recovering from a vaginal birth.
While there is always a period of recovery after bringing a child into the world, a C-section means mom underwent a major surgery to get her child out. Muscles and tissue were cut through, and mom’s organs were moved around to remove the child.
C-sections also mean a higher risk of infections and exposure to medications that can leave mom feeling groggy for days. It takes longer to do everything, from driving a car to lifting anything besides the baby, and this extended recovery is often daunting.
What’s important is that mom takes all the time she needs to let her body heal properly. Following all the rules for C-section recovery is one of the best ways to ensure mom’s body heals the best that it can.