Coping with emotions after a c-section
It takes time to recover emotionally from giving birth, even if it goes smoothly. Having a c-section, in particular, can cause lots of emotions that you may not feel prepared for. Talking about it can help. It might be useful to talk to your midwife, health visitor, friends, family or parent groups about how you’re feeling. If you had an emergency c-section or if there were complications, it can help to talk to your doctor or midwife about your experience. It’s ok if you don’t feel ready straightaway. You can ask to speak to someone after you have left hospital.
Most maternity units have a ‘birth reflections’ or ‘birth after thoughts’ service. This gives you the chance to go through your maternity notes and talk about what happened. You can ask your midwife or GP to refer you to this service or for counselling.
"I had a difficult and long labour, which resulted in an emergency c-section. It wasn’t until a year later that I wanted help to understand what had happened."
Where can I get support?
Your midwife will visit you the day after you get home. Ask them how often they will visit and who you should contact if you need help between visits. Your health visitor will also visit you at home at least once more. After this visit, you will usually see the health visitor in a clinic at key points in your baby’s development.
Each time you see your midwife or health visitor, they should ask you how you are coping and what help you have at home. Being honest about how you’re feeling will help them to support you.
Many women feel tearful, anxious or sad for a few days after having a baby. This is commonly called ‘baby blues’. Tell your midwife, health visitor or GP if you feel this way for more than a couple of weeks after your c-section. They can refer you to a counselling or support service, which can help you cope with your feelings. It doesn’t matter how long ago you had your baby – it’s never too late to ask for support.
Read more about recovering from a c-section at home.
“Recovery after a c section is hard and can be really frustrating when it seems like there’s so much to do. Just accept the help. If it’s not offered, ask for it.”
What else can help?
There are some things you can try yourself, such as:
- having lots of skin-to-skin contact with your baby – there is some evidence that this can help women feel happier about the birth
- meeting other parents and babies – your midwife or health visitor can tell you about baby groups and breastfeeding support groups in your area
- speaking to one of Tommy’s midwives
- asking for support if you’re recovering from a difficult birth.
Body image after a c-section
Pregnancy and childbirth change the way your body looks and feels. After a c-section, your wound will heal and leave a scar.
The scar will be 10-20cm long and will be at the top of your bikini area. Over time, the scar will fade to a thin line and your pubic hair may cover it. Some women find that the skin above the scar sticks out slightly.
It is natural to feel a range of emotions about the changes to your body. Some women feel upset and others feel more positive. Talking to other women who have had c-sections can help to reassure you you’re not alone, however you feel. You may want to join a mother and baby group or an online support group to find others who have had a c-section.
Many women feel happy with their decision to have a c-section. But others may feel guilty or disappointed about not giving birth vaginally. Some women feel under pressure to give birth vaginally and find it difficult to deal with people’s comments about having a c-section.
If you had a general anaesthetic, you may feel that you missed out on experiencing the birth.
If the birth didn’t go the way you expected, you may feel that you weren’t in control of what was happening or that you didn’t ‘do it right’. You might feel that you’ve let your baby down.
Although it can be difficult to ignore these feelings, they will fade with time. It can be hard to ignore comments from other people. But they haven’t been through your experience. Only you know what was best for you and your baby. Talking to other parents who have had c-sections can help and may even give you some ideas for how to respond to unhelpful comments.
“To start with, I found that I was justifying my decision to have a c-section, even though it was needed for health reasons. I have since come to terms with the fact I made the right decision for me and my babies and that is all that matters.”
Postnatal depression affects more than 1 in 10 women in the first year after giving birth. Having a c-section does not increase your risk of having depression.
It is natural to feel sad or tearful for a few days after having a baby. This is caused by changes in hormone levels and is called ‘baby blues’. But if you continue to have negative feelings, or if you get new symptoms after the first 2 weeks, talk to your health visitor or GP. They can help make sure you get support.
Find out more about postnatal depression.
Post-traumatic stress after a c-section
Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is a type of anxiety that affects some people after a traumatic event. Some women develop PTSD after a traumatic vaginal or c-section birth. Read more about PTSD.
“I had a difficult first birth and developed postnatal depression afterwards. Before I had my second baby by c-section, I was referred to a specialist midwife who went through my first birth with me and diagnosed PTSD. I was reviewed by the mental health team and supported completely. It was a very difficult time for me but having the support from the right people helped me greatly.”
- Badr HA, Zauszniewski JA (2017). Kangaroo care and postpartum depression: The role of oxytocin. Int J Nurs Sci. 2017; 4(2): 179-183.
- Benton M et al (2019) Women’s psychosocial outcomes following an emergency caesarean section: A systematic literature review. BMC Pregnancy and Childbirth. 2019; 19: 535.
- NHS. Caesarean section: recovery. www.nhs.uk/conditions/caesarean-section/recovery/ (Page last reviewed: 27/06/2019. Next review due: 27/06/2022)
- NHS. Feeling depressed after childbirth. www.nhs.uk/conditions/baby/support-and-services/feeling-depressed-after-childbirth/ (Page last reviewed: 24/08/2018. Next review due: 24/08/2021)
- NHS. Services and support for parents. www.nhs.uk/conditions/baby/support-and-services/services-and-support-for-parents/ (Page last reviewed: 21/11/2018. Next review due: 21/11/2021)
- NICE (2021). Caesarean birth: NICE guideline 192. National Institute for Health and Care Excellence www.nice.org.uk/guidance/ng192
- NICE (2021) Postnatal care: NICE guideline 194. National Institute for Health and Care Excellence www.nice.org.uk/guidance/ng194
- NICE (2020) Clinical Knowledge Summary. Depression - antenatal and postnatal. National Institute for Health and Care Excellence https://cks.nice.org.uk/topics/depression-antenatal-postnatal/
- Silveira ML et al (2015). The role of body image in prenatal and postpartum depression: a critical review of the literature. Arch Womens Ment Health. 2015; 18(3): 409-21.