Postpartum Recovery for New Moms with a C-Section
Cesarean Sections (C-Sections) have been done since ancient times to save a baby when a vaginal birth was not possible. As the years have passed technique and knowledge about surgical safety have made C-Sections a possibility for mothers whose lives are at risk or whose babies are struggling and vaginal birth seems dangerous or unlikely to succeed in specific situations.
Hospitals have perfected the procedure as much as possible and it now only lasts about 45 minutes as long as there are no further complications. It sounds so easy, but the procedure is major surgery and the recovery can take up to 6 weeks for most people.
Whether you expect to have a cesarean section or not, you never know what will happen. In the interest of being prepared for all eventualities, here’s the scoop on recovering with a C-Section.
In the hospital
When you come out of surgery you’ll still have a catheter in, usually, this will be removed as soon as they are sure you’re able to walk around. Walking around at least some during the first 12 hours is key to helping your abdomen absorb any excess gas from the surgery and get you on the road to recovery by restoring circulation to the areas around the incision. Your doctor has probably put in orders for you to take a stool softener, make sure you do. After abdominal surgery, you will want to slowly introduce your body back to food. Your doctor will have you on a clear liquid diet at first and then you’ll move on to soft foods and then bland regular foods. Often they will not let you past the liquid diet phase of recovery until you have a BM. The combination of having abdominal surgery and taking pain medication can make you pretty constipated so taking your stool softener and walking around should help prevent most of that problem.
If it hurts too much to walk around let your nurse know because they might be able to give you pain medication to help in the first day or two. If non-absorbable staples or stitches were used they might be removed before you are ready to go home, although many hospitals are now using absorbable stitches or wound glue and they will go home with you. After your doctor is confident that the surgery went well and your body is functioning normally you will be discharged.
Consider investing in a belly binder to help support your stomach during recovery, and make sure you have extra help at home if you can. A belly binder may not be needed depending on many factors, but most women find them helpful at least during the first week.
Your body is healing from major surgery and you need to rest and recover. You may not be able to pick up and carry the baby either from pain or fatigue so having a helper can make all the difference. Remember in the first days after you get home you should be on low activity, that means avoiding most chores and work. Doctors recommend not picking up anything heavier than your baby during recovery anyway, so while you may feel up to making a grocery list or using the electric scooter and shopping, loading and unloading groceries may just be too much. Remember not to lift anything heavier than your baby until you get the all clear from the doctor. In the meantime, be as active as you can without overdoing it.
You may also notice your milk coming in if you’ve decided to breastfeed putting a pillow on your lap can help cushion your incision while you hold the baby.
You may find the need for extra pillows to support your body to find a comfortable sleeping position if you already had some from your pregnancy keep them close by. Holding a pillow over your abdomen can help if you need to cough or sneeze. If you were sent home with pain medication stick to the schedule your doctor has set being sure not to double up on pain medication. Be sure you drink a lot of water to keep hydrated.
Returning to daily routines
Don’t be afraid to shower, running water over but not directly on your incision is fine. Be careful getting in and out of the shower and ask for help if you need it, especially the first few times. Cleaning your incision once a day with mild soap and warm water is recommended, but you should keep it dry otherwise. Don’t harshly scrub your incision with a towel to dry it, pat it dry or use your hair dryer on the coolest setting.
You are recovering from delivering a baby and major surgery at the same time, make sure to rest when you need to, sleep when the baby sleeps, and give yourself permission to relax. Fatigue while healing is normal, especially now that you are up at night feeding the baby so get some extra rest while you can. By 6 weeks you should be mostly healed and your doctor will clear you for all activities you’ve been avoiding as long as there aren’t any complications.
When to worry
Postpartum bleeding (Lochia) is normal after a c-section, and it can feel like a strong, heavy period. That is normal and you shouldn’t worry about it. Bleeding may become heavier if you’re too active, so if you notice a change take some time to rest. However, if cramping is severe or the bleeding changes drastically don’t be afraid to call your doctor to check-in.
As far as your incision goes, you want to watch for any signs of infection. Warmth, redness, increased pain, or pus can be signs of an infection and you should call your doctor immediately if you notice any of these or if you begin to run a fever.
Depending on why you needed your cesarean section and barring any postpartum complications you should be able to consider a VBAC (vaginal birth after C-Section) for your next child.
Whether your C-section was planned ahead of time to avoid trouble or decided at the last minute due to pregnancy troubles, you can feel confident that it was the right choice for you and your baby and take care to recover safely.