Recovering from a c-section can be difficult – but the more you are prepared for the recovery, the better of you are. Here are 10 things you may not know about recovering from a c-section from a mom who has been there!
“It was a huge help at a moment when I needed a win. I needed anything that would help me feel like I wasn’t going to totally fail at this whole mom thing the first day. Going home is hard. Do yourself a favor by making your recovery as easy as possible.”
After carefully planning otherwise, I ended up having a scheduled c-section. I have had my share of ups and downs and learned a lot along the way!
I recently wrote and shared my birth story, “Eight Reasons My Son’s C-section Birth was Imperfectly Perfect” and now I want to share a little about my recovery. Here is a little bit more of my story with some advice for a solid c-section recovery, as well as some answers to some general questions you might have.
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Table of contents
Recovery from C-Section
You Might Miss Baby’s First Bath
I had an amazing hospital that has a mandatory skin-to-skin for the first hour, encourages nursing in that first hour, and, best of all: I got to hold my baby right away while I was still in surgery.
The only part that I felt I missed out on was my son’s first bath. I was still immobilized from surgery, catheter still in place. Plus, I had this weird fear that my baby would get stolen or swapped (thanks, Hollywood).
So after our first hour together, my husband went with my son, and I was moved into our room. Alone. At first, I felt incredibly lonely. It felt as though my heart was still with my baby and husband.
After staring at the clock and unsuccessfully willing them to appear for a little while, I finally gave up and tried to sleep. BEST. DECISION. EVER. Take advantage of any chance you can to sleep!
However, new standard of practice is to wait at least 24 hours before giving a baby a bath – and many moms wait until they go home. So chances are, you will be able to participate in whatever way you’d like!
You’ll Still Have Really Heavy Bleeding
I don’t know why, but I thought that this wouldn’t be very bad at all for a c-section birth. I guess it just made physical sense to me. If you have a baby go through there, it makes sense that it could take up to 6 weeks for the bleeding to stop.
I wasn’t thinking about the hole healing in my uterus combined with my uterus contracting down to its new normal size, the placenta removing from my uterus, or my hormones having to normalize after 9+months of not having a menstrual cycle.
As I learned more about the hormones and the reason for the bleeding, I knew to expect some bleeding. But, I still had it in my head that it wouldn’t be as bad as the women who deliver vaginally.
This perspective changed pretty quickly.
Turns out, your hormones are still just as crazy as any other woman who has been growing another human being inside her for 9+ months and it will take time, pain, and lots of bleeding till your body is back to… well… you.
(For all of your crazy bleeding, I definitely recommend using Depends. I talk about it more in my other article “The #1 Thing to Pack in Your C-Section Birth Bag,” but basically you won’t want pressure on your c-section incision and Depends are perfect for feeling clean and staying comfortable during your c-section recovery.)
Speaking of Crazy Hormones…
All the other little things associated with your hormones being out of whack will be the same as well. For me, this meant lots of hot flashes! Oh, and I was also pretty bummed that my super balloon feet were still huge when I left the hospital.
They did go back to normal after a couple of weeks, but I wasn’t very happy about it at the time! I mean, seriously, I still have to look pregnant and have swollen feet while recouping from abdominal surgery, having the worst period of my life, and taking care of this new adorable baby?? Give me a break!
Katie has an amazing article that goes through a lot of these hormonal and other issues that you might face after any childbirth. You should really check that out here.
Some of the issues she discusses include still looking pregnant, shakes, chills, night sweats, hormonal mood swings, afterpains, and more. It’s the best article I’ve read on the subject and really helped me feel prepared for my son’s birth. I read it multiple times before my son was born.
Stay on Top of Your Medication
Seems pretty straightforward, don’t you think? Doctors are paid ridiculous amounts of money to figure out what medications will work best for you during your recovery.
They give it to you around the clock in the hospital and pretty soon you go from crying and thinking you won’t make it back from the bathroom to walking laps around your maternity ward (OK maybe just one lap, but still!).
