Sometimes a planned cesarean section is the safest option for you and your baby. And even if you’ve planned for a vaginal birth, complications can arise that make a surgical delivery necessary.

All expectant families should discuss cesarean-section deliveries with their obstetrician or midwife so that they understand what’s involved and are not caught off guard if the need arises.

The following steps can help ensure a safe, satisfying birth experience for you and your family.

1. Discuss your preferences. Ask whether a partner can be with you in the surgery room and recovery area. When will you be able to hold and breast-feed your baby? Skin-to-skin contact between moms and babies right after delivery facilitates bonding and breast-feeding when it is possible. In some cases you or your baby may need emergency attention that prevents immediate skin-to-skin contact, but you can request it as soon as possible after these interventions.

2. Ask about antibiotics at the time of surgery. It’s standard to receive antibiotics before a cesarean delivery to reduce the risk of infection. But the amount and type of drugs you receive may vary because researchers are still learning about best practices in this area, according to Aaron B. Caughey, M.D., chair of the department of obstetrics and gynecology at Oregon Health & Science University School of Medicine in Portland. Most women don’t receive antibiotics afterward unless they develop an infection.

3. Return to a normal diet as soon as possible. A C-section is major abdominal surgery, and it’s important for your body to resume normal functions as quickly as possible. When food you eat makes it to your bowels, it stimulates the bowels to work again.

4. Request measures to prevent blood clots. That might include wearing devices on your legs that self-inflate to keep the blood flowing until you can walk on your own or taking a prescription blood thinner. Ask the nursing staff to help you get up and move around as soon as you are able to do so.

5. Consider help with breast-feeding. Getting started breast-feeding as you recover from a cesarean section poses extra challenges. A lactation consultant can provide invaluable support and advice.

6. Make sure you have adequate pain control. Cesarean deliveries require longer, potentially more painful recoveries than vaginal deliveries. Approaches to pain management vary widely, but what’s important is communicating with your nurse or doctor and letting them know if you are in pain.

7. Ask about contraception options. Spacing deliveries at least a year apart is important for all mothers, but it’s even more important after a cesarean delivery, Caughey says, so make sure you discuss contraception with your provider. “Women who have less than a year after their cesarean have a higher risk of uterine rupture in a trial of labor,” he says.

8. Marshal support. Plan to have extra support at home so that you can focus on recovering and getting to know your new baby.