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C-section Birth: What Dads and Partners Need to Know

A C-section birth is bound to be a nerve-wracking experience - for both parents. At first, it certainly seems like a daunting procedure!

But, as with many areas of parenting, the more you know, the better.

As a soon-to-be dad, you’re bound to feel anxious about everything that’s to come. To overcome that stomach-churning feeling, both in yourself and your partner, we always recommend that you prepare as much as you can, by filling in any gaps in your knowledge.

By learning about the procedure, why it’s necessary and what it involves, you can prepare yourself and your partner in the best possible way.

To help you both feel as secure and confident as possible, this C-section guide for dads covers everything from the birth itself, to the post-procedure recovery period, and concludes with our top 5 tips to help new dads support their partner during a C-section.

What new dads need to know about a C-section

Firstly, for those who aren’t familiar with the process, let’s outline what exactly a C-section birth involves.

A C-section (short for caesarean) is the surgical procedure for delivering babies, which is done by making an incision through the mother’s tummy and womb, to reach the baby directly.

Research undertaken by NHS England has revealed that 25% of pregnant women in the UK currently have a caesarean birth.

A C-section can be chosen as the delivery method for numerous reasons. A ‘necessary caesarean’ is a C-section that has been used in an emergency, due to a medical complication. This emergency route is required if medical staff believe that, if they were to undergo a vaginal birth, the mother or the baby would be put at risk.

A doctor may ask the mother to undergo a C-section for a number of reasons, including:

  • If the mother has health conditions, such as diabetes or pre-eclampsia
  • If a complication occurs, such as a contracted pelvis, placenta previa, or if the baby is in the breech position
  • Maternal HIV or herpes
  • Health conditions affecting the bladder, rectum or sphincter
  • If the mother is having twins
  • If the other had a C-section previously

Alternatively, elective caesareans are becoming increasingly popular. This term is used for a C-section birth that has been pre-planned, as the mother chose to give birth this way, rather than a conventional vaginal delivery.

As a father, if you’re not familiar with this type of medical procedure, you may have heard elective caesareans being shamed as a choice for celebrities, who have then been labelled ‘too posh to push’.

This term, which gets bandied around by the press and internet trolls, is deeply inaccurate. C-section is far from the ‘easy way out’. The procedure is a major abdominal surgery and the recovery period can be very hard on the body. Women that have gone through a C-section will know that it takes weeks to fully recover from the procedure, both physically and mentally.

Furthermore, this media debate is not only cruel and outdated, but it massively simplifies a complicated decision. And what’s more, it is every woman’s right to make this choice, without fear of judgement.

Your partner may choose the elective caesarean route because they previously had a painful or otherwise traumatic birth, for example. Either way, whatever she chooses, your support and understanding will be invaluable. You can help her through this process by attending the GB and midwife consultations with her.

Your partner may ask you for your advice about whether or not she should go ahead with an elective caesarean. And, in order to advise her fully, you’ll need to learn about what the C-section procedure involves.

The typical C-section procedure is as follows:

  1. The procedure will be planned around weeks 38-39.
  2. Two days before the birth, a blood sample from the mother will be taken. The mother will also be asked to not eat or drink 6 hours before the procedure, and she will be given neutralising tablets, for their stomach acid.
  3. An intravenous drip will be attached, and your partner will be placed under spinal or epidural anaesthetic (which means they will be conscious during the birth).
  4. A screen is usually set up, so that the mother doesn’t have to see the procedure. However, it’s very likely that you’ll see the whole thing. So you want to prepare yourself mentally for this.
  5. The doctor will then make the incision, through the tummy and the womb. Be aware that this will produce a lot of blood and amniotic fluid. Finally, they will deliver the baby by hand, before stitching the mother’s stomach back together.

How to help mum prepare for an upcoming C-section

Unlike with babies delivered vaginally, you and your partner will usually know exactly when your baby will be born.

Naturally, this will fill the night before the C-section with all sorts of emotions.

At this stage, your job is to help your partner feel as calm, reassured and secure as possible.

If your partner is having an elective C-section, you can prepare and support them by:

  • Packing a hospital bag - pack the bag the night before, and check that it contains everything you will need. Things that are commonly forgotten (in the excitement of the moment!) are things to entertain you while you wait to go in, and a camera to photograph those first moments.
  • Remember the protocol - for instance, you might need to remind your partner not to eat or drink for the required 6 hours, or to take the tablets that will neutralise her stomach acid.
  • Confirm your partner’s wishes - during the period in hospital, you may be representing your partner’s wishes and making key decisions on her behalf. So, use this opportunity to ask whether she’d prefer early breastfeeding, for you to cut the cord, for there to be a screen in place, and so on.

