In the United States, 30% of births are via c-section and that percentage dramatically increases for plus size people. Recently, I asked plus size women who had a cesarean birth to share their experiences. I wondered what advice they would give to someone who is scheduled to have a c-section while plus size.
I divided the plus size c-section advice and research I did in the following way: preparing for surgery, operating room, immediately following surgery, hospital recovery, and home recovery.
This article is all about providing support!
It is my greatest hope it will help people to feel less afraid and more knowledgeable about what they might experience.
After learning a lot about the procedure I have this to say, people who experience a cesarean birth are amazing. They did not fail and are not any less of a parent. If anything they're even stronger than they think they are!
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How To Prepare For A C-Section When You're Plus Size
- Needing a c-section is in no way a failure, it's an understanding that you need a little help to safely bring your baby into this world.
- If you had desired a vaginal birth know that many people can go onto have a vaginal birth after cesarean with future births.
- Write a birth plan for your c-section.
- Watch this cesarean birth video that walks through having a c-section and will help you to feel more prepared and read plus size cesarean birth stories.
- Talk to your care provider about having a wound vac that promotes healing of your incision and is especially beneficial for anyone who has an apron belly.
- Have a conversation with your care provider about developing a plan for pain relief so you're not over or under medicated.
- You will be shaved before surgery so some women prefer shaving their pubic area in advance or even getting waxed.
- Consider hiring a doula to support you and your partner through this experience.
- Make lots of freezer meals and plan to have people lined up to offer you support once you’re home.
- Bring your own bathrobe as your plus size hospital gown for recovery. Sadly most hospitals either offer gowns that are far too tiny or way too big. You might also want to bring your own pajamas.
What To Expect In The Operating Room
- Having a Family Centered Cesarean, also known as a Gentle C section, is still a very new concept but it's one that's helping to transform the birth and bonding experience for cesarean birth moms. This includes having a clear drape and doing skin-to-skin with your baby. If this is of interest to you we really encourage you to do some research and have conversions with your OB-GYN early on.
- The anesthesiologist, not your OB-GYN, decides who can join you in the operating room. Usually they will only allow one person to join you, however, it never hurts to ask. Request to have your partner and another support person, like a doula or family member, by your side. One support person can stay with the baby and the other with you.
- Blow out when they are inserting the spinal block.
- It might take them multiple times to get the needle in, just breathe through it if it happens to you.
- The spinal block can make you really cold and weak. Don’t be concerned if you’re shaking, it can be a normal side effect.
- Anesthesia makes many people nauseous.
- If you're having an emergency cesarean you might be under general anesthesia and not awake for the surgery. There might be other reasons why your care provider will suggestion general anesthesia even if you aren't having an emergency c-section but those occurrences are uncommon. Talk to your care provider about any concerns you may have.
- The operating room is very cold. Ask for warm towels and blankets to be put over your arms, chest, and around your head.
- It's not uncommon for moms to have their arms strapped down during the procedure. If this bothers you have a conversation with the OB-GYN in advance. Always be your own best advocate and speak up for what's important for you and your birth.
Related: A Mother’s Strength: Plus Size C-Section Birth Story
- It's not uncommon for plus size women to have their bellies lifted and taped so the OB-GYN has easy access to make an incision. While this isn't painful, it can be a little disconcerting.
- Some women appreciated having two small holes on either side if their incision to help with draining. Or even having a drain placed. Ask your care provider about this.
- Ask for comforting music to be played rather than hearing the doctors talk about their weekend plans.
- If you feel anything from the waist down speak up and your pain meds will be increased.
- A catheter will be inserted since you will be unable to walk right away.
- You may feel tugging as the baby is gently removed from your uterus and cramping as your baby is born.
- There will be a divider put up so you won't be able to see what's happening. Some moms have requested having the divider brought down the moment their babies. This will be at the discretion of the OB-GYN.
- Have your partner take pictures of your first moments meeting your little love. Consider asking a nurse to snap your first family picture.
C-Section Recovery Immediately Following Surgery
- If you’re unable to do skin-to-skin in the operating room, ask to have the baby’s first blankets placed upon your chest. This will help to release hormones within your body to contract your uterus and let your body know it’s time to produce milk.