You start to feel good, go home, think you’re fine, and you fall behind on your medication.
I actually had trouble getting my medication from the pharmacy. They had my allergy information messed up and wouldn’t give the medication to my husband without double-checking with the hospital.
I was exhausted. In crazy amounts of pain. And with no relief in my immediate sight. It was really scary and overwhelming to come home to! Don’t let yourself fall behind. Stay on top of it and your recovery will be so much smoother than anything else you could do.
The only sort of negative effect that either my son or I had because of taking my medication was that I didn’t have the huge flood of emotion that I was warned about.
I chalk it up to the pain medication dulling me out a little bit, but I didn’t feel dulled out at all at the time. I just felt happy and relieved that I saw no signs of postpartum depression in sight.
I can’t even say for certain that this was the case or if my hormones just took longer to adjust. Still, I thought it was worth mentioning since medication can affect every person differently.
One helpful tip would be to track the times that you take your medication on your phone. I did this so that my tired brain didn’t mess up when I last took my medication. I tried to take it right on time, every time. There were times (rare times) when my son would let me sleep longer and I would wake up in a lot of pain. It was not fun!
The benefits of staying on top of your medication far outweigh the normal negative side effects. Pain and inflammation can actually delay healing. You are doing nobody favors by increasing your suffering, increasing your recovery time, oh and worst of all? Pain and inflammation can lower your breastmilk supply.
So, your baby actually benefits WAY more from you staying on top of your medication. This is the single most important thing that I could tell you about c-section recovery.
When I had to wait hours for my medication to get approved from the hospital and those times I woke up in pain from lapsing on my medication, ice was seriously my lifesaver! I bought a huge mud cool pack that was on sale at Walgreens before my son was born and relied on it heavily for immediate relief.
The day I got home from the hospital, I passed out with it wrapped around my stomach. It was the only way that I could sleep through the pain. It was a huge help at a moment when I needed a win. I needed anything that would help me feel like I wasn’t going to totally fail at this whole mom thing the first day.
Going home is hard. Do yourself a favor by making your recovery as easy as possible. Ice even when you are feeling good. It will help lower your inflammation and help speed your recovery.
C Section Incision
You will find that showering might be your new favorite thing as a mom. It feels like one of the only times that I am completely alone.
It is my sanctuary, and I love it.
That being said, you need to take extra care with showering post-c-section. Until my c-section incision was completely healed (on the outside at least), I made sure to keep up with the antibacterial soap that I used to prepare for my c-section. I wanted to be sure that there would be no chance for an infection.
After your shower, you should put on a new nonstick sterile “Tefla” pad. Get as many of these big nonstick pads from the hospital to bring home. Before leaving, the hospital staff asked if there was anything else that we needed.
I was straight up with them about needing more of these, since I hadn’t thought of buying any in advance (having never had a c-section previously).
I was expecting to get shot down or have them awkwardly hand me a few, but they happily obliged and sent me home with a stack!
I didn’t even need to tape mine in place. It sort of hung in place over my staples without getting stuck there. I even used it after my staples were removed for a little bit as sort of a buffer between my still-tender incision and my clothes.
Over time, the outside of your body will heal and you can go back to your normal body wash routine. Even though you outwardly look healed, remember that you are still recovering. My doctor recommended waiting at least a year before trying to conceive again.
Some doctors have recommended at least two years. Realistically, your body may never feel quite the same again. People say this about vaginal births, but I don’t think it is emphasized with c-section deliveries as much.
Think of it this way, you will carry the scar tissue from your c-section for the rest of your life. One of my best friend’s mom is currently dealing with issues from her c-section scar tissue and her last c-section was over twenty years ago.
For the most part, this won’t affect you too much. But at over a year postpartum, I still feel a weird twinge now and then when I twist my abdominal muscles in an awkward way.
The key is to remember that your body is not going to be healed overnight and just because you look fine on the outside, doesn’t mean that you are healed on the inside.
(there are postpartum girdles created specifically for c-section mamas. It might be worth looking into!).
