As soon as you find out that you are pregnant, you start to wonder about your delivery. How will your baby make the miraculous journey from your womb to the outside world? Will you have a water birth in your home? A non-medically assisted birth in a hospital? Or, will you have an epidural and all of the medical interventions needed in a hospital, but still deliver vaginally?
Whatever your ideal birth plan may be (and it varies from woman to woman, and there definitely isn’t a ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ way, a C-section may be the furthest thing from your mind. However, a C-section may be the only way you can safely get your baby here.
Whether you found out that a C-section is necessary during your pregnancy, or find out that you need to have an emergency C-section while you are in the middle of labor, take comfort in knowing that while this method of delivery may not be your ideal, your doctors have deemed that it is the best option for you and your baby for a reason.
Whatever the reason is that you need to have a cesarean delivery, your ideal birth plan will seem like a distant memory once you are holding your sweet little baby and you will just be relieved that your blessing has safely arrived. However, it is important to keep in mind that the recovery from a C-section is quite different than the recovery from a vaginal delivery.
As a mother who has recovered from two sections, here is what I would like to share with other mothers about the recovery process – and how to make it as comfortable and fast as possible.
There is no way to sugar coat it; you are going to be in pain after you have a C-section. In fact, the first few days are going to be filled with some pretty intense pain. For me, sitting up was a chore and sent searing pains through my abdomen.
Fortunately, within a few days, that intense pain does subside. However, in the meantime (and even after the extreme pain starts to dull) you can ease your discomfort with pain relieving medications.
Your doctors will offer you medications to numb the pain. Take them up on the offer! For me, those meds were a godsend! They really do take the pain away and allow you to focus on what is really important, spending time with your baby during this very special time. And, if you’re worried that those pain meds won’t be safe for breastfeeding, just talk to your doctors, they will prescribe something that is safe for you and your little one.
A C-section is a major surgery. Your abdomen will be cut open and your organs will be removed (sorry if that sounds gory) to reach your uterus and get your little one out. Because of this, it is extremely important to support your abdomen after the surgery. Without proper support, you could increase your pain, and you could also up your chances of doing damage to the incision – which you definitely don’t want to do!
Supporting your abdomen will improve your comfort and will speed up your recovery. I was fortunate in that my doctor put a support girdle on me right after I was sewn up. It really helped to hold things together and made me feel like I was being held in. It also helped to “deflate” my stomach, which made me feel less bloated and a lot more comfortable.
If your doctor doesn’t automatically put a girdle on you, you can ask for one, or, you can buy one yourself. Also, you can support your abdomen by exercising, good posture and by holding your stomach when you cough, sneeze or make any sudden movements.
I know it’s hard to get rest when you have a newborn baby to care for, but you really do need to get as much rest as you possibly can when you are recovering from a C-section. In order to speed up your recovery, your body needs to concentrate on healing itself. The only way it can do that is by getting rest.
While I was in the hospital (you will stay in the hospital a bit longer after having a C-section than you will after a vaginal delivery for monitoring purposes) I had both of my babies stay in the nursery when I wanted to sleep. It was a difficult decision to make, but I knew that it was the best one for me and my family.
Experienced nurses could tend to my babies while I got some much-needed rest. When we got home, I relied on the help of my husband, my family and my friends. I took naps as often as I could, and I definitely didn’t try to tackle anything around the house.
As a general rule of thumb, you shouldn’t lift anything heavier than your baby for 6 weeks after a C-section. Lifting anything heavier increases the risk of rupturing your incision, which will lead to even more pain than you are already experiencing, cause bleeding, could possibly lead to infection and may even land you back in the hospital.
Take it easy! Don’t vacuum. Don’t take out the trash. Don’t lift groceries. Basically, take this time to cuddle and bundle with your little one, which is not only beneficial for your healing, but it’s also great for you and your baby!
You are definitely going to want to drink plenty of water and fluids that replace electrolytes to speed up your recovery.
During a C-section, you are going to lose a good bit of fluids, and you are going to lose even more when you start breastfeeding. Your body needs fluids to recover, and it needs them to produce breast milk. Also, being well hydrated will help to relieve constipation and will make bowel movements after a C-section a little bit easier.
Water is actually the best thing to drink as it fully replenishes your system like no other drink possibly can, especially while you breastfeed.
Speaking about BMs (I know this is not exactly a desirable topic of conversation, but hey, we are talking about childbirth, which isn’t exactly a topic for the squeamish,) going number two is going to be difficult to pass right after you have a C-section.
Fluid loss can lead to constipation, and if your iron levels have depleted as a result of the surgery (mine did) you may be prescribed iron supplements, which bind things up even more. Trying to pass a hard stool can put extra strain on your abdomen, which is already sore after a C-section.
To make things go a little more smoothly, ease your BMs. Take a stool softener or drink some prune juice. You will be so relieved once you pass that first BM, and it will be a lot easier to pass, too!
You may be tempted to stay still, and while you definitely shouldn’t try doing a marathon, you do need to get up and move.