- Have your partner provide your baby with some much-needed skin-to-skin if you are unable to. Most often there’s a 45 – 60 minute waiting period before you’ll be able to hold your baby in the recovery room. Often you will be able to touch your baby and be cheek-to-cheek before they are taken to the nursery while you're being stitched up.
- If given the choice between staples or stitches, many women of size preferred stitches.
Hospital Recovery From A C-Section
- Have someone with you in your hospital room at all times to assist with the baby during your c section recovery.
- Attempt to breastfeed as quickly as possible. Expect your milk to take up to five days to come in but your baby will receive colostrum right away.
- You will be unable to stand or walk until the medication has worn off. As soon as you’re able to move your lower half the medical staff will encourage you to stand and take a few steps.
- Walking as soon as you're able will help with blood circulation, reduce gas pain and is essential when it comes to c section recovery for morbidly obese women.
- Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart and lower/raise yourself while exhaling.
- Plus size compression socks are a must following major surgery and be sure to tell your care provider of extreme swelling of your legs and ankles (some swelling is normal).
- You will probably experience swelling of your legs and other areas of your body.
- Be prepared that if you received a lot of fluids during labor or your cesarean that your body might be very swollen. Address any concerns with your care provider.
- Drink lots of water.
- Connect with a local IBCLC to support you along your breastfeeding journey.
Related: Plus Size Breastfeeding Resources
- Press a pillow (like a plus size nursing pillow) against your stomach when you sneeze, cough, or even laugh.
- Also, it might be comforting to press a pillow against your stomach while going to the bathroom.
- Request stool softeners and make sure you have enough on hand for your recovery at home as well.
- Gas pain can be very unpleasant.
- Request an ice pack.
- The area of your incision will be numb for an undetermined amount of time.
- Make sure someone helps support you while you take your first shower.
- Keep your incision area clean and dry. Tuck sterile gauze pads over the incision to help prevent infection.
- Some women find it helpful to dry their incision with a hair dryer on a low and cool setting after a shower.
- You will still bleed vaginally. The hospital will provide you with sanitary pads during your stay but you'll want to have large pads or even plus size adult diapers.
How To Keep C-Section Incision Dry When Overweight
- If you are having trouble keeping the area dry due to the shelf of skin that can sometimes hang over the incision, you can use gauze or cotton once the site is completely healed. Tuck sterile gauze pads over the incision to help prevent infection, along with tummy liners.
Plus Size C Section Recovery Tips
- Accept help! Recovery time varies for each woman but most can’t return to doing normal activities for at least 6 – 12 weeks.
- Keep the incision dry and clean.
- Do not lift anything heavier than your baby.
- Do your best to sleep when the baby sleeps or at least rest when your baby is sleeping.
- Your tailbone might be sore from sitting so much and this is another reason to be as active as you're able to be without overexerting yourself.
- Wear loose-fitting sweats/yoga pants
- Sanitary pads can be placed against your incision during the healing process.
- Overnight pads are advisable for this use and vaginal bleeding.
- Take home some extra mesh panties from the hospital.
- Vitamin E oil can reduce the appearance of your scar.
- Eat foods that are high in fiber, like green veggies, to help with constipation.
- Keep a water bottle near you at all times and drink it!
- Many women find it really comforting to wear a plus size postpartum abdominal binder (belly band) or a c-section girdle.
- If your belly hangs over your incision, this is commonly referred to as an apron belly or mother's apron, you'll want to make sure to keep it dr. Your mother's apron after c section can be a source of discomfort so be sure to review the resource below.
Related: What’s an apron belly? Practical solutions and comfort tips!
- Have someone with you for a least two weeks to help with shower breaks, cooking, other children, pets, household chores, etc.
- If possible make your bed as high as possible so it’s easier for you to get in and out of it. Some women even prefer sleeping in a recliner since laying flat will be extremely uncomfortable for quite some time.
- Tell visitors you just had major surgery. You are not expected to be a hostess! Unless they are coming to help clean or bring a meal, ask them to politely stay away until you feel up to it.
- Consider having a list of things you need so when people call you can let them know how the can be of assistance.
