Over 30% of babies born in the US are delivered via c-section. Some expecting moms plan to have a cesarean section and have it scheduled ahead of time, and others plan for a vaginal delivery and may have an emergency c-section for medical reasons. No matter your birth plans, it’s important for all expecting parents to know what to expect following a cesarean delivery, and how to heal and recover afterward.
#1: Rest as Much as You Can
At the very top of your priorities for c-section recovery should be REST. A c-section is a major surgery and it needs to be treated as such! This includes resting, taking care of the wound, and taking pain medication like ibuprofen if necessary for pain relief. It will likely be easier to rest while you're in the hospital, but it's imperative for your recovery to continue resting for at least two weeks once you've been discharged. Now is not the time to push yourself!
Your body worked hard for 9 months of pregnancy and now you’re recovering from major abdominal surgery. You need to rest for your well-being! Take advantage of offers from your family and friends and let them help you by cleaning your house, doing your chores and running your errands. You should not be picking up anything heavier than your baby for the first 2-4 weeks and you need to avoid pushing/pulling motions, like those used to rotate laundry or sweep. You may not always be able to sleep when the baby is sleeping, but make every effort to get some sleep every chance you get.
#2: Improve Blood Flow by Moving
Even though resting is the number one key to c-section recovery, the second most important thing you can do to help your body heal is move. After your epidural has worn off and you can feel your lower extremities again, start small by moving your toes, ankles, and legs. When you're feeling up for it, try doing leg slides while lying in bed, and after you've gotten approval from your doctor, try to walk around every few hours.
Movement will help prevent blood clots after a cesarean because it improves your blood flow. Keep your movements slow and gentle in the beginning to help your body recover. While sitting up or getting out of bed - don’t use your abs or your back! Try rolling to the side and pushing yourself up using your arms.
After you've been discharged from the hospital, be sure to keep walking around your house frequently. Avoid stairs for the first several weeks if possible. If that's not possible and you have to climb stairs, be sure to hold on to the railing and take it very slowly.
Be patient with yourself! Moving around will eventually get easier, but it’s normal to still feel aches and soreness the first few days of postpartum. These should improve over time, but if you suddenly feel worse, it's important to call your Ob-Gyn as soon as possible.
#3: Avoid Constipation and Stay Hydrated
The last thing anyone wants to deal with after they’ve given birth is constipation. The medications you were given during surgery can slow down your digestive system and may cause you to be constipated, so make sure you stay hydrated both before and after delivery. Drink at least 3 quarts of water each day, eat fiber-rich foods, and consider using a stool softener or fiber supplement if you need additional help to get things moving.
Drinking lots of water supports breast milk supply, too, so it’s twice as important to hydrate if you plan to breastfeed. Additionally, it can be difficult to find a breastfeeding position that doesn’t hurt your incision, but the football hold or side-lying are two options that many new moms find more comfortable during the healing process after a cesarean birth. If you're struggling to find a position that works for you and your new baby, a lactation consultant can help solve your breastfeeding problems and answer any questions you may have.
And finally, once your urinary catheter has been removed, drinking plenty of water will also make you need to go to the bathroom more often. And there’s nothing like a full bladder to encourage you to get up and move around!
Following your c-section, it will be beneficial to try taking a few deep breaths and practicing breathing exercises. This is the best way to start small with movements that will speed up your recovery. Your body has experienced a multitude of changes very quickly, and reconnecting your mind with your diaphragm and your rib cage is a great first step. Fill your lungs up until you feel your ribs expanding toward the front and the back of your body, and let your diaphragm pull down into your abdomen. Benefits of practicing breathing techniques multiple times daily during postpartum recovery include improved breathing habits in general, calming your mind, and healing your core.
#5: Use a Postpartum Recovery Garment & C-Section Bandages
Speaking of your core…your back, pelvic floor, and abdomen could use some help after having a baby! A postpartum recovery garment is a medical garment you can wear to help speed up your recovery. When you cough, sneeze, or even laugh - you may feel pain at your incision site. A recovery garment can support your abdomen and alleviate some of that pain, but if you don’t have one - you can use a pillow to apply some counter-pressure to your abdomen during those moments of need. As you begin returning to everyday activities, a postpartum recovery garment can provide gentle compression to reduce swelling, stabilize your abdomen, and support your lower back and hips to improve posture.
Using c-section bandages can also be a helpful tool for postpartum recovery. They limit bacteria from entering the incision and promote healing. Plus they are waterproof, breathable, sterile, and allow you to tend to your daily tasks with a protective layer that will not slip, rub, or stretch too much as your incision closes.
A cesarean section is major abdominal surgery, so for the first few weeks of postpartum, all you need to do is rest and feed your baby. Contact your healthcare provider if you notice any signs of infection, if your vaginal bleeding increases, or if you are experiencing symptoms of postpartum depression.