If your doctor has indicated that you will need, or even may need a cesarean section to deliver your baby, you may wonder how the cesarean section recovery plays out. You may wonder about things like, how much will it hurt? What about breastfeeding positions? The recovery of a cesarean section is a longer process than with a vaginal delivery. It usually takes about six weeks altogether. So, along with taking care of your newborn, and any older children you may have, you must take care of yourself to ensure a complete recovery and a return to your pre-pregnancy body.
Cesarean Section Recovery Timeline
It takes about six weeks for you to fully heal from a cesarean section. You can learn what to expect and pay attention to at each stage.
1. The First Hour
Right after your C-section, you'll be moved to a post-op room where your vitals will be monitored, along with bleeding. You'll have an IV and a catheter, which will negate your need to go to the bathroom. Your lower body will still be numb and you may feel a bit woozy and shaky from the morphine in your IV.
2. The First Day
If things go well for the first several hours, you'll be moved to a recovery room. You'll be given ice chips at first, then later you'll be given a liquid diet until your doctor okays you to resume eating solid food. You'll be asked to get up and move around a little.
3. The Second Day
The morning after surgery, your catheter will likely be removed, allowing you to walk to the bathroom and back. Increased activity will aid circulation, improve bowel function, and speed your cesarean section recovery. A shower will feel marvelous. You'll wear a pad for bleeding. Your IV may be removed, but you'll still receive pain meds.
4. Four Days Later
Barring complications, you'll be leaving the hospital. Your staples will be removed (unless you have dissolving sutures) and Steri-Strips will be put over your incision. You'll receive instructions for caring for the incision, and to not lift anything heavier than the baby, to avoid sex, douching, and tampons until after the six-week checkup.
5. Two Weeks Later
You should be feeling much better by now. You'll see your doctor for a checkup during which your incision will be checked. Ask any questions or concerns you may have, including what increased activity you can engage in. Your uterus may not have shrunk much yet, making you still look pregnant.
6. Four Weeks Later
By now you'll be getting around better and more comfortably. The bleeding should be tapering off. You shouldn't compare your cesarean section recovery to anyone else's as everybody is different. If you're tired, rest. If you hurt, take your prescribed pain med. Listen to your body!
7. Six Weeks Later
You're probably fully healed by now. Healthy women will recover more quickly than those who aren't as healthy. If you had sutures, they will be about half dissolved, your uterus will have shrunk back to size, and it's okay to have sex again. The incision may still be tender, but should be healed.
How to Promote Healing in Cesarean Section Recovery
1. Care for Your Incision
Rest often. Keep baby supplies handy. Don't lift anything heavier than the baby. Support your abdomen by using good posture, and hold it when coughing, laughing, or sneezing. Use pain relief when needed. Drink plenty of water and other fluids to avoid constipation. When you shower, let soapy water run over the incision, but don't rub it. Pat dry. Don't put too much pressure on the incision. Try wearing undies that are a size larger than normal.
2. Check for Signs of Infection
Check your incision daily for signs of infection. Call your doctor if the incision is swollen, oozing a discharge, or is red; if you run a fever higher than 100.4º F, or if the incision grows increasingly painful.
3. Minimize Discomfort of Breastfeeding
Very soon after your C-section, you will be able to breast-feed your baby. There are a couple of ways to minimize the discomfort of holding your baby over the incision. Placing a pillow over the incision on which to lay the baby can help. Try laying the baby by your side, then hold its head facing your breast with its back resting on your arm. Or you can lay on your side. If you have trouble, ask a nurse to help you.
4. Expect Some Vaginal Discharge
You can expect to have a heavy flow of bright red blood for the first few days of your cesarean section recovery. You may see a few small clots. It will gradually slow down and let up under the first month, and become watery and change colors from brown or pink to white or yellow. Call your doctor if your flow continues to be heavy or emits a bad odor, or if you run a low-grade fever.
5. Relieve Sore Breasts and Leaking Milk
Several days after your surgery, your breasts may become swollen and tender. This discomfort will be relieved by nursing the baby, using a breast pump, or by taking a warm shower to express the milk. You may try applying cold washcloths to your breasts between feedings. Pain relievers such as acetaminophen or ibuprofen may help. If you choose not to breast-feed the baby, wear a firm bra, like a sports bra to help suppress milk production. Don't pump or express milk as that will encourage production of milk. If your breasts leak, and they likely will occasionally, wear nursing pads inside your bra. Change them when they are wet or after feeding.
6. Pay Attention to Your Mood Changes
Childbirth can bring a wide range of emotions from ecstatic joy to tears, anxiety, and crabbiness. A mild depression known as “Baby Blues” is fairly common among new mothers. It doesn't usually last very long, but if it does, seek help. Postpartum depression is a condition of more severe mood swings and includes overwhelming fatigue, loss of appetite, and a loss of joy. Call your doctor if you feel depressed, or if you find it hard to care for your baby or doing other household chores, or if you have thoughts of hurting yourself or the baby.
7. Have a Follow-up Appointment
During your six-week checkup, the doctor will examine your abdomen, uterus, cervix, and vagina to ascertain you're healing properly. He may also check your breasts, your blood pressure and weight. For some, the checkup may be sooner in order for the doctor to check your incision. Ask any questions you may have regarding resuming daily activities, or your mental and physical health.
8. Eat Fiber Rich Food
Constipation is a big problem after having a C-section. Anytime you experience abdominal surgery, the bowels are affected and take time to resume normalcy. Gas can back up. If the bowels are distended, they can cause pain that radiates to other body parts. Take anti-gas meds and stool softeners, and eat a fiber-rich diet of fruits, vegetables, and whole grains. Drink plenty of water and prune juice. Get up and walk and move about as much as you can.