C-Section Recovery: Your Complete Guide to Postpartum Care
If you have never had a C-section before, it is easy to think that it is the easy way out when it comes to giving birth. Nothing could be further from the truth. A C-section is indeed major surgery and requires special care and attention during the entire recovery process.
If you are preparing for a C-section delivery you need to be aware of what the healing process will involve. It is important that you are both mentally ready and physically prepared so that you can minimize the chance of a prolonged recovery caused by injury or infection.
Keep these things in mind during the entirety of your 6-week recovery period, and also be aware that you may not entirely feel like yourself again for up to twelve months.
Rest and Heal Inside
It is easier said than done, but you want to make sure you get loads of rest during this recovery time. Your body will repair itself easier when you are resting and sleeping, which helps to speed up your healing process.
You also need to avoid climbing stairs as much as possible. By repeatedly going up and down the stairs, you put your incision at risk for stretching and separating, which can lead to infection and/or a longer healing process.
Set yourself up for success. Sleep when your baby sleeps. Keep the things you need nearby, such as diaper changing equipment, and food and drink.
Limit your use of the stairs, which may mean relocating to another floor of your home during recovery or relying on your family for help getting what you need.
C-Section Recovery Exercise
This may seem like a contradiction to what we just finished going over, but it is also important for you to move regularly. Taking regular walks helps with blood circulation, which reduces the risk of developing blood clots and helps to spur along the healing process.
It may seem a bit TMI (too much information), but after you get home from the hospital it may be a few days before you are able to have a bowel movement. Walking will also aid your digestive system, preventing gas buildup and constipation, and can help you pass that first bowel after birth.
The important thing is to listen to your body. There were many times during my recovery that I felt stronger than I was, and even though I felt tired, I still tried to remain active.
Unfortunately, this led to extra unnecessary pain in my incision, and almost flu-like symptoms for almost an entire day afterward.
So do not overdo it.
Exercise to Start With
When you are ready to take things a bit further than light walking - and a Doctor has given the all clear - you can move into some gentle stretching routines.
Exercise to Avoid
There are of course some riskier movements that you should avoid entirely postpartum.
This may seem like common sense, but if you are used to an active lifestyle you may find yourself a bit frustrated as you heal, and the excitement could kick in when you are able to move again without feeling pain.
But your body is still delicate and needs time to get get back to full strength.
More strenuous exercises to avoid:
Protect Your Incision
One of the most painful and irritating things about recovering from cesarean surgery is that you will be constantly reminded how much you use your abs on a daily basis. The smallest things, like sneezing and coughing, can almost knock you right out from pain.
Protect your incision by holding a pillow against your stomach when you need to sneeze or cough to limit the movement and strain of your ab muscles, which can cause you a lot of pain around your incision. A postpartum wrap or girdle could also do this for you.
You also want to avoid any sort of straining or heavy lifting. Your doctor will tell you to not lift anything heavier than your baby, and even then, you should not bend lower than your hips (such as to the floor) to pick her up.
Remember when we mentioned that first bowel movement after birth? Your inability to push and strain will also hinder your ability to pass a bowel. It is important that you do not strain to pass it, even if it takes a few days for success.
Keep it Clean - Avoid Incision Infection
Because a C-section is a serious surgery that leaves an incision, there is always the chance that the incision may become infected. They may not be very common, only occurring in about 3-6% of C-section deliveries, there are things that you can do (or not do) that can increase your risk for infection.
The best thing you can do is keep the area clean. I was a stickler for cleaning my incision, especially since my baby was born in the summer and I would often get sweat trapped under my post-baby belly where my incision was. I believe it was thanks to this diligence that I never developed an infection.
You may be hesitant to clean the area, especially since it is sensitive and sore, but as soon as your doctor removes the main bandage while you are in the hospital, you can clean the area just like normal. Use a mild soap every time you shower (and in between if you have excess moisture there, like sweat).
After you wash, you want to make sure you let the area dry completely, especially when you still have your steri-strips, as moisture left in a dark area like that feeds bacteria that cause infection. If you have a blow dryer that has a cool setting, this can be a great way to quickly dry the area without irritating it with heat.
Even with special attention to cleanliness, you should always be aware of signs of infection. These include abnormal pain or swelling around the incision, fever over 100.4°F, any foul-smelling discharge from the incision site or the vagina, and excess vaginal bleeding (where you need to use more than one pad in an hour). If you notice any of these things, call your doctor immediately.
Manage Your Pain
Even though pain is inevitable when it comes to surgery recovery, you do not need to just grin and bear it. Do not be afraid to say that it hurts or find something to help you get relief from the pain.
You should always consult your doctor before taking pain medications, especially if you are breastfeeding, as certain pain relievers can affect your baby through your milk or hinder your breast milk production, but most NSAID painkillers are safe to take during recovery.
If you prefer not to take pain medication, alternating between heat and cold can help with pain relief as well. I chose this approach to pain management, and it definitely worked for me. Ice helped to relieve pain during the first week or so while my incision was still pretty swollen, and then I kept a heating pad nearby for the remainder of my recovery.
Talk About Your Feelings
Going through the stages before, during, and after childbirth can be very emotional, and a C-section delivery can be even more so. Often mothers will feel defeated after having a C-section, feeling as if they failed to “properly” deliver their baby. The change in hormone levels can also lead to very emotional times.
Do not be afraid to talk about your feelings. In fact, talking can help you find some relief since you are not lost in your own thoughts and emotions. Give your husband or other family members permission to ask questions if they notice you are feeling down. This can give you the boost you need as well as possibly avoid serious postpartum depression.
Coming from a mother who had her perfect birth all planned out, only to have that plan torn to pieces with an induction, unexpected C-section delivery, and 5-day hospital stay, I can say that C-sections, both at the time they are happening and the recovery afterward, are no easy feat.
Proper care needs to be given and precautions are taken when it comes to recovering from a C-section. After all, it is a major surgery. Take care of yourself while you are taking care of your baby, and do not be afraid to ask for help if you need it.
Do you have any questions, comments, or concerns about C-section recovery? Leave us a message in the comments area below. And be sure to share this article with other mothers who may find it useful!