Now that I’ve experienced both a cesarean section and a vaginal delivery, I thought I’d write up a post comparing the two of them, especially recovery-wise, for those that might be interested or are going to end up experiencing both, too. To be honest, I meant to get this post up a month or two ago, but oh well. I hope you enjoy it! (And it’s looooong, sorry!)
Pain Management (Spinal Block vs. Epidural)
Now, I’m not a doctor or anesthesiologist by any means, but I thought I’d give you a very basic run down on the differences between the two, and then share my experiences with both. A spinal block is a one-time shot that completely numbs you for a few hours. An epidural is when a catheter is placed in your spinal column, in order for medicine to continue to enter your body until you no longer need it. Once your labor is over, the catheter comes out.
Cesarean Section (Spinal Block)
Since I wasn’t in need of an epidural while I was laboring with Abe before we decided to go ahead with the c-section, I ended up having a spinal block. (From what I understand, this is what you will get if you go in for a planned c-section, as well.) I received my spinal while sitting on the edge of the OR table, and Kyle was not with me. Luckily, I loved my nurse and anesthesiologist, so I didn’t feel completely alone. They had me hunch over, clutching a pillow, and my nurse held me from the front while the anesthesiologist did his thing. The numbing shot was first, and it was not the most pleasant thing ever. It was like receiving the numbing shot in your gums when you are about to have a cavity filled. LOTS of pressure. But I didn’t feel a thing when he gave me the actual spinal. It took affect immediately. I couldn’t feel a thing from the waist down within 1 minute of receiving the spinal.
After Abe was born (or rather, pulled out), I heard him cry, but wasn’t able to see him because of the drape. They took him over to weigh, measure, wipe off, etc. and Kyle was able to go over and see him. Meanwhile, I’m getting all cleaned up and stitched up. Once Abe was wrapped up, Kyle brought him over to me and I was able to see him for the first time. Once I was all put back together, they wheeled me into recovery, and brought Abe along. Once I was settled, I was able to do skin-to-skin with Abe and nurse for the first time. I still wasn’t able to feel anything from my waist down, so while I loved being able to do skin-to-skin, it was a bit awkward trying to hold him, when I wasn’t allowed to sit up very much while still numb, and I just couldn’t move around well enough to get myself super comfortable.
After we nursed and cuddled for about an hour, a nurse took Abe down to the nursery for his first bath and all those other things they do, while I remained in recovery a little longer. I slowly gained my feeling back, but still was not able to move on my own, even after I was taken to my postpartum room. I believe I first was able to stand up that evening, around 9, so about 9 hours after the spinal block was placed. But I only stood up for a few minutes while the CNA cleaned me up and changed my bed pads before sitting/laying back down.
Vaginal Delivery (Epidural)
I received my epidural when I was at about 6 or 7 cm dilated. To be completely honest, while I was in pain during contractions, they never reached a “oh my heck I’m going to die get me the epidural right now before I punch you in the face” level of pain. I think I might have even been able to pull off a non-medicated birth. However, I don’t regret getting the epidural, especially since my doctor ended up being in a 3 hour surgery and had to be pulled out because Eliza was coming RIGHT THEN, haha, so I might have been able to have her a little earlier, if he hadn’t been in surgery, thus making the time I was in labor, less. I also don’t regret it because I had/have no desire to feel that a baby’s head being pushed through my vagina. No, thank you.
Receiving the epidural was very similar to getting the spinal block, except Kyle was in the room with me, and my contractions were more painful, so it was hard to stay still. It also too the anesthesiologist longer to administer it – it seems like there are more steps associated with getting an epidural. But again, I hunched over a pillow while it was administered.
The epidural took about 10-15 minutes to take effect, and I was still able to feel my legs a bit. It was more like the feeling you get when your foot/leg falls asleep. I know that some people say they like going non-medicated so they know when to push, and others say that they had a difficult time pushing because they couldn’t feel when to push, BUT I didn’t have that problem. I mean, I couldn’t feel when to push, but it wasn’t hard to push, and I only had to push for 10 minutes, through 3 contractions, and then she was born. I was able to hold her immediately after for a few minutes, which was AMAZING. I had just pushed out a human baby, who I had grown over the last 10 months, and now she was here in my arms! Amazing, I tell you. They then took her to get weighed and cleaned up, and I was stitched up, but soon after she was back in my arms.
Within a half-hour they took out the epidural catheter, and I started regaining feeling fairly soon after that. Within 1-2 hours I was able to get up and walk around, and had feeling back.
