Did you know that each year, about a third of newborns are delivered by cesarean section? While this procedure is relatively common, it is still a major surgery and recovery can be taxing to your body! Here's what you can expect following a cesarean section; including tips for speeding up the recovery process and some guidelines for how to best take care of your body and incision site.
What to Expect
Whether your cesarean section was planned or happened suddenly, recovering from birth takes time. By practicing appropriate self-care and setting reasonable expectations, your body will recover properly. Just after giving birth, you can expect a two to four-day stay in the hospital and most usually, it takes at least a full six weeks (or more) to fully recover from a c-section.
Just after surgery, you may experience symptoms such as:
- Vaginal discharge - this is your body's way of ridding extra tissue and blood from the uterus.
- Menstrual cramps - these are caused by narrowing blood vessels in the uterus that keep you from bleeding too much.
- Breast swelling and soreness - from your breasts making colostrum and milk for baby.
- Hair and skin changes - due to hormone levels fluctuating, you may notice changes in your hair and skin.
- Moodiness - this, too, comes from hormone changes. If feelings of anxiety or depression linger longer than a few weeks, be sure to talk to your doctor.
Tips for Speeding Up C-Section Recovery:
Cesarean sections involve a longer recovery than vaginal births. During the recovery period, it is essential to take care of yourself. Below are a few of the ways we recommend to optimize your recovery time:
- Get plenty of rest. Try to sleep whenever your baby sleeps and enlist the help of family friends whenever possible to help with the care of baby and household tasks.
- Be gentle with your body. It can take up to two months to recover fully, so check with your doctor before exercising, going back to work, lifting heavy objects or driving. However, light movement is recommended.
- Eat well and stay hydrated. Focusing on proper nutrition will help your body to regain strength and replace the fluids lost during delivery and breastfeeding.
- Place a pillow over your stomach when breastfeeding. You may also want to try a variety of nursing positions to find one that is comfortable while you are still healing, such as side-lying or football hold.
- Use pain medications. Talk to your doctor about what pain management medication is best for you. In addition to using medications, heating pads are great to relieve pain at the incision site.
- Use stool softeners and eat fiber rich foods. Stool softeners are great for easing pressure and helping with common after birth constipation.
- Use your postpartum recovery garment. These have been designed by medical professionals to assist in recovery after birth by providing structure to stabilize and support the stomach, back and hips – with specific c-section birth garment offered.
C-Section Wound Care, Cleaning, and Healing:
It’s important for new moms to take proper care of their surgical incision in the weeks following delivery, but this can be difficult to do when you’re also trying to manage the care of your newborn! Without complications, your incision site may take up to three months to heal fully. But with proper care, you can help to prevent painful infection and avoid increased healing time.
If your doctor used tape strips on your incision, we recommend letting them fall off on their own to avoid any irritation. This process can take up to a week's time. Once your tape has naturally fallen off, it’s best to keep your c-section incision opening clean by using warm, soapy water to wash your incision daily. Then, be sure to gently pat the area dry. Petroleum jelly, ointments, or topical antibiotics are acceptable to use on site, but we recommend talking to your doctor beforehand if using topical ointments. Airing out the incision site as needed is also essential for optimal healing.
By using c-section bandages you’re helping to decrease your chance of infection, minimizing the pain of changing or removing typical cesarean section wound dressings, and most importantly promoting healthy healing and scarring.
Being mindful of potential signs of infection is essential. “Infections following a cesarean delivery are rather high, occurring in around three to fifteen percent of all c-section surgeries”, says Dr. Jessica Madden. If you begin to experience any of the following, or suspect you are not healing be sure to contact your doctor:
- Notice redness, puffiness, or swelling
- Begin to run a fever
- Experience full body chills
- Smell a foul odor from the incision
- Drainage or discharge
- Increased sensitivity or pain
- The incision site becomes hard to the touch
- Tearing of the incision site occurs
Feelings of soreness, numbness, tingling, and itching are normal and to be expected as the body’s nerves have been disrupted around the wound. If these symptoms do occur, try your best not to touch the area. These sensations should go away with time, but be sure to contact your doctor if concerned or if they persist for long periods of time.
Other reasons to see your doctor follow this major surgery:
- Shortness of breath or trouble breathing
- Chest pain
- Swelling of your lymph nodes
- Nausea or vomiting
- Difficulty using the bathroom
- Abdominal pain
- Vaginal blood clotting
- Heavy vaginal bleeding
- Pain in your legs or groin, as this could be the sign of a blood clot
- Depression or anxiety
C-Section Scar Treatment
Most of the time, c-section scars heal well, resulting in a fine line just about the pelvis – making it especially easy to conceal your scar under clothing, if desired.
It usually takes about two weeks for your incision site to start to fully heal and begin “scarring”. Fully healed scars can take months. As time goes on, your scar should fade and become less noticeable to the naked eye. But in the meantime, here are some ways to help reduce the appearance of your scar:
- C-section bandages through insurance
- Silicone sheeting, gels, and creams
- Limit direct sun exposure
- C-section scar cream
Lastly, during this time, it’s essential to take care of yourself – physically, mentally, and emotionally. Every mama’s c-section recovery experience will differ but be sure to focus on your own healing. Don’t be afraid to ask for help, give yourself the essential time it takes to heal, pay attention to what your body is telling you, and follow proper precautions. Your body and baby will thank you!