Like many women before me, I’m a member of the “C-section mommy club.” I remember sitting in my pre-natal classes, wide-eyed and with teeth clenched, as we watched a video on Caesarean sections. It looked like a gruesome business. “See how many layers of fat tissues have to be cut through to get to your baby,” the instructor said, pointing at the TV screen. I thought I was going to hurl and silently wished I would not have to go through one.
As scary as the pain of birth crowning sounded like, a huge operation sounded worse. And the fact that you are awake for it seemed like some kind of medieval torture. Now that I had seen this video, I knew exactly what was going to happen on the other side of the flimsy blue sheet the doctors put up. You know, to hide all the blood and all the grisly stuff.
“Remember, it’s major abdominal surgery if you end up having one,” my mom warned. She too had a C-section and it was back in the late 1970s, when the scars looked botchy and the recovery seemed never-ending. She often told me how she couldn’t walk straight for weeks afterward because the pain was so bad.
I must have jinxed myself, because, naturally, I ended up having a C-section. It certainly wasn’t planned and came as a result of 24 hours of long and unproductive labour. But as difficult as recovery can be for a C-section (especially an emergency one like I had), it was not as bad as I was originally warned it would be.
For those women who are rolling their eyes right now, I apologize. It’s not that I have a great pain threshold (catch me stubbing my toe and I’m ready to cry), or I’m particularly strong physically. It was just a manageable pain and positive experience that I didn’t quite expect.
Here are some easy tips and suggestions to help you have a safe and positive recovery from your C-section. These guidelines will hopefully offer some peace of mind during this important stage in your life.
7 Stick to a Healthy Diet
Eating healthy is not as easy as it seems. It takes a lot of effort to plan out healthy meals and then begin preparing them. I rightly anticipated being very busy and tired after the baby was born and made several casseroles and froze them a few months before delivery. These ready-made meals came in handy when my husband and I needed something quick and healthy.
The temptation to reach for junk food when you’re dead tired will be near overwhelming, trust me. It’s okay to give in to this once and awhile, but no good can come of eating processed food all the time.
Your body needs good nutrition after going through a big surgery. And if you’re breastfeeding, your baby will benefit from all the healthy goodness you’re consuming. I desperately needed to eat well after my C-section.
I hemorrhaged a lot during surgery and I was very anemic both during my pregnancy and after. My hemoglobin plummeted to dangerously low levels after the C-section. They were so low that at one point I was seeing imaginary smoke in the hallway and could not focus straight. When the doctor held up my beautiful baby boy for my husband and I to see, I actually had to ask him whether he was holding two babies or one. To my relief, it was one.
I needed lots of leafy greens, whole grains, beans, and good iron supplements in my then vegetarian diet to help rectify things.
Luckily for me, my family spent lots of time cooking to ensure I had proper nutrition. If you are in a situation where you don’t have much help available to you, and you have the money to do so, try buying pre-packaged healthy meals. These may include pre-chopped veggies and ready-made lean meats and casseroles. Try to avoid too many TV dinners as they are loaded with sodium.
6 Take Time to Rest
I know, I know – rest when? You’ve just come back from the hospital after major surgery and you have a human being to look after who’s completely dependent on you for survival. Who has time to sit? If you want to speed up your recovery, you will have to take care of yourself as best as you can.
In my case, taking it easy was more achievable because I went to stay with my parents for three weeks after coming home from the hospital. They took care of all the nighttime feedings and colicky episodes so I could rest. Not everyone has this luxury, though.
If you don’t have someone who can devote this kind of care to you, sometimes the little things someone can do can go a long way. Elect your partner to help you with more physical duties around the house, like laundry, dusting, etc. If you need to take a much-needed nap during the day, don’t hesitate to ask. Even a few minutes of help here and there can make a big difference.
Remember, you did just have surgery and, under normal circumstances, you’d be out of commission and pampering yourself for the duration of the recommended recovery time. Recovery for a C-section is roughly six to eight weeks, providing there are no major complications. Expect to be in the hospital for at least three days. The faster you recover the sooner you can have the energy to do all the things that come with being a new mom.
5 Let Someone Else Do the Lifting
For the first six to eight weeks, you need to take extra care as your body heals. It’s been through a huge ordeal and you need to take it easy.
- Try to keep baby supplies on one floor, so you’re not stuck going up and down stairs if no one is home
- Avoid strenuous exercise, but take gentle walks whenever you can. The movement will help your body heal and prevent blood clots
- Don’t lift anything heavier than the weight of your baby. If your baby is big, even he may be too much for you and a loved one may have to help you out for the first few weeks, until you feel stronger
- Let your partner or a loved one do groceries or any other physical household duties like vacuuming or moving furniture
4 Take Pain Medication as Needed
You may be worried about taking anything for the pain – especially if you are breastfeeding. If you are suffering, make sure you get the relief you need. It doesn’t make you less of a mom if you need some relief after having major surgery. Your doctor will advise you on what medications are safe for you to take after delivery.
For some, simple pain medications may be all that is required to ease through the pain. I was one of these moms. I survived on acetaminophen and over-the-counter NSAIDs like Advil or Motrin. I was also unable to nurse my baby, so I did have the option to take stronger medication with no effect on my baby’s health. I felt the pain was manageable on these low-dose medications, but not everyone has the same experience I did. Don’t be afraid to ask for what you need.
3 Your Pillow Is Your Friend
Your pillow will come in handy in the days and weeks after recovery in more ways than one. Yes, it’s great for resting your head on, but hugging a pillow while laughing, yawning, or sneezing will take the pressure off your belly. You can also use pillows to help prop yourself up. If you are able to nurse, use your pillow to keep the baby off your tender belly and closer to your breast.
Like when your stomach is sore after the flu, holding your belly or a pillow against your belly will soften that dreaded jolt of pressure.
2 Life’s a Gas
You may be finding yourself reaching for anti-gas medications before pain relievers. Gas pains are a common complaint after a C-section. Many women feel bloated with sharp pains that can radiate towards the collarbone and shoulders. Constipation, which is very common after surgery, can make the pain even worse.
- Take short walks whenever you can. It will help relieve gas pains. It will also help improve constipation
- Skip processed foods and eat fibre-rich foods, such as bran, vegetables and nuts. They help get the bowels moving
- Drink lots of water
1 Know When to Call the Doctor
It’s hard to miss the very noticeable scar you’ll have after a C-section. Pay attention to how it looks when you come home from the hospital and how you feel in general, so if there are any abnormal changes, you will know. Every symptom you have will be foreign territory for you.
The following are abnormal recovery symptoms you should be on the lookout for:
- Redness, swelling, or puss around the incision area
- Pain around the incision area
- Fever of more than 100.4 degrees Fahrenheit
- Chest pain
- Breast pain
- Heavy vaginal bleeding. You will bleed for up to six weeks, but it should not be extremely heavy
- Bad-smelling vaginal discharge
- Swelling in the legs
If you experience any of these symptoms, get yourself to the doctor’s right away. In some cases, a visit to the emergency room may also be warranted and your doctor will be able to advise.
A Caesarean section is considered major abdominal surgery, but don’t let this scare you. You survived nine long months of pregnancy and this is just an extension of the whole pregnancy journey. Learn to lean on your partner and loved ones during this time and you’ll see they’ll enjoy pampering you. The sooner you recover, the sooner you can have the energy needed to focus on your bundle of joy.
If you’ve already had a C-section, we hope this list of hacks (tips) will help you to stride to a full recovery!