Natural birth or C-section? This is a question most pregnant women have been asked at least once. When choosing one of the options, they are guided by a number of things, from their unwillingness to go through labor pain to their health situation, from their age to their personal opinion on the matter. Some women choose C-section right away for this or that reason, while others opt for it at the last minute because something goes unplanned during natural delivery.
Anyway, today C-sections make up almost 32% of all deliveries in the United States. According to WebMD, it's about 1.3 million births annually. Only in the past decade, the rate of this abdominal surgery has grown by over 50% and the numbers keep on rising.
But do all these women who choose C-section realize what exactly the procedure does to their body and how they will have to recover from it? Unfortunately, few of us know how C-sections affect us, and we're often unprepared for the long recovery process because even childbirth classes usually don't discuss the procedure and its aftermath in detail.
So let's see how C-section works, what issues it can cause, how long it will take to recover, and what we can do to speed up the process.
20 Here's What Happens One Hour After A C-Section
Immediately after you had a C-section, the hospital staff will take you to a post-operative area where they will monitor your condition. They will check that you're feeling fine and see if you have any issues with your BP and body temperature.
At this point, you won't have to leave your bed even to visit a bathroom or get some water, because you'll have a catheter to collect your urine and an IV will deliver fluids. You won't have any sensations in your lower body during the first hour and you might be feeling a bit woozy or shaky because of the morphine delivered to you through the IV.
But despite all these things, you're likely to be able to hold and breastfeed your baby during this hour.
19 And One Day After It
Several hours after your surgery, the nurses will wheel you out to the postpartum recovery unit. They will also offer you ice chips and liquid meals that'll include juice and broth. You'll need to eat them until your doctor allows you to eat solids.
Soon after it, you'll be given a uterine massage that isn't as spa-like as it sounds, although it's good for you because it helps your uterus contract. If you have no complications, you'll be asked to get out of your bed, since mild physical activity will speed up your recovery.
Be prepared for the period at about 18 hours after C-section. This is when the anesthesia you've been given wears off and the pain spikes. To help you feel better, you'll be given pain meds.
18 You'll Stay In The Hospital Longer
Usually, the moms who had natural delivery stay in the hospital for about two days after childbirth. But if you had C-section, this period will be longer. It commonly takes about four days to recover in the hospital, but if you have any complications or other issues, you might have to stay there for some more time.
When you're ready to head home with your newborn, you'll have to undergo certain procedures. First of all, your doctor will remove your staples (if you have any) and cover your incision with Steri-Strips. They look at bit like Band-Aids, and as you recover they'll fall off on their own. Besides, the doctor will also advise you on the proper handling of the incision.
17 Take The First Shower Carefully
As soon as you can walk after your surgery, it's advisable to take a shower, because it'll help avoid the risk of infection. But while being in the shower, keep in mind that you have to take certain precautions.
First of all, Parents warns you against scrubbing your incision. Instead, just let the soapy water run over it. When you're done showering, don't dry the area with a towel, like the rest of your body. To avoid harming the incision, gently pat it with your towel or use a blow dryer set on cool.
Keep these precautions in mind until you're completely healed and avoid taking a bath for seven to ten days after C-section.
16 It Takes Time To Heal
Since C-section is a major surgery, you should be ready that it will take time to heal completely. Not only will you have to stay in the hospital for about four days (or longer, if you have any complications), but also your body will need up to six weeks afterward to fully recover. It means that you'll need lots of rest.
Of course, it's easier said than done. After all, you can't take rest all the time, because you have a baby that demands lots of your attention. But still, take as much rest as you can, don't demand too much from yourself, and ask for help from your partner, family members or friends, if you feel like you need a short break. No one will judge you for that.
15 You'll Have Postpartum Discharge Even After A C-Section
If you think that only natural childbirth is followed by the bright red discharge, you're wrong. Even a C-section can't save you from wearing a pad for a few weeks after delivery.
The liquid that will go out of your nether regions at this period is called lochia and it consists of mucus, bacteria, and uterine tissue. After C-section, it probably won't be as abundant as after natural delivery, because your cavity was wiped clean during the surgery. However, the placenta is detached and the thick lining that grew during pregnancy to support your baby has to shed itself, so discharge will definitely be there.
