Regardless of your birth plans, sometimes the best option for mom and baby is to have a cesarean birth. The postpartum healing process is difficult for all new moms, but c-sections can be even more difficult because on top of everything else, you're also recovering from a major surgery. It's okay to be sad if your birth didn't go the way you envisioned it or you had an emergency c-section – but hopefully, when you see your c-section scar, you'll be reminded of the miraculous birth that brought the baby you grew earth-side.
Over 30% of births are cesarean deliveries. So even though they're fairly common and generally safe, unlike a vaginal delivery, they are still a major surgical procedure. During a c-section, a surgeon will make two 4-6 inch incisions; a lower abdomen incision and a uterine incision. Vertical incisions go from the belly button to the pubic line, and horizontal incisions, also known as low transverse incisions, go across the lower abdomen. While you're recovering from your cesarean section, it will be important to take care of the incision site to help it heal properly. Here are some tips on how to best care for the wound.
While You're in the Hospital
While you're still in the hospital, be sure to ask if they used glue, sutures (dissolvable stitches), or staples to close your incision after your cesarean delivery. This information is good to know now and may be useful if you plan to have a vaginal birth after a cesarean (VBAC) later on. Regardless of how they closed the incision, c-sections typically take 6-8 weeks to heal.
The c-section incision site will be red and tender for the first few weeks postpartum. Eventually, the scar tissue will flatten out and turn white. Your health care providers should advise you on how to take care of the wound. I recommend writing down any instructions they give you. It may also be helpful for you to write down any questions you may have for the doctor to be sure you get all the answers you need to help you recover.
How to Take Care of Your C-Section Incision
Though your doctor should give you instructions, here are some general guidelines and best practices for taking care of the incision:
- After a c-section, you'll feel tender and sore at the incision site, especially for the first few days. Your lower abdomen may be sore for up to three weeks, but the good news is that it should feel slightly better each day. During this time, pain medications can help alleviate some of the soreness and make the pain more manageable.
- When cleaning the incision site, it's important that you do not scrub the area. While in the shower, it's best to let warm water gently run over the area and you can clean the area around the incision with soap and water.
- If you have steri-strips over the wound, do not remove them. After showering, gently pat yourself dry. The steri-strips will fall off on their own after a few days.
- Be sure to change your bandages once a day, or more often if the bandage becomes wet or dirty. Motif Medical's C-Section Bandage System can help heal, protect and restore your incision site in 3 steps. Steps 1 and 2 are recommended for early recovery and are often covered by insurance (check your coverage through Aeroflow Breastpumps). Step 3 is intended for use after the wound is completely closed.
- Until getting approval from your doctor, do not submerge the wound in water. Hold off on baths, hot tubs, and swimming for now.
- You can use a maxi pad over the incision to absorb any sweat or drainage from the wound.
How to Care for Your C-Section Scar
Have you heard of scar massaging? When you're 6-8 weeks postpartum, if your incision is healed, it's a good time to start massaging the scar. This will help scar tissue form in the right direction which will keep it from attaching to surrounding fascia and connective tissues. This is especially helpful if you have a tendency toward excessive scarring (like keloid or hypertrophic scar formations).
It's safe to use aloe vera gel or vitamin E oil when you're massaging the scar and surrounding areas. To begin, gently press on the area surrounding the incision site and move your fingers in a circular pattern. Don't press down too hard – it should not be uncomfortable. After the circular motions, continue massaging the area surrounding your scar using vertical and horizontal movements. This will help make the area less tender and more mobile, and as you feel comfortable, you can begin massaging the scar directly.
Many moms notice the area around their c-section incision may be numb, which is normal, but massaging the area regularly may also help regain feeling to the area.
A c-section birth takes a toll on your body because put simply, it's major surgery and you're trying to recover and take care of yourself while also caring for your newborn and possibly breastfeeding. Especially during the first 6-8 weeks of recovery, be sure to keep an eye out for signs of infection at the incision site. If you experience increasing pain, swelling or redness around the wound, and discharge or pus that smells bad, or if you're running a fever over 100.4F, contact your healthcare provider immediately. Even if you don't have any signs of infection, if you have any other questions or concerns, go ahead and contact your healthcare provider for support. It's also important to go to your follow-up appointments so your doctors can make sure you're on the right track during the postpartum recovery process and check on your general health and wellness.