- Stay on top of your pain medication.
- Ice packs will help with pain and swelling.
- Consider hiring a postpartum doula.
- Keep the peri bottle from the hospital. You can use it to help keep your incision clean.
- Wait to drive until you feel ready to do so. It will take more energy out of you than you can imagine.
- If you have negative feelings about your birth, contact your local ICAN (International Cesarean Awareness Network) group for support.
- Abdominal soreness is common for quite some time following a c-section – remember you went through major surgery!
- Keep the list of warning signs your doctor will provide you with handy. If you have any concerns call your care provider right away (no concern is too small!).
Plus Size C-Section Binder
As we mentioned above, a belly band or plus size c-section binder can help you feel supported following a c-section.
The QORE LOGIQ plus size abdominal binder for post-surgery support works great. It goes all the way up to a size 4XL (75″ – 100″).
Everyday Medical plus size post-surgery abdominal binder works well for tummy compression. It goes to a 3XL (58″ – 87″)
If you're looking for something looser, you might like this Belevation Maternity Belly Band designed for pregnancy support rather than postpartum (size 22 – 26).
Thank you to all of the mothers who contributed to this article by sharing their experiences.
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- What Is Considered Plus Size Pregnancy – Let's Talk About it! - February 25, 2023
- Wow! Maurices Plus Size Maternity Line Dropped [1X – 4X] - September 20, 2022
Thursday 9th of February 2023
Great information for plus size women, I enjoyed reading and learning so much. The pain is very painful but with following these advice will sure help. I pray I don't have to go through wound care. Thank you for sharing. Bookmarked this website.
Tuesday 26th of May 2020
I'm due in six weeks. My doctor has mentioned the possibility of a c section due to baby's size, my size and diabetes, and the possibility of pre-eclampsia. But he still plans to trial labor first.
He indicated that he would not use a traditional bikini incision, but that due to my apron belly, he would use a suprapannicular approach (basically cutting a few inches below the belly button, on the front of the belly instead of under the belly). He said they've had much greater success with this approach with far fewer infections or complications.
Has anyone here heard of or had that version of a c section? Any feedback on it, if you have?
Wednesday 11th of August 2021
@Reese, please keep us updated. This may be an option women can ask for. I notated it to ask my doctor
Wednesday 22nd of July 2020
I hope everything goes well! Here's an article about big babies and cesarean you might find helpful - https://evidencebasedbirth.com/evidence-for-induction-or-c-section-for-big-baby/
Tuesday 7th of January 2020
Hi: Thirty-one-year-old apron-belly C-section scar here.
While it is healed, though numb, I still need to ensure the scar area is always dry despite and sweat generated within the apron belly.
Besides keeping absorbent gauze along the scar line to keep it dry, can you suggest any topical to apply that would not be too drying?
I don’t use alcohol wipes on the scar because I fear continual use would be too drying.
Thanks in advance for your help in this regard.
Sunday 3rd of July 2022
@Claudia Brown, try deodorant or baby powder
Wednesday 11th of March 2020
Hi Claudia. I had my little one November 2019 via c-section. A week later I ended up in the ER. I had developed a seroma. It resulted in my seeing a wound nurse once a week from then until the end of January. We were worried about infections and keeping the area dry. She actually had me using powder and cream for athletes foot!
Emily Beth Gruman
Sunday 15th of January 2017
You might include that some women are completely sedated during c sections. I didn't know they were going to knock me out. I had an emergency c section due to pre eclampsia. I was unconscious during birth, and had been in and out during the day of labor leading up to it. Talk about feeling like a failure as a mom, when you can't remember your own child's birth.
Monday 16th of January 2017
I'm so sorry you had that expereince Emily. You're right, while most women aren't sedated during a c-section some are and it can be traumatic. ((HUGS))
Thursday 15th of January 2015
I had to have an emergency c-section with my son and my incision is still numb after nearly 6 years. Luckily i never got an infection and healed very well. My legs and feet swelled terribly. I didn't realize it had anything to do with the c-section and it took at least a week after surgery before it went down. Good thing I had big slippers to wear! Thank you for making this information available - I could have used this back then!