Written by Charlene Hartung

Curated | Health

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8 Apr, 2021

Spinal headaches after a C-Section – what’s normal and what’s not.

This was my second C-section, and I thought I had pre-empted many things I learned from the first one. I knew what to expect, right?

I learned that the numbing medication leaves my system rather quickly, as I was still in the recovery room outside of the theatre and the pain gushed into my lower body. So, for this, I asked (now late) Dr. Curry for a little more pain medication. He gave me more and my recovery in the first 24 hours was heavenly.

I also learned that the numbing meds make me nauseous to a point that I want to vomit. For this, he gave me either different meds or something to counter the nausea before it came.

I once again asked for a numbing patch on my spine before the spinal. That way you only feel the needle and medicine going into your spine, and not the first one that is injected in your skin. It is still a nerve-racking thought and experience, but knowing that you cannot feel the first shot makes it somewhat more bearable.

The first 24hours after my C-section was peaceful. Meeting our baby girl, falling in love with her… her dad, grandparents and brother meeting her… these are memories I will always cherish.

Because you can’t walk in the first day after a C-section, a catheter will be inserted into your urethra. Your bowels are unlikely to move in that day. When it was time for me to get up and start moving, the catheter was removed and my husband came to help me. I got up slowly and made my way to the bathroom.

At first I realised I have a rather intense headache and even asked the nurse for a painkiller, thinking nothing of the request. I realized afterwards their reluctance to give me painkillers was them knowing it was more than just a headache that a painkiller could take away.

What is a spinal headache?
Spinal headaches are caused by leakage of spinal fluid through a puncture hole in the tough membrane (dura mater) that surrounds the spinal cord. This leakage decreases the pressure exerted by the spinal fluid on the brain and spinal cord, which leads to headaches.

Although this is horrifyingly common, until I experienced it myself, no other mom had ever shared this experience with me.

My headaches lasted around seven days. Around 1 in 200 women experience these headaches after a C-section.

I started drinking coffee and Coca-Cola while I was still in the hospital as on the advice of the nursing team. When I got up the pain was worse. It is a dull, throbbing, incapacitating pain. It feels like you’d want to remove your head from your body, like your head is about to explode. It decreased immediately when I laid down. I was discharged after four days in the hospital with the headache in full swing and keeping me bed ridden.

By Day Six, my husband got a heat patch from Dischem that we placed on the base of my neck and it brought much relief. By Day Seven, I was able to sit up and stand up, hold my baby and enjoy being a second time mom.

Because of these debilitating headaches, I could not breastfeed properly as I felt unable to function when sitting up and because I was taking in caffeine, I did not trust the quality of my breast milk. I was upset and rather discouraged to continue trying to breastfeed. I pumped for a few days after we got home and the breast milk eventually disappeared by itself.

My reason for elective C-sections was greatly because I felt the theatre environment inside a hospital was controlled. Boy, did I not know about spinal headaches though! In hindsight, I don’t think knowing about these headaches would have changed my mind in favour of natural birth, but it could have made things a bit more comfortable for me. These headaches actually contributed to my reluctance to have another baby, when I thought it was still possible.

Has this happened to any of you? Feel free to share your experience in the comments section, and any advice or medication that worked for you.

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