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Thursday, December 14, 2023

Take It Slow: Recovering from a C-Section

By Dr. Robert Wool

Everyone’s childbirth experience is different, but they all require some level of recovery. If you are recovering from a C-section, also known as a Cesarean section, you’ll need to be especially patient as your body heals postpartum.

What to Expect

While the average hospital stay for a vaginal delivery is 24 to 48 hours, you will likely stay between two and four days after a C-section. While there, your care team will show you how to take care of your incision, including how to keep it clean and change the dressing.


It’s normal to be tired and sore—you’ve not only given birth, but had surgery as well, both of which are stressful on your mind and body. You will likely need pain medication for the first few days or couple weeks. Your provider will let you know what medications are safe to take if you are breastfeeding. Pain decreases after the first few days, but the incision area can remain tender for two to four weeks.


At home, it’s OK to shower following your care team’s instructions for wound care. Don’t soak in tubs, hot tubs, pools, etc., until given the OK from your provider, typically about three weeks after delivery.


As with a vaginal birth, you will have bleeding, called lochia, from your vagina for around six weeks. It may seem like a heavy period at first and will become lighter and less red over time, fading to pink and then yellowish or white.


Take It Slow to Heal Faster

Asking for help with daily activities will go a long way toward ensuring a smooth recovery. You can expect to tire easily and will need lots of rest. Prioritize taking care of yourself and your baby, and try not to worry about other tasks.


That said, getting up and walking around regularly will help reduce the risk of blood clots, which is one of the biggest risks after a C-section. You’ll wear leg cuffs to improve your circulation while you are in the hospital, and will be encouraged to get up for frequent short walks, which you should continue when you get home. Start slowly and listen to your body so you don’t exhaust yourself.


Be sure not to lift anything heavier than your new baby. You want to avoid straining your abdominal muscles, so refrain from heavy house cleaning like laundry or vacuuming. When getting up from laying down, roll to your side first and push yourself up with your arms instead of using your abdominal muscles. Get your provider’s approval before exercising, running or doing other activities that make you breathe hard or strain. You’ll be able to return to most activities within six to eight weeks.


While you can ride in a car with your seatbelt on, don’t drive for at least two weeks, until you can brake, accelerate, shift and move as needed without pain. Don’t drive if you are taking narcotics for pain or feel weak.


You can begin having sex anytime after six weeks, but again, listen to your body and do what feels right for you. Even if you are physically able, it may take more time to get your sex drive back. You’ll also want to make sure you have a contraception plan in place to avoid getting pregnant again while you are still recovering.


Care for You to Care for Two

Now that you have a new baby, it can be easy to ignore your own needs. However, neglecting your care will make it harder for you to take care of your baby in the long run.


Self-care after a C-section includes eating healthy foods, getting as much rest and sleep as you can, and staying hydrated.


Try to follow a diet rich in fresh fruits and vegetables and drink about two liters of water a day. Not only is this healthy, but it will help prevent constipation, a common problem for many women, and one that can be especially problematic after surgery when you want to avoid straining.


If you struggle with hemorrhoids or constipation, talk to your provider about options for relief, such as pain relievers, ointments, and laxatives or stool softeners.


Don’t hesitate to lean on your partner or support system, and be specific when you ask for what you need.


When to Call Us

As you heal, your incision will become smaller and fade. Call your provider or seek emergency care if you have any signs of an infection, such as a temperature, chills, increased swelling or redness, intense pain or red streaks that extend from the incision.


You should also immediately call your provider if you pass clots larger than a quarter vaginally, or if you are still experiencing heavy bleeding after six weeks.


It’s normal to experience a range of fluctuating emotions while recovering from a C-section. Even though a new baby can bring joy and excitement, you may also feel sad, weepy and irritable. This is understandable given the tremendous changes impacting your body, family and personal life.


If these feelings linger or worsen after the 10-day mark, talk to your provider, who can help determine if you have postpartum depression and recommend treatment. Seek help immediately if you have thoughts of harming yourself or your baby, as this may signal a rarer but more serious condition called postpartum psychosis. These conditions don’t mean you are weak or a bad mother; they are medical issues that need treatment.


We’re here with help and advice for whatever you experience after your C-section, from breastfeeding challenges to incontinence issues and everything in between. If you have questions or concerns before or after your postpartum checkup, give us a call. We can address many concerns by phone or schedule an appointment if necessary.