14 It Can Be Painful
The recovery period after C-section can be more painful than you think, especially if you're breastfeeding (read the next entry to learn why). To deal with this pain, ask your doctor to prescribe you certain meds that will help you. They're likely to offer you such over-the-counter medications as ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin) or acetaminophen (Tylenol).
Besides, you can also use a heating pad at the incision site that will relieve discomfort. If you have difficulty standing up after the surgery even when you come back home with the baby, Self recommends experimenting "rolling onto one side, using pillows or asking your partner to lend a hand."
13 Nursing Might Be Pretty Uncomfortable
Normally, you will be able to breastfeed your newborn 30 minutes after giving birth through C-section, but be ready to feel a certain amount of discomfort.
Alyssa Quimby, M.D., assistant professor of obstetrics and gynecology at the University of Southern California, says on Self, "It can be difficult to situate your newborn in a position that you can maintain for upwards of 20 minutes comfortably when you have an incision on your lower abdomen. I encourage my patients to play around with different positions."
You can use a side-lying position, stack several pillows under your baby, try a breastfeeding pillow, or use the football hold. Just ask your nurse to show you how to take any of these positions.
12 Let's Talk About Gassy Issues
When you recover from C-section, you can feel excruciating gas pains that are likely to pass within a week or so after surgery. Until then, your doctor will probably prescribe you anti-gas medications that will help you and won't interfere with breastfeeding.
Besides, be sure to get up and walk around as soon as possible after surgery, because even a little bit of physical activity will help relieve your condition. Maureen Connolly, a mother of three in Montclair, N.J., shares on Parents, "My nurses practically forced me to get out of bed and move in order to relieve the gas pains I had following my first C-section." Nurses know what they're doing, believe me.
11 Stool Softeners Are Your Best Friend
Gas isn't the only intestine-related issue you're likely to experience after C-section. Your bowel movements will give you a lot more trouble, because not only your pregnancy-related hormones slow down the digestive process, but also the surgery kinda causes your bowels to shut down for some time. Besides, it might be hard to push having this sore incision on your belly, while some women worry that it can even bust their stitches (which, in fact, never happens).
Stool softeners can certainly help you in this situation, but they aren't the only remedy. Again, get up and move around as soon as you can, as much as you can, and drink lots of water.
10 Don't Come Back To The Normal Routine Right Away
According to Health Line, it can take weeks for you to come back to your normal routine after C-section. But let's see what you should consider normal. After all, the birth of a baby changes your life if not completely, then at least dramatically.
If normal for you is doing most of the household chores, tucking your older kids into bed, and taking care of your family members, then there are quite a few things you should change. Delegate at least some of your responsibilities to your partner or other family members, don't run around with your older kids just yet, and accept all the help that is offered to you. Don't overwork your body after the huge stress it's been through. Take it slowly.
9 Pay Attention To Nutrition
Healthy nutrition is vital for a speedy recovery after any kind of surgery. And for such a complicated surgery as C-section (that's followed not by lots of rest, but by taking care of a newborn), it's also essential. Pay a lot of attention to what you eat, especially if you're breastfeeding your baby. After all, your milk is their primary nutrition source, so eating a variety of foods is something that will keep your baby healthy. And it will make you stronger, helping you to heal faster.
Ensure that your postnatal nutrition plan includes a variety of fruits and veggies. They won't only provide you and your baby with essential nutrients, but also they'll give flavor to your milk, thus increasing your child's enjoyment of these foods as they grow.
8 Be Careful When Coughing And Sneezing
Even such simple things as sneezing and coughing can become challenging after C-section. "I came home and had a coughing fit one afternoon, and OMG it hurt like the dickens!" says a mom on The Bump. Carolyn Eskridge, an OB with Eastover Ob/Gyn in Charlotte, North Carolina, recommends what new moms can do to alleviate this pain. "Splinting (holding a pillow against the abdomen over the incision)," she says, "is very helpful in preventing pain with coughs, sneezes and laughing."
So keep a pillow handy at all times during the first couple of weeks after C-section. If you don't want to carry it around everywhere, consider buying a belly band that will help support your abs.
