5 Things You Might Feel During a Cesarean

What will I feel during a cesarean section?

Cesarean section being performed
Photo © Steve Debenport/Getty Images

Question: What will I feel during a cesarean section?

Answer: During any type of cesarean section (c-section) where you have epidural anesthesia, you will feel some sensations during the birth. You should never feel pain. Though it may come as a surprise to many mothers that during the actual birth most women report feeling some things.

  1. Tugging. Many women will feel a tugging sensation. This comes from the movements of the physicians in removing the baby or manipulating your organs. Most women report feeling the move tugging during the actual birth of the baby. Typically, many doctors will warn you just before you feel this so you won't be frightened. Amanda, a mother who has had three cesareans said, "The first time I thought that they were going to pull me off the table. I kept trying to reach down with my hands to hold on. It didn't hurt, it was just weird." You may be advised to do relaxation or breathing during this short, but intense portion of your surgical birth.
  1. Movement. While you may have adequate coverage from your anesthesia, you may still feel movement. This is not the same as pain, though may be frightening. "I felt like something was scurrying over my skin," recalls another mother. "It was weird because I could feel it but not really."
  2. Shortness of Breath. Sometimes lying back on the operating table and make you feel like you're having shortness of breath, sometimes it's medication related. Either way, be sure to tell the anesthesiologist how you'd feeling. For some mothers it's a fleeting feeling but others experience it nearly the entire surgery.
  3. Numbness. You might think I've gone a bit crazy to mention numbness here, but it's worth calling out separately. Sometimes you will have no pain sensation anywhere, but still be able to tell that someone is touching you. Much like having your mouth numbed for dental work. You can feel the dentist working but it doesn't hurt. Sometimes you will have spots that are completely numb, where you can't feel anything. This is not a cause for panic.
  1. Pain. This is certainly not what you should be feeling. It is unlikely that you will feel any pain in the surgical site. Your doctor will test and retest until they are sure that you are comfortable. Rarely, you will have an area that is difficult to numb, often called a window or a hot spot, and more often noted with epidural anesthesia. Be sure to let your anesthesiologist and doctor know what you are feeling so that they can advise you whether or not it is normal to have the sensations you are having during your cesarean section. You may have more options for pain medication, including IV medication or general anesthesia. What is used will depend on your preferences, the practitioner preferences, and at what point in the surgery that it occurs.

    These feelings occur during scheduled and unplanned c-sections. If you have an emergency cesarean, you will have these sensations unless you have general anesthesia. Even mothers with a spinal can feel these sensations. Be sure to discuss pain relief options for a cesarean in your birth plan.

    Remember that everything that you learned in childbirth class about relaxation and mental awareness can be beneficial, even during a surgical birth. Your medical team will be taking care of the physical pain. Having your partner and/or doula help you with the anxiety and fear can be very helpful.

    See Also: Doula for a Cesarean Birth


    Medications for Pain Relief During Delivery. American College of Obstetrics & Gynecology (ACOG). http://www.acog.org/-/media/For-Patients/faq086.pdf?dmc=1&ts=20150802T1212334191 Last Accessed August 2, 2015.

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