Four Tips for a Smoother Cesarean Birth Recovery

1.     Know what to expect after a cesarean (C-section)

Although it is the most common surgery performed on women and how over 30% of women in the United States give birth, a C-section is major surgery. It can come with some pretty unexpected side effects, so it’s good to know what is normal and what isn’t. Most women will have the common tenderness or pain around their incision and some mild swelling. It can help to hold a pillow to your abdomen when you laugh, cough or sneeze. Some women are surprised by gas pain…in their shoulders after a C-section. It can be alarming, but is really normal. This happens when air becomes trapped in the abdomen during the surgery and moves under the diaphragm. Some doctors will recommend over the counter gas medications like Gas-X. The digestive system can also be sluggish after surgery and constipation can set in from pain medications used. It’s important to eat a variety of foods with fiber and drink plenty of water to move things along. Your doctor might also prescribe a stool softener to make the first bowel movement a little easier, because you definitely don’t want to have to strain after abdominal surgery. After pains, or cramps are common after both vaginal and cesarean births. They can temporarily be a little worse when the baby is breastfeeding, but decrease with time. Most of these issues subside after a few days and things start to get easier.

2.     Walk as soon as you can

You’ll have to wait until the epidural and bladder catheter are removed, but it is so important to walk as soon as you are able after a cesarean. Even if it is just short trips to the bathroom or to fill your ice water, walking will help to prevent blood clots in your legs, release the trapped gas and get your digestive tract moving again. The first time you stand up, you will likely need a little help but it will get easier each time. Your nurse can help you walk and even shower for the first time about 24 hours after your C-section.

3.     Avoid strenuous activity

It is recommended not to lift anything heavier than your new baby for a few weeks after a cesarean. There are many layers of tissue and muscle that are stitched together after the birth, so it’s important to be gentle with lifting and movement as they heal. If you can, leave the car seat in the car and carry the baby to and from it if you don’t have help. Some doctors may also want you to wait a few weeks to drive a car and surprisingly enough, some car insurance policies won’t cover a driver who drives against doctor’s orders. A lot of doctors just prefer you be off pain medication and alert enough to drive, so they let you decide when you are ready.

4.     Rest and be aware of new symptoms

We can’t reiterate enough how much you need to rest after the birth of your baby. This is a huge time of transition and recovering from a cesarean is a big deal. Women recovering from a C-section are at an increased risk of infection, deep vein thrombosis (DVT) or blood clot in the legs, pulmonary embolism (PE) or blood clot in the lungs and spinal headache from a lumbar puncture for an epidural.

Red flags to watch for after a C-section  

-fever above 100.4

- increase from normal swelling, specifically in only one leg

-shortness of breath

-heavy vaginal bleeding (soaking 1 pad an hour for more than 2 hours)

-foul smelling odor from vaginal discharge or incision

-severe headache

-elevated blood pressure

If you have any questions or concerns, talk with your nurse and doctor or midwife in the hospital and if you have already gone home, don’t hesitate to call them. It can also be incredibly helpful to recruit friends, family and a postpartum doula for extra support when you get home. Our postpartum doulas are trained to recognize normal postpartum symptoms and feelings and to know when to refer you to your healthcare provider or a specialist. While your labor doula can help you to navigate a cesarean birth whether it is planned or unplanned in the hospital, your postpartum doula’s focus is on helping to set you up for optimal healing and comfort once you are home.

Is there anything you did that made your cesarean recovery easier?