7 You Might Be Left With Scar Tissue
During the C-section procedure, your doctor will make a horizontal cut through your skin, as well as subcutaneous fatty layer and connective tissue that surrounds your inner organs (this tissue is called fascia). After delivery, stitches are laid on your skin's top layers, while the fascia closes on its own. It can create scar tissue that will be a bit puffy and darker than the rest of your skin.
At first, it might seem that it looks extremely unattractive, but you should know that after some time it shall fade away and become less noticeable. Besides, since it's very low on your abdomen, it'll probably become hidden by your pubic hair.
6 Complications Are Possible
C-section doesn't always go smoothly and sometimes certain complications occur. One of the most common ones is constipation, which we have discussed in one of the previous entries. Although it's a very unpleasant one, it's not too hard to either prevent or treat it quickly. Move around, drink lots of water, eat fiber-rich foods, and take a stool softener – you'll be fine. Another possible complication, which is the formation of clots, can also be prevented by simple walking. Meanwhile, the risk of infection is reduced by following the hygiene rules given by your doctor.
So keep in mind that if you do everything as advised by your doctor, you'll probably avoid these complications.
5 Some No-Nos You Should Know
To avoid any other, more serious, complications, you'll receive more instructions from your doctor as you're discharged from the hospital.
It's very important that you don't lift anything heavier than your newborn because otherwise you risk busting your stitches. Besides, your doctor will tell you not to put anything into your lady parts for a few weeks, which means no tampons, douching, or adult time with your partner. Other no-nos for you will include walking stairs and driving. So if you have a multistory house, move all essentials downstairs, so that you only have to walk the stairs when it's absolutely necessary.
4 Don't Compare
It's completely understandable that you want to heal as soon as possible, but even if you have a friend who was as good as new only four weeks after her C-section, it doesn't mean that something's wrong with you if it takes longer.
Shawn Tassone, M.D., an Austin, Texas-based Ob-Gyn and author of the books Hands Off My Belly! and Spiritual Pregnancy, says on Parents, "Don't compare your recovery to someone else's because our recoveries vary as much as our genetics, and comparisons will only frustrate those who take a bit longer to recover. Listen to your body, and if things hurt, slow down; if you feel tired, rest as much as you can."
Remember that every woman's experience is different and focus on your own healing, despite the fact that it takes longer than you've expected.
3 The Range Of Emotions You Can Feel
The emotional health of any woman who has just given birth is often unsteady due to the hormonal situation. Besides, having a baby brings the feelings you've never thought you'd experience. So don't ignore your emotional health. If you feel sad, disappointed, or like it's all just too much, talk to your partner, friend, or doctor.
Keep in mind that after C-section a woman can be even more emotional. Sometimes it happens if she had an emergency surgery and now feels as if she failed to give birth naturally and didn't have the "ideal birth" she desired. Or it may seem to her that it takes too long to heal. But there's nothing wrong about either of these things, so don't let the situation make you sad or depressed.
2 Know When To Call A Doctor
You should definitely know when to turn to your doctor for help after C-section and be able to discern the worrisome symptoms from the normal ones. For example, if your incision site is itching and you have reddish discharge after delivery, it's fine. But if the incision becomes painful, red, swelled or has pus oozing from it, talk to your doctor immediately. Besides, if your discharge becomes foul-smelling or too heavy, it's a troubling sign, too.
Other symptoms that should make you call your doctor as soon as possible are chest pain, redness or swelling in your leg, difficulty breathing, and fever of more than 100.4°F (38°C).
1 Exercising Will Help You
You shouldn't do any exercises, including swimming, yoga, and Pilates, during the first eight weeks after C-section. During this time, just walking around is enough physical activity for you.
But as soon as you're completely healed, it's time to gradually come back to a more active lifestyle (if you were used to it before delivery, of course). Do certain mild exercises and yoga poses that will help you get back on track and return your pre-pregnancy shape. Make sure to talk to your doctor before starting to do any of them. Since all women are different and we all heal differently, you might require a personalized exercise plan that will be in keeping with your current health situation.
Sources: WebMD, Parents, Health Line, The Bump, Self, Baby Center