Cesarean Recovery

With the number of cesarean sections increasing in our country annually, many women do not really understand or know that recovering from a cesarean section is much different from a vaginal delivery. After my first cesarean section I learned this the hard way and wish I had a couple tips on making recovery more bearable.  But we often forget that the recovery after a cesarean birth is not just physical, but it is also emotional for a large portion of cesarean section mothers.

The different types of healing to be considered are in the hospital, long term, when you return home with your new baby, and also things you should be aware of such as when to call your health care provider post cesarean. (I also want to thank ICAN and their Recovering from a Cesarean White Paper in aiding to my post today)

While in the hospital :

  • Get as much help as you can from family members, your partner, nurses, and other hospital staff. That is what they are there for and during the hours, and days immediately after your surgery, you will need it even if you do not want it.
  • Stay hydrated and eat. You may not want to eat, but working on eating a well balanced and healthy diet, as well as staying hydrated (stay away from sugary drinks such as fruit juice and soda) will help to make you start to feel semi human again.
  • If private rooms are available opt for one so someone (family member or friend) can stay with you to help you during this time.
  • Use a pillow between your legs, and/or on your side to help sleep to be more comfortable. In the days, and even weeks following your cesarean it will not be easy to get comfortable. This is completely normal.  It took me almost a full 2 months to even get comfortable in my own bed at home after my second c-section.
  • Take pain medication that is being offered if you are in pain. With my first child, I was breastfeeding and was overly concerned about any of the medications being transfused though my milk so I opted for over the counter pain medication such as motrin instead. But it certainly made my recovery longer, and made taking care of my son harder. (As ICAN recommends, ask your provider about a stool softener, as narcotic pain medication can cause constipation.)
  • Get up and walk around.  It may hurt like hell, but it will help to get you back on your feet sooner rather than later. The longer you wait, the more painful it will get up, and the harder it will be.
  • The use of a pillow to protect your stomach while coughing, standing up, nursing or moving around in bed is a smart idea.
  • Do not hesitate to ask for a lactation consultant in the hospital. Breastfeeding after a cesarean section is more difficult not just for mom because of her incision, but also for baby. Check out the ICAN white paper on Breastfeeding After a Cesarean.

The first couple days in the hospital may feel like you are dying, I know because I have been there, but in most cases, you will only get better. When you get home, there are some more great tips for healing, although your housework may suffer for the first couple weeks, I am sure no one will mind too much.

When you get home :

  • Focus on yourself, and your baby. You just had major surgery and your baby needs you.
  • Have your partner help/do the household chores. Laundry, dishes, cooking, or anything else that needs to be done. Don’t worry, you can put off the dusting, cleaning the bathroom, mopping, and all the big chores for a couple weeks, your house won’t be mad at you!
  • Do not lift anything that is heavier than your baby for at least 4-6 weeks. Those infant carriers/carseats are tempting to pick up, especially when going to an appointment for you or your baby, but stay away from it. You do not want to hurt yourself, or have an extended recovery.
  • Ask others for help. If you have older children it may be helpful for your partner to take some time off from work, or have an available family member come over to help you. During the first weeks after my second cesarean section my toddler not only got the flu, but I was the only person he wanted making it difficult on me because I could not pick him up.
  • Take it slow!  Get back into your normal household routine over a long period of time. You do not want to over do it because you will certainly pay for it later on.
  • Have access to baby stuff such as diapers, bottles, burp cloths, wipes, or whatever you and your baby need for a couple hours in several places around the house. If your bed is the only place you are comfortable, make sure you can set yourself up to be able to hang out with baby, change diapers, and everything else you need right there.
  • Co-Sleep!  Room in with your baby, so when it comes time for midnight feedings, you do not need to get up or go far to take care of your little one.
  • If you have school age children, have others help to prepare their lunches, lay out clothes for the next day and anything else that needs to be done. To spend quality time, sit on the couch, or someplace comfortable and assist them with their home work, or read a book. Find ways to spend time other than anything that may put a physical strain on you.
  • Considering hiring a post partum doula. They can really be heaven sent in a post cesarean situation!
  • Don’t push yourself. If you want to take a shower and get dressed for the day, make that your only goal for the day.
  • Pajamas are your best friend. They are comfortable, and help to remind others you are still recovering from major surgery.
  • Remember how important it is to continue to remain well hydrated, and eating healthy.

Many do not think of the long term or emotional recovery of a cesarean section. I personally did not even encounter the emotional recovery until my cesarean baby was 3 months old. Be gentle on yourself, you aren’t the first to go through this, but many people around you may treat your feelings like nothing because cesarean sections have become so common. I can’t tell you how the phrase “a healthy baby is all that matters” feels to me still today.  Do not let others discount your feelings on your experience.

For your long term recovery…

  • Contact your local ICAN (International Cesarean Awareness Network) chapter. These are women who have been there, and done that and know how you feel and what you are going through. They are an excellent support system internationally and are such a huge blessing for many mothers. I know they were to me!
  • Write out a birth story, express your feelings on paper, or on a blog, get it out. Keeping your feelings inside may be harder in the long run.
  • Keep your baby as close to you as possible for as long as you can.

If you experience any of the following symtoms or problems, you should contact your care provider immediately.

