Recovering From a C-Section: What You Need to Know

Nicole Fabian-Weber Health Check

c-sectionMost moms don't plan on having a C-section, but almost 33 percent of pregnant women wind up giving birth that way. In addition to being overjoyed with the little bundle they just brought into the world, women who have had cesarean deliveries will also be recovering from major surgery. So, while taking care of their new baby, it's also important they take care of themselves during the weeks following surgery.

Here's how.

Care for your incision. You'll likely feel both sore and numb where your incision was made. During the first few days, the scar, which is about 4 to 6 inches long and about 1/8 inch wide, will be swollen and a bit darker than your natural skin tone. When you're still in the hospital, your doctor will check in to make sure the wound is healing properly, but it's important to monitor your scar after you go home. "In general, keeping the incision clean and dry is best," says Kimberly Gecsi, M.D., OBGYN at University Hospital MacDonald Women’s Hospital in Cleveland, Ohio. "Nothing needs to be put on the incision to aid healing. An infected wound will become painful, red, and may potentially begin to leak fluid. Women should contact their physicians if they notice any of these changes." The benefits of rubbing vitamin E on scars to speed up recovery is up for debate, but if you do decide to do this, it's best to wait about six weeks post-surgery. Avoid baths until the incision has healed and vaginal bleeding (lochia) has stopped.

Eat after surgery. "In the past, we were very strict with limiting eating after surgery, oftentimes waiting for evidence of bowel function, in the form of passing gas, before allowing a patient to eat," says Dr. Gecsi. "But the most recent research shows that this is not necessary and that patients do the same or better with rapid return to eating." C-section patients are encouraged to eat whenever they're ready and not feeling nauseated, but keep it simple -- toast, broth-based soup, and plain rice are all good options for the first meal.

Get moving. You could feel fragile in the days following surgery, but getting up and walking around is crucial. "This is the most important thing a patient can do to prevent blood clots as well as lung problems after surgery," says Dr. Gecsi. "Walking after surgery also helps with bowel function and helps pass uncomfortable gas." Take a gentle stroll around the hospital as soon as you're up to it. When you get home, take it easy. Do what you can, but rest when you need to. It's also important to urinate regularly -- when your bladder is full, it puts pressure on the wound.

Be mindful of lifting. The American Pregnancy Association advises C-section patients to avoid lifting anything heavier than your baby during the days following surgery. There is a small risk of hernia and possibly a second surgery. If you've got an active toddler, that can be tough. "Immediately after surgery patients may need the child to climb up into their lap to cuddle, but within a few weeks after surgery, many patients are able to interact with their children as they did prior to surgery," states Dr. Gecsi. Quick tip: Keep a changing station close to your bed and raise your baby's crib mattress to the highest position so you don't have to bend all the way down to pick her up. 

Sleep. Rest is important for any new mom, as it allows the body to heal. Sleep in any position that feels comfortable.

Manage your pain. If you're in pain, there are over-the-counter and prescription medications available, but before taking anything, consult with your doctor, especially if you are breastfeeding.

Take care of yourself emotionally. In addition to the typical postpartum issues new moms deal with (mood swings, bleeding), moms who have C-sections may feel a sense of anger, frustration, or disappointment, particularly if their birth plan called for a vaginal birth. If you're unable to shake such feelings, it's important to talk to a professional or someone you trust. Surrounding yourself with supportive people, who are able to help out, can help alleviate negative feelings.

Did you have a C-section? What was your recovery like?

 

Image via Corbis

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