Don’t Overdo It
There were times when I felt absolutely stir crazy. One of those times was the second day home from the hospital. I was barely 24 hours back, but with a newborn’s crazy schedule, it felt much longer!
I was hungry and one innocent comment from a visitor had me crazy self-conscious and feeling A) like I was already failing as a mom and B) like I wasn’t doing enough.
So when I was feeling able, with pain relief in my system, I strapped on my ice pack and set to work cooking a huge pasta casserole.
I definitely regretted that exertion later as my pain relief started to ease off before I could take another dose and felt what it had cost me. I knew that I had pushed farther than I should have.
A simple dish would have been one thing, but you can’t expect to be moving at full steam that early on. If you do your recovery right, it won’t be terribly long, but just maybe not the second day home.
But Do a Little…
And then a little more! I had so many crazy goals for weight loss and recovery. I wanted to walk around our apartment lake the very first family walk that we went on (day three home from the hospital). That walk was about 0.33 miles.
The first couple of times I got about a quarter of the way and had to turn around. I was pretty disappointed and just wanted to feel normal again. Especially after so many months of not feeling myself.
Walking is really good for recovery, but don’t let yourself get disappointed if you’re not hitting your marks as soon as you hope. Listen to your body and know your limits.
I was disappointed, but after pushing myself that second day home, I knew better than to keep pushing my healing body.
I kept up with my walking and was able to walk the whole loop after about a week home from the hospital. I was beaming with joy as I reached into our freezer for my ice pack after that walk! It felt good and I was glad that I hadn’t pushed myself too hard too fast.
Let Others Lift for You
Walking is great for recovery because it gets you up and moving without overusing your abdominal muscles. Lifting, cleaning, and even cooking (I know, I was bad!) can overuse those muscles if you aren’t careful.
Remember that huge casserole that I told you I made the second day home from the hospital? Do you know how silly I felt after filling a huge pot with water and realizing I couldn’t lift it over to the stove? Or even the casserole itself when I was done with it… I felt pretty ridiculous!
Luckily, I have an amazing husband. He watched me like a hawk and wouldn’t let me do any lifting.
He was amazing in the hospital about changing my son’s diapers and that continued at home. That alone was a huge help.
Getting up and down from the couch and bed were some of the most ab-crunching-painful things that I remember doing those first few weeks. My husband went above and beyond lifting and doing for me so that I didn’t overdo it.
Let others help you! Whether that is your significant other, your best friend, or even some crazy in-law who drives you up the wall!
Let them help so that you can rest and recover. You will feel stir crazy, but put that energy into your recovery walking and taking care of that beautiful new baby of yours!
You Can Hold Your Baby
My son was one ounce from 10lbs when he was born.
Knowing that the reason for my scheduled c-section was due to his larger size, I was afraid that I wouldn’t be able to hold and bond with my baby.
I was very emotional when I asked my doctor, but he just kind of looked at me like I was crazy and said, “Of course you can hold your baby!”
You don’t want to be too crazy. No baby curl workout videos just yet! But as long as you are careful, you can hold your baby as much as you want!
I would recommend handing your baby off to get up, though. I tried setting my son next to me on the bed and then standing and picking him up.
The problem with this was that I had to bend down to pick up my son. Whenever possible, avoid bending, lifting, and standing up while holding your baby. If you find that you are in too much pain halfway through, it could mean trouble for you and baby.
Be careful and don’t let your pride get in the way of asking for help. Your baby and your health are both way too important to risk.
Hold tight to that little bundle of joy and feel that new pure love that is unlike anything else you have ever experienced before. Hold tight, breathe deep, bond, love, and laugh. But maybe don’t laugh too hard… it might hurt a little.
Above all, know that you will recover to your new normal and that you will be a wonderful mom. Don’t let anyone make you feel like less for having to have a c-section.
Childbirth is beautiful, no matter how a child is born.
In the beginning, I let that c-section incision hurt me emotionally on top of the physical pain I was in.