  • Any type of bleeding from your incision.
  • Leaking, redness, or any type of fluids coming from your incision.
  • If your pain does not decrease over time.
  • Symptoms of post partum depression such as anxiety, fear, problems sleeping, depression, or anything else you may equate with something more than just the baby blues.
  • Cramping or pain in your arms or legs that will not go away.
  • Continuous headaches, migraines, or backaches.

Over all, be gentle on yourself.
You just went through major surgery!

This entry was posted in Birth Trauma, Cesarean Section, Hospital Birth, International Cesarean Awareness Network (ICAN), Postpartum, Postpartum Depression and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

13 Responses to Cesarean Recovery

  1. Dou-la-la says:

    This is a tremendously valuable list! I’m bookmarking and sharing right now, and keeping filed for myself, as I will likely have clients in the future who will need this.

    Thank you!

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  3. Jennifer says:

    I hate that this is even necessary to post… but it is so helpful and a good thing to have out there. I just hope we can get to a point where the need for something like this is lessened!

  4. nicole says:

    This is definitely a wonderful reference. I would like to add a couple of suggestions if I may… As you already mentioned it is important to get up and move sooner rather than later. Please… as you are getting use the bed controls so that you are not putting unneccesary stress/strain on your incision and abdominal muscles. The beds have controls for a reason. Use them! Also… while it is important that you have adequate nutrition for healing take it slow (soft diet initially) and eat foods that are easily digested. I know you feel “hungry” but your body needs a moment to get back to functioning normally. Give it that time (a day) and your recovery will go better. Some of the worst physical pain a woman feels post-operatively is gas, in addition to the stool softner be sure to ask for Mylicon(Simethicone)and get up and move to get that gas out. You will be glad you did :D

  5. P.A. says:

    It helps every time I hear/read someone else not appreciate the ‘all that matters is a healthy baby’ sentiment. My healthy son is definitely the most healing thing I’ve had, but the trauma of believing he was stillborn lingers.

    On the ican page you linked to I love how they state that these are two different events, though they happened together, and you get to respond to each. Physically, Ive recovered shockingly well- i was carrying my 40-pound runaway puppy home less than 3 weeks after my c-section. Emotionally, though, I cried every time I was left alone.

    • Stephanie V. says:

      I feel for you. I too shocked everyone with how quickly I seemed to recover even though I had acquired an infection at the site. I was back at work full-time three weeks after my c-section. To everyone it seems still that I am alright, yet when I’m alone, all I do is think about thise horrible experience and how I was robbed like many women. It’s sad that the increase in this procedure is rising more than ever due to medical malpractice suits and bad medical intervention. I hope that I see the day when all this changes!!!!!

  6. Theresa says:

    Thanks for writing such a helpful and non-judgemental post. The emotional healing is so important for all the moms who hoped to have a natural birth and for any number of reasons ended up having a c-section. Even a planned c-section (often an informed choice weighing risks) still can have a profound emotional impact on mom.

    Great advice and I agree with Nicole too that gas is incredibly painful after a c-section and recommending Simethicone is a fantastic tip — should be packed in every hospital bag!

  7. Christine says:

    Wonderfully informative! Thank you. One thing that also helped me was to sleep in a recliner for the first few days home (we had to rent one because we didn’t own one). It helped me tremendously to not have to get up from a flat lying position during the night and in the morning.

    Also, I would like to mention that I was still in pain from my c-section 7 1/2 years later. When I had a diagnostic laparascopy for other issues, my doc found a lot of scar tissue. She removed it and I am pain-free for the first time in years. So I would encourage any woman who is still having pain a long time later to consider evaluation for scar tissue… I wish I had done it years ago.

  8. steph says:

    I was incredibly against pain medication at first and especially against the stool softener. So dumb! I kept trying to hold out an extra hour or so on the pain medication. I did get though. That part was smart.

  9. steph says:

    I’m sorry, that was supposed to say that I got up and that part was smart. I did mini laps around the hospital wing. It took about 15 minutes to go one lap, which would take me about 3 minutes now.

  10. Jenny says:

    I am having my second child , the first birth was a vaginal birth some eleven years ago , so ideally I have a helper , I am resigned to the fact of having a c-section delivery, in approx ten days unless all systems go before , I am dreaded it , to say the least !

    Im learning its not the end of the world and have taken your tips on board , some sites contradict the breast feeding issues , obviously more difficult as your milk doesnt come in straight away , I am now storing little changing areas around the house too !

    I will be taking my pregnancy wrap around pillow everywhere with me and forcing myself out of bed even if I feel like I have been run over by a steam roller , I wonder if they could do a nip and tuck while they are there , lol !

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  12. Emily says:

    After 6 consecutive miscarriages in the first trimester, I’m finally at 33 weeks. I asked my OB about doing a planned c-section right away as it seemed the right choice for me but given the controversy, I’ve done a ton of research both with personal interviews of those gone before me and statistical with ACOG. The only two main reasons still making me question the c-section are the recovery time (since I’m very active and not one to sit still) and the shared drugs while breastfeeding. I could care less about a natural birth experience, my high risk OB only does c-sections (doesn’t deliver natural births), I’ve had several major back issues, surgery doesn’t intimidate me (I’ve had 3 miscarriage D&Cs), and given my losses, I really just want a healthy baby in the most controlled way. I know surgery is always a risk, but so many things can go wrong with natural labor. Since an emergency c-section is more risky than planned, it also scares me to death to start with natural labor and then have to end up there anyway (and then having had to go through both!) Any additional insights? What haven’t I considered?

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