Recovery In The Hospital
As I mentioned above, after my surgery I was taken to recovery until most of the effects of the spinal block wore off. Also, my nose was SO ITCHY, which was another side effect of the spinal. Random, but thought I’d note it. I was able to eat when I got back to my postpartum room from recovery – so I didn’t have to go without food long, because I ate breakfast at the hospital, and he was born at noon, so I was able to eat a late lunch, basically. I was on IV pain meds for about 24 hours, and then I was started on hydrocodone every 4 hours and 800 mg of ibuprofen every 8. I stood up the night of my surgery, but only for a few minutes, before getting back in bed. The next day I was able to get up and walk around the postpartum floor, and also take a shower. For the first 24 hours I was also hooked up to leg compression things, to help prevent blood clots. All incision pain I experienced, both in the hospital and at home, wasn’t at my incision site. I had what the midwife called “referred pain” and I experienced it on my right side above my hip bone. I also never experienced any after birth contractions. I went home about 48 hours after my surgery. (My c-section was at about 12 pm on Wednesday, and I went home around 2 pm on Friday.) Ah, one other thing to note, they wanted me to pass gas before I went home, ha. Oh, and I had a catheter in… But I can’t remember for how long, probably about 24 hours?
After my vaginal delivery I was able to get up and walk around within a few hours. I was also able to eat fairly soon after. Again, I didn’t have to go too long without food, since I ate before we went to the hospital at 4 am, then I had her at 1o am, so I was able to eat lunch. Hooray for me and for hospital food! I was started on 800 mg of ibuprofen, but I asked for some hydrocodone a while after because I was in quite a bit of pain down under. I took that pretty regularly while at the hospital. I showered the next day, and we also went home that day, about 25 hours after delivery (about 1 pm). I did experience after birth contractions this time around, which were definitely annoying. Again, I had a catheter, but I am pretty sure I was able to get it taken out much sooner than with my c-section.
Recovery At Home
For the first week or so, I couldn’t do much, especially any bending over or lifting. Kyle got up with me through the night because he needed to get Abe out of the bassinet and bring him to me to feed. It hurt to roll over and get out of bed too. I definitely had to take it slow and easy. I attempted stairs like 2 or 3 days after being home. Kyle literally brought all my meals to me in bed the first few days. He also changed all diapers. He was a saint, I tell you. I stayed on the same hydrocodone and ibuprofen schedule at home until I ran out, which was about 10 days, and then I took ibuprofen as needed. My incision was pretty much healed up at 2 weeks, although I had a bit of lingering pain for another few weeks, but not too bad. The area around my incision was numb for a LONG time afterwards, in fact, it still feels funny sometimes when I touch it these days, almost 2 years later. As far as postpartum bleeding went, I bled the heaviest in the hospital, and then for about 1-2 weeks afterwards it was just light bleeding and spotting. I was also down to my pre-pregnancy weight about 2 weeks after giving birth. Oh, and my bum fell asleep SO easily for a couple of weeks after delivery, which was strange.
I was amazed how much more easily I was able to move around this time around! Kyle kept asking me if I was ok, or if he needed to do something for me, or if I should sit down, because I was able to do so much more as soon as I got home from the hospital. Perks of not having major abdominal surgery, I guess. However, I would be lying if I said I wasn’t in pain. I had a second degree tear and IT HURT. A lot. The doctor did send me home with a prescription for hydrocodone, and I ended up not having Kyle pick it up, thinking I should tough it out. I kind of regret that now. I was taking my ibuprofen for about 2 weeks after delivery, which helped some. It probably took until about 6 or 7 weeks until I could sit down without any pain, which was super annoying. But I kept reminding myself of how I felt after my c-section, and then I’d tough it out. I did use Tucks pads and Dermoplast spray, which helped, although next time around, I will stock up on Tucks so I don’t run out, and I will also buy a sitz bath and epsom salt, to soak my under regions in, as I hear that helps you heal and feel better faster. I had more postpartum bleeding this time around, since they weren’t able to scrap out my insides this time, as it were. But it was still only a handful of days of heavy bleeding at home, and then some period type bleeding that faded into spotting after another week or so. And again, I was down to my pre-pregnancy weight after about 2 weeks.
Well, I think I covered everything I wanted to! Let me know what your experiences were, or if you have any more questions for me! I LOVE talking about childbirth, ha, so I’d love to discuss it with you. I had great experiences both times, and both recoveries went well. I prefer my vaginal recovery a little bit over my cesarean, because I was able to bounce back and do more things faster, BUT I would have to say, pain-wise, they were very similar, the pain was just brought on in more ways with my c-section, if that makes sense. I am hoping for another vaginal delivery next time around, but what ever happens…. I don’t mind, as long as my baby(ies) make it here safely.