Women have told us that giving birth, even if it goes as smoothly as it can, is something that takes time to process mentally. Having a caesarean section (c-section), in particular, can cause lots of emotions that you may not feel prepared for. Talking about it can help. For example, you can talk to your midwife, health visitor, friends, family or parent groups.
If you had an emergency c-section or if there were complications, you can talk to your doctor or midwife about your experience. If you don’t feel ready, you can ask to speak to someone after you have left hospital.
Most maternity units have a ‘birth reflections’ or ‘birth after thoughts’ service, where you can go through your maternity notes and talk about what happened. You can ask your midwife or GP to refer you to this service, or you can ask to be referred 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 in between visits. Your health visitor will also visit you at home at least once. 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 after having a baby. This is called ‘baby blues’ and should not last longer than two weeks. 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.
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 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.
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 pubic 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 sad or upset about the changes to your body. Talking to other women who have had c-sections can help to reassure you you’re not alone and may help you come to terms with these changes. You may want to join a mother and baby group or an online support group.
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’. Maybe you feel that you have 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 be helpful 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 one in ten women in the first year after giving birth. There is limited evidence that having a c-section may increase this risk.
If you had depression during your pregnancy, you may have a higher risk of postnatal depression. There is some suggestion that breastfeeding might help reduce the risk of postnatal depression in women who had depression during pregnancy, and who feel positive about breastfeeding.
It is natural to feel sad or tearful 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 two weeks, talk to your health visitor or GP. Symptoms of postnatal depression may include:
- low mood
- not getting pleasure from activities you usually enjoy
- lack of confidence in yourself
- blaming yourself or having strong feelings of guilt
- not being able to concentrate on anything
- not sleeping or eating properly
- thinking about harming yourself or your baby.
If you are diagnosed with depression after having your baby, your doctor may offer you counselling or psychological therapy, such as cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT). If you have had depression in the past, or if other therapies aren’t helping, your doctor may give you medicines, such as anti-depressants. If you are breastfeeding, you will only be offered medicines if the benefits are greater than the risks to your baby.
Most women with postnatal depression recover after three to six months.
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. It affects up to 7 in 100 women after giving birth.
Having an emergency c-section increases your risk of getting PTSD. You may also be more at risk if you found the birth frightening or if you didn’t get the right support during and after the birth.
Many women have negative feelings after giving birth, but if you have the following symptoms for more than a month, you may have PTSD:
- Flashbacks or dreams about traumatic parts of the birth.
- Avoiding situations that remind you of your experience, such as going back to the hospital where you gave birth or having conversations about birth.
- Feeling irritable or anxious.
- Struggling with daily life, such as work or social situations.
If your doctor diagnoses you with PTSD, they should offer you psychological therapy. Some women find it helpful to ask for a referral to the maternity unit, to talk about the birth.
‘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.’