After months of waiting, meeting your new baby is an incredibly exciting moment. Whether you had a lengthy or speedy labor or a vaginal or C-section delivery, your body will need time to recover. We help you navigate the cesarean section recovery process with answers to some common questions you might have, a recovery supply checklist, and tips to help you in the early days following birth.
What do you need for cesarean recovery? What happens after birth?
Childbirth is physically demanding, and having a cesarean delivery is major surgery. While bonding and caring for your bundle of joy, you’ll want to practice self-care as you recover and heal. Here are some tips for navigating this postpartum time.
The most important part of recovery from surgery is rest. Your body endured a lot to get to this point, and you’ll likely notice many changes happening in a short time. You may find it difficult to get enough sleep with a newborn at home. You’ll be feeding your baby day and night and probably accommodating visitors who want to meet your little one. However, don’t be tempted to take on too much, and try to sleep whenever your baby does.
Recommended C-section recovery sleeping positions:
With C-section surgery, your body goes through a lot, and rest is one of the best ways to promote healing. However, getting quality sleep is easier said than done. Try the following sleeping positions for a more comfortable rest.
Side sleeping position. Sleeping on your side is the best position after a C-section as it takes pressure off your incision site. Use pillows to support your hips and abdomen, and a pillow between your knees can help with spine alignment. Sleeping on your left side is said to help promote optimal blood flow.
Upright sleeping position. In the days immediately following delivery, you may find the upright sleeping position to be comfortable, as well as practical for breastfeeding. Position yourself on a 45-degree incline using pillows or sleep in a recliner.
Avoid sleeping on your stomach or back, as those positions can put pressure on your incision and slow down your recovery.
Use your arms to sit up in bed
Knowing how to get out of bed correctly after a C-section is important so as not to strain your abdominal muscles. Use the “log roll” method to sit up safely. Lie on your back, bend the leg farther from the edge of the bed, and keep the other leg straight. Gently roll your body together with the bent leg onto your side, using your glutes, not your abdomen. Move your feet off the bed and use your arms to gently push yourself up to a sitting position.
Take care of stitches and scarring
Taking care of your wound is an essential part of cesarean section recovery. After your baby is delivered, you'll have a dressing over your scar, typically removed between 24 and 48 hours later. Instead of your regular underwear, you might want to try something created specifically for C-section healing, like mesh underwear, that is comfortable against your skin and healing scar. Your hospital may provide this.
You’ll need to keep your wound clean and dry to avoid infection. Your doctor may advise you to shower or bathe normally, clean your wound with regular soap and water, dry it gently, and expose it to air. You should only apply creams or ointments to the wound once your doctor tells you it’s fully healed or gives you the green light.
It’s important to note not to drive for 4-6 weeks post C-section. Always follow your doctor’s directives on what you should or should not do as you recover from your cesarean.
Whether you’ve had a C-section or vaginal birth, you can also expect some vaginal discharge. This is expected and could last for weeks. You’ll notice the discharge is red and heavy for the first few days; then, it should become watery and change from pinkish brown to yellowish white. If you have any concerns, don’t hesitate to reach out to your doctor.
Nourish your body with healthy foods
Following a nutritious diet is always a good idea. However, did you know that certain vitamins and minerals can actually help promote healing? Proteins often found in lean meats, tofu, fish, nuts, and seeds, plus the vitamins and minerals found in fresh fruit and vegetables (especially iron-rich leafy greens such as kale and spinach), can help to encourage a healthy recovery.
In some cultures, ginger and turmeric-rich recipes are thought to help encourage the healing process. Plenty of whole grains, such as whole-grain pasta, brown rice, whole-wheat bread, and whole-wheat cereals, will help to give you the fiber you need to go to the bathroom regularly, as pain-relief medication can often make your bowels a little sluggish.
Find comfortable feeding positions
After your surgery, you might find breastfeeding uncomfortable, especially after your pain medication wears off. Try to find a comfortable position to feed your little one that puts the least pressure on your wound. You could try a side-lying position or a football hold with your baby supported by a breastfeeding pillow or even the cradle or crossover hold with a pillow on your lap and your newborn lying on top.