The more you stay sedentary, the more difficult it will be for you to move down the road. Plus, staying still for too long can increase your chances of developing blood clots in your legs. Moving is so important, so much so, in fact your nurses will likely force you to get up and out of bed while you are in the hospital.
My nurses had me get up from the bed and walk to a chair several times a day, just 24 hours after having my surgery. They also had my husband follow me with a wheel chair while walking down the hallways of the hospital. It was slow-going, but I am so thankful that they did this, because within two days, I was able to walk with far greater ease than I thought I would be able to.
Avoid wearing clothing that clings to the skin, especially at the site of your incision. Also, don’t wear pants that sit on your incision. Doing so will lead to rubbing on the incision, which is downright uncomfortable and could cause bleeding, oozing or infection.
Loose-fitting clothing, like sweatpants and skirts, are great clothing options. I chose to wear dresses and robes. I didn’t have to deal with any seams sitting on or near my incision, and rubbing against it. You definitely don’t have to get fancy! Wear an unattractive housecoat, if you want! The main goal is to be comfortable here!
Your driving privileges will be restricted while you are recovering from a C-section. Why? Well, first of all, you may be on pain medications that could compromise your driving abilities.
Second, if you are forced to slam on the brakes, that jarring movement could cause your incision to rupture. Plus, you may not have the strength to slam on the brakes, should you need to, which could put you, your baby, any other passengers and anyone else on the road in danger.
My doctors told me that I shouldn’t drive for 6 weeks after my C-sections, however, there was no way I could go without driving for that long (we don’t live in a rural area and we need to drive to get anywhere,) so after my doctor gave me the OK, I was able to drive 2 weeks post-surgery.
Good nutrition is always important, but it is particularly important after having a major surgery.
Foods that are rich in valuable vitamins and nutrients will help to replenish your body and give you the strength that you need to heal. Make sure you avoid processed foods and saturated fats. Choose healthy, clean options, like fruits, vegetables and organic meats, cheeses and other dairy products.
You can also improve your bowel movements in increase your iron supply (if you are deficient) with your diet. Foods like bran, strawberries, blackberries, raspberries and beans are loaded with valuable nutrients, and can also help to soften your stools. If you’re low on iron, eat plenty of beets, seafood, beans, dried fruits (raisins, apricots, etc) and dark, leafy vegetables (spinach, kale, etc) to increase your iron levels.
Your incision is going to be tender for a while, but it is very important to keep it clean! It is an open wound that is healing and any bacteria that gets into it could lead to an infection.
You won’t need to cover your incision with a gauze pad or anything, but you will need to make sure that you clean it regularly. Don’t use harsh products to clean it, like peroxide or ointments, but do wash it with antibacterial soap and warm water several times a day. Also, don’t put any severe pressure on it or scrub it; rather, build up a lather in your hands and gently rub over the area when cleaning it. Rinse thoroughly after washing it and pat the incision area dry with a clean towel.
Though your first reaction may be to jump up into a sitting position while you are lying down, especially when you hear your newborn baby crying, resist the urge as much as you can. Suddenly sitting up from lying down can put internal pressure on your incision, which can cause it to rupture and increase your pain.
Instead of sitting up when you are lying in bed or on the couch, try rolling. Roll over to one side and use you arms to push yourself upright. This will avoid the extra pressure on your incision and allow you to heal more quickly.
If an infection does develop in your incision, the results could be devastating, possibly causing you to develop a serious condition and landing you in the hospital.
Check your incision site several times a day to make sure that things look good. If you notice any of the following signs, call your doctor immediately:
Also, if you have a fever that is higher than 100.4 F, you should call your doctor as soon as possible.
If an infection does occur, you will need immediate medical attention to avoid any further complications. The treatment you will be given to heal from your infection will depend on your specific situation, but your doctor may prescribe medications to cure it, among other things.
While you may be eager to get back to your pre-baby body, don’t jump into any crazy exercise routine right away. With your doctor’s approval, you can certainly exercise after a C-section (though it may take a few weeks for you to even want to try being active,) but you want to make sure the exercises you are doing are gentle on your incision.
Avoid things like planks, push ups, sit ups, lunges, squats, running, or anything else that could put internal pressure on your incision. Instead, when you do start easing back into exercising, try something simple, like walking, Kegel exercise and bridges. Swimming is another option, though don’t try to do an insane amount of laps; rather, gently kick in the water.
Over time, you will build your strength back up and before you know it, you will be healed enough and feel well enough to get back to your normal exercise routine.
I can’t stress this one enough! I know it’s hard to do, especially now that you have a newborn to care for, but you really do need to take care of yourself!
The vacuuming, dusting, laundry, dishes and general tidying up can all be done later, or by someone else. While you are recovering, you really need to focus on you. Over-exerting yourself can aggravate your condition and put you at risk of rupturing your incision, which can lead to serious problems down the road. Don’t be afraid to ask for help! Now is the time you need it the most!
Take it from someone who tried to vacuum 3 weeks after a C-section and landed in her doctor’s office in serious pain, just take it easy! Put your feet up, take the time to recover, and relish in cuddling with your newborn.