Don’t do this!
Don’t think that you are less of a mom than any other mom out there. We all have ups and downs, all-nighters for a million different reasons, but all based on one reason. We are all driven by our love for our children. And it is that love that will make this recovery fly by.
Pretty soon we’ll all be hugging our kids goodbye as they take off for college and wondering where the time has gone. Don’t waste one minute of that time feeling bad for doing the best you can for your child. Just do your best and give God the rest. Good luck with your recovery!
How long do you bleed after a c-section?
Most women bleed for up to six weeks following any type of birth – this is the same with a c-section.
The heaviest bleeding is directly following the birth for about a week – then it tends to slow down. If you overdo it, you will likely see an increase in bleeding.
Should I wear a binder?
A lot of hospitals will provide some kind of binder you can wear following a c-section. They aren’t required, but they can help you recover a little faster.
A binder can help compress your belly, keep things in place a little better, and help with recovery. There are ones that are specifically designed for c-sections. Amazon has a great selection.
How many c-sections can you have?
This can be a difficult question to answer – and it’s certainly a discussion you need to have with a trusted healthcare provider.
Some women can only have one c-section, while others can have many. A lot of it depends on why you had a c-section and how it was done.
The risks DO go up with each subsequent c-section you have. In an ideal situation, you will be able to try to have a VBAC (vaginal birth after caesaran), but that’s not always possible. After a certain number of c-sections, you may be required to only have them from that point on.
I have heard people throw the number four around, but upon research, I couldn’t find a specific number. It’s just something you need to discuss with your provider.
When can I drive after a c-section?
In an ideal world, you will wait to drive until you can stop abruptly and not feel any pain in your incision site.
For many women, this is between 4-6 weeks. Obviously, there will be situations where a mom has to drive before she is fully recovered. Definitely talk with your doctor if that’s the situation – you will most certainly need to wait until you are no longer on pain medications that cause drowsiness.
Can I do skin to skin after a c-section?
Yes! In most situations, you should be able to do skin-to-skin right away. Standard practice has shifted in recent years, and “family-based” c-sections are much more common.
The protocol may vary from hospital to hospital, so make sure you talk with your hospital and care provider beforehand and make your wishes known! Barring any complications, skin to skin right after birth is more of a possibility than ever before.
Bending and lifting after C-section
Generally, it’s not recommended to lift anything larger than your baby in the weeks following a c-section.
Avoid any unnecessary bending as well – take as much time as you need to recover and enlist as much help as you can.
C-section recovery kit
We have talked a lot about some essentials for c-section recovery in this post, so make sure you check that out.
What to expect from a c-section scar
Most OBGYNs will do a horizontal/bikini incision. This will leave a scar right above the public hair line, and when fully healed, it will be 4-6 inches long. The redness will fade over time.
In the beginning, you will likely see some rapid changes in it – however, the rapid changing will slow down and you may not notice as much change in your scar. However, it will continue to change and lighten over time.
It is not uncommon to feel some itchiness and pain at your incision site, especially in the eight weeks following your c-section.
Signs of infection after c-section
Hopefully you won’t have an infection, but if you notice anything oozing from your scar, a fever, swelling, abdominal pain, or streaking redness, make sure you call your care provider right away.
C-section Blood Clots
C-sections can raise the risk of having a postpartum blood clot – any abdominal surgery actually has blood clots as a side effect. The risk is four times higher than a vaginal delivery, and the highest risk comes with an emergency c-section.
With that said, the risk is still relatively low (about 1 in 3 according to this article). If you have any condition that puts you at a higher risk of blood clots, make sure you talk to your doctor about this beforehand.
There are some things you can do to decrease the risk of blood clots – walking around (as soon as you are able) and compression socks.
Breastfeeding and C-sections
Most lactation professionals will list c-sections as a risk factor for having a higher chance of having breastfeeding issues.
However, it is entirely possible to have a normal and successful breastfeeding relationship after a c-section. This is a great post about breastfeeding and c-sections I would recommend reading!