The best ways to support mum during a C-section

Unless your partner requires general anaesthetic, you will be able to stay with your partner during the birth, regardless of whether it is an elective or emergency caesarean. This means that, throughout the birth, you can be there to reassure your partner, hold her hand and ensure she feels safe.

If there’s one piece of advice that we should stress here, it’s that you will need to prepare yourself for the graphic nature of the procedure.

There will be a lot of blood and amniotic fluid produced and it will be very difficult for you to see this, as well as hearing the sound of the incision. It can be nauseating to see such a graphic operation, and it can also be very emotionally challenging for you to see this occur to your partner.

So, if you anticipate that you’ll find this challenging, you will need to spend some time preparing yourself. Plan a few strategies for keeping a strong stomach and a calm exterior during the procedure. This could be, for example, a mantra that you say to yourself, or finding a mindful practice that successfully helps you to calm yourself back down again.

It’s perfectly normal for dads to be nervous (terrified, even!) at this stage. If this is exactly how you’re feeling, try to put your faith in the medical professionals. After all, they’ll have performed this exact procedure countless times. 

And then, if the thought of seeing the operation is making you nervous, remember that you can see as much or as little as you can handle. If that means staying with mum behind the screen, that’s absolutely fine!

During the C-section, the best thing that you can do for your partner is to remain calm, answer any questions that she can have, and keep physically reassuring her, so that she feels safe and secure.

And finally, the dads are typically the ones that get to hold the baby first. So, when this happens, take the baby over to meet mum as soon as possible.

The best ways to help mum recover after a C-sectio

After a C-section, your partner will need to stay in the hospital to recover for a couple of nights.

While she is in the hospital, you can support her by visiting her as often as you can. Then, when you are there, you can make this period as comfortable as possible for her by helping her to get in and out of the hospital bed, keeping her energy up with tasty snacks, and giving her time to sleep, while you watch the baby for her.

And, although the focus will inevitably be on mum and baby during this time, don’t forget to take care of your own wellbeing. This is an exceptionally challenging time for both parents, especially if you’re first time parents. So, in and amongst all the havoc, take time to check in on yourself.

If you are struggling, don’t be afraid to ask friends or other family members for help. They could cook you a frozen dinner, or pick up some supplies for you, for example. Or, you might benefit from hiring some help around the house, such as a temporary cleaner or paying for home deliveries from your supermarket. Even if there’s some extra little costs involved, if these changes lighten your burden, it’s well worth it.

Then, when you both come home from the hospital, you can support mum during her recovery by preparing your home, with frozen pre-made meals, clean baby clothes and plenty of supplies. Also, remember that your partner will really struggle to lift anything (even the baby) by herself for 2-3 days. So, make sure you’re on hand to help her.

You should also be mindful of things like inviting friends and family over. Make sure that people only visit when she is ready.

And, throughout the recovery period (which typically lasts around 6 weeks), make sure that your partner doesn’t try to do too much. Support her with the housework, and encourage her to stay sitting or lying down for as long as she needs to.

And, if you do have to go back to work shortly after, try to visit home on your lunch break, or ask a close friend or family member to pop in and help out during the daytimes.

Our 5 takeaway tips for dads

  1. Properly prepare yourself. As we mentioned previously, if you struggle with squeamishness, you will find this difficult. But, it is vital that you prepare yourself as much as possible, so that you can remain a calm, reassuring figure for your partner. And, if you do feel extremely nauseous at any point in the procedure, step back behind the screen so that you are still with your partner, but have a chance to settle yourself.
  2. Ask your employer to extend your paternity leave. If your paternity leave was only set to be a few days, then you might want to try asking your employer for an extension, particularly if your partner went through an emergency C-section. A good employer will understand the emotional toll of this procedure, and allow you to be there to support your wife for a few extra days. Or, if extra time off would not be possible, then you could always ask to work from home for a while.
  3. Let your partner decide when she is ready to have sex again. While the recovery time is around 6 weeks, your partner still may not feel ready to have sex again for a while yet, particuarlly if they are experiencing pain, or if they found the birth distressing. If this is the case, maintain open and honest conversation about this, without any pressure or urgency from you.
  4. Offer breastfeeding support. Some mums find it more difficult to breastfeed after a C-section. Dads can help minimise this challenge by telling the anaesthetist (before the procedure) of the mother’s wish to breastfeed. And then, after the procedure, they can help their partners find a comfortable position and successfully latch.
  5. Understand the emotional recovery period. No two recovery periods are the same, and your partner may find it difficult to recover from the emotional toll of this invasive procedure. Continue to give words of affirmation and support for as long as you see them. And, if you see that they are seriously struggling, help them to get in touch with a GP, nurse or psychologist.