Recovering After a Caesarean Section
How Long Will It Take Me To Recover?
Recovering after having a caesarean normally takes longer than recovery after vaginal births, as caesareans involve major abdominal surgery. Mothers who have had caesareans are usually discharged after 2-4 days, and complete recovery time is an average of 8 weeks, although it can take longer than this to get back to your former fitness level. As well as having abdominal pain to deal with, women who have had caesareans may also be suffering from other postpartum health issues such as the baby blues, swollen ankles, engorged breasts, exhaustion, a sore perineum, and constipation (see our article on Recovering after the Birth for how to deal with these post-partum issues). Below is a guide to the issues specific to having had a caesarean:
Should I Have a Painful Abdomen?
Your abdomen will be very sore after a caesarean, and even small movements such as shifting position on your bed, laughing or coughing will hurt your stomach while you're wound is healing, so make sure you support your belly with either your hands or press a pillow against it when you do these things. You'll need lots of help when you've had a caesarean, as your mobility and movements will be restricted until your wound has healed up. Ask your partner, friends and family to help you when you get out of hospital; you've had major surgery and have given birth, so this is your time to be pampered!
When you come home from hospital, don't lift anything heavy. This includes any other children you have! Don't lift anything heavier than your newborn baby. Activities such as vacuuming should also be avoided as they put too much pressure on your stomach. Driving may be uncomfortable until your cut has healed as the seat belt, as well as the twisting and turning round that driving involves, can cause pain in your abdomen. By 6 weeks after your operation, driving should be comfortable again. If you do feel you are ready to drive before 6 weeks make sure you check your insurance policy as you may not be insured to drive.
What Exercise Can I Do After a Caesarean
Strenuous exercise should be avoided for at least 8 weeks. Doing mild exercise such as walking can, however, speed up the healing process and discourage blood clots forming. Doctors encourage most c-section patients to be out and about after 6 hours. Try and get out of bed as soon as you can after your operation to get yourself walking around, but don't overdo it. Take it slowly, and make sure you've talked to your doctor before starting an exercise regime after your operation.
How Can I Care For My Abdomen?
You should wash your wound every day to avoid infection, and dry it thoroughly. You can use soap on your cut, but don't rub it in, just gently pat it. Check your wound frequently for signs of infection, such as redness, increased tenderness, or discharge coming from the wound, and go to your doctor if you see any of these. Your wound may feel itchy and sensitive while it's healing.
After a caesarean, women are more at risk of getting a blood clot, so if you notice an area of your leg which is painful, swollen, red or feels warmer than the rest of your leg, see your doctor immediately.
Should I Use Pain Relief?
Your abdomen will be painful for a while so you'll be given painkillers while you're in hospital, and you'll also be given some for when you leave. You can expect to be on prescription painkillers for a week after giving birth, and then move on to over the counter painkillers. Ibuprofen and paracetamol are safe for breastfeeding mothers, but avoid aspirin. It's best to stay one step ahead when it comes to painkillers, if you wait until your current dose has worn off, you'll be in pain until your next dose kicks in. Take your painkillers regularly at the intervals stated on your prescription.
Making Yourself More Comfortable
Wear loose, cotton knickers and clothing until you're healed. Maternity clothes that go over your tummy and avoid a waistband from digging into your wound are often the most comfortable. Drink plenty of water and eat high fibre food such as brown bread, fruit and vegetables, to stop you becoming constipated - the drugs given during caesareans can cause constipation. If you feel constipated, your doctor may prescribe stool softeners.
Breastfeeding Whilst Recovering
You can breastfeed as soon as you've had a caesarean, but you'll need to use positions which don't put too much pressure on your abdomen. Try feeding your baby when you're lying down on your side, or the football position. To feed your baby in the rugby ball position: Hold your baby on one side of you, so their head is level with your breast. Hold your baby over your forearm, so that your arm is supporting their back. Cradle your baby's head with your hand, and latch baby onto your breast. The aim of this position is to keep your baby held at your side, rather than across your stomach.
For many women who've had a caesarean, there's an emotional element to recovery, as well as the physical recovery. Some women feel sadness that they didn't give birth vaginally, and feel they've failed at giving birth. If you feel sad or disappointed that you didn't give birth vaginally, talk to the doctors and midwives who assisted your delivery to find out why the caesarean was necessary. If you aren't able to speak to them before you go home, make a follow up appointment, and talk to your doctor about the effect having a caesarean has on your future pregnancies.
When Is My Final Check Up?
You'll have your final postpartum check up with your doctor 6-8 weeks after your caesarean to check that you are fully healed. Your doctor will check that you're fit enough to resume sexual relations and exercise. If you have any concerns over your health or postpartum issues, raise these concerns with your doctor.