No heavy lifting
In the early days of your C-section recovery, try to keep everything you and your baby need within easy reach, as too much movement could affect the time it takes for your scar to heal.
In the first few weeks, avoid lifting anything too heavy, or that puts unnecessary strain on your body. Treating yourself with extra care to give your body the best chance of a good recovery is key now, so use whatever support you need.
C-section recovery time: How long does it take?
Recovery time varies for each woman, but on average, it takes about 6 to 8 weeks to recover fully from a C-section. However, remember there is no right or wrong amount of time for your body to heal from a major surgery such as this one. Be sure to discuss the process and create scheduled checkups with your physician.
Incorporating movement and exercise after a C-section
When you can exercise will depend on the type of birth you’ve had. Most doctors will recommend walking after a C-section, which can help encourage bowel movements, ease gas, and avoid blood clots.
If you’re recovering from a C-section or had a complicated birth, you’ll probably need to wait 6-8 weeks before returning to your regular exercise levels. In any case, you should always talk to your doctor, who will advise you when it's safe to resume exercise.
When can I have sex after a C-section?
Before resuming intercourse, check in with yourself and scan how your body feels. Most obstetricians will recommend women wait anywhere from 4 to 6 weeks before engaging in intercourse again, but this will, of course, also depend on how your body has healed. It will still take about six weeks for your cervix to close completely, which is helpful to keep in mind as you plan.
C-section recovery checklist
While recovery from a C-section will take longer than a vaginal delivery, having some of the following items on hand may help your recovery go a bit smoother. Always check with your doctor before using any remedies or over-the-counter medications.
Pain medications like ibuprofen or acetaminophen. Taking ibuprofen, acetaminophen, or a combination of the two can help manage post-surgical pain.
Stool softener. Postpartum constipation is common and can also be a side effect of some pain medications and iron supplements. Stool softeners can help get the bowels going.
Overnight maxi pads and panty liners. Pads and panty liners will absorb postpartum bleeding and discharge that you’ll still experience even with a cesarean.
Scar balm. Scar balm can help soothe your incision area and promote healing.
Mesh underpants. Disposable high-waisted mesh underpants are stretchy, light, and breathable. They won’t put pressure on your incision and will fit pads.
Loose pants. To avoid irritating the incision, you’ll want to keep your pants loose and high-waisted as you recover. Choose soft fabrics and bottoms with a wide, stretch waistband.
Lots of pillows to support your back. Use pillows to support the body in different positions, such as when breastfeeding, sleeping, or sitting up. Pillows can also help ease pain and discomfort, such as back pain.
Nursing bras. Support your breasts and enable easy nursing with comfortable nursing bras.
Lanolin cream. Lanolin cream can soothe and help protect nipples, which can be sore and cracked from breastfeeding.
Nursing pads. Nursing pads absorb any leaking breast milk, keeping your clothes dry and comfortable.
Heating pad. A heating pad set on low may ease abdominal and incision discomfort.
Postpartum recovery belt. A postpartum recovery belt, also called a belly binder, provides compression and support around your belly and incision site.
Potential C-section recovery interruptions: things to watch for
During the recovery period, it's a good idea to stay in contact with your doctor so that they can monitor your progress. If you experience any of the following, contact your doctor immediately, as they could be indications of an infected C-section scar or other health issue:
- Severe pain in your abdomen
- Leaking urine
- Pain while peeing
- Heavy vaginal bleeding that is different from postpartum bleeding
- A red, swollen, or painful wound
- A discharge of pus or foul-smelling fluid from your wound
- A cough or shortness of breath
- Swelling or pain in your lower leg
Recovering from childbirth is no easy feat! It's important for moms to feel supported throughout their pregnancy journey and understand what’s to come. Learn more about C-section prep tips and what to expect so you've got all your bases covered.
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