Guest Post By Genevieve Kane, MSN, RN
Whether you have a baby vaginally or by C-section, it is essential to take time to recover. However, if you have had a C-section or you have one scheduled, your C-section aftercare will look different from a vaginal delivery.
Recovery and aftercare are different because a C-section is a surgical procedure. While there are some similarities between recovery from a vaginal delivery and C-section, there are also differences.
Everything to Know About C-Section Recovery and Aftercare
Here we fill you in on everything you need to know about C-section recovery and aftercare, so you can feel empowered to care and advocate for yourself.
A C-Section is a Surgical Procedure
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), 32.1% of all deliveries in the United States are by C-section. While C-sections may be common, it is essential to recognize they are still a surgical procedure.
The American College of Obstetrics and Gynecology (ACOG) describes the complications that can result from a C-section. Complications may include, and are not limited to:
- Infection of the uterus, nearby pelvic organs, or the incision site
- A blood transfusion
- Blood clots
- Injury to the bowel or bladder
- Allergic reaction to medications used
Severe complications are uncommon. And, as long as you follow the instructions from your healthcare provider regarding your recovery and C-section aftercare, they can typically be avoided or treated.
C-Section Recovery and Aftercare Timeline
Because a C-section is a surgical procedure, your C-section recovery and aftercare will look different from a vaginal delivery. ACOG explains you can expect to stay in the hospital for 2-4 days after delivery.
There are many different reasons for a C-section birth, and the length of your C-section recovery and aftercare in the hospital will depend on why you and your baby required a C-section and how well you are recovering.
Recovery and C-Section Aftercare on the Day of Delivery
While there may be some variation, here’s what you can generally expect immediately after your C-section, per ACOG:
- Many C-sections are performed with spinal anesthesia with the mother awake. If this is the case, you can likely hold your baby immediately after delivery.
- Sometimes, C-sections are performed under general anesthesia, where the mother is asleep for the procedure. In these scenarios, you can see and hold your baby as soon as you are awake from anesthesia, and your medical team believes it is safe.
- Your medical team will frequently check your blood pressure, pulse rate, breathing, bleeding amount, and abdomen.
- If you are planning on breast or chestfeeding, you will likely be able to do so shortly after delivery, as long as you and your baby are doing ok.
- You will likely have a urinary catheter placed for the procedure and removed shortly after your C-section.
- You should have a nurse, medical assistant, or support person help you up the first few times you get up to move or go to the restroom. Many healthcare facilities will want you to wait to flush so the nurse can see how much you’re peeing and any blood loss.
- You will want to develop a pain management plan with your nurse and healthcare provider. The medication from the C-section may last a little while, but it is a good idea to determine a schedule for pain meds to stay on top of pain. It is usually far easier to prevent severe pain than to try and relieve it.
Your immediate C-section recovery may look different depending on what prompted your C-section in the first place. For example, if it was a planned C-section and everything went smoothly, you can likely hold and nurse your baby immediately and walk around before long.
However, if you developed a condition such as preeclampsia or had a serious complication like a uterine rupture, your recovery and C-section aftercare timeline may move more slowly. Additionally, if you had a C-section because your baby was in significant distress or premature, your baby may have needed medical care immediately after delivery.
Communicate your concerns, questions, and worries with your medical team. For example, there are instances where your baby may be in the neonatal intensive care unit (NICU) while you recover. If the NICU is in the same hospital, you can usually visit your baby and have your birth center nurse bring your pain medication to the NICU. This way, you can stay by your baby’s side.
Your nurse, the NICU nurse, or a lactation consultant can also help you start pumping if you plan to breast or chest feed your baby. If something isn’t offered, ask to see what options are available.
C-Section Recovery and Aftercare During the First Few Days
ACOG explains that your incision site may feel especially sore the first few days after your C-section. Ensure you understand what pain management options are available to you and how to rotate medications if you take them.
For example, many mothers will rotate acetaminophen (also known as TylenolⓇ) and ibuprofen (also known as AdvilⓇ or MotrinⓇ). Additionally, C-sections can cause issues such as constipation. So many healthcare providers may also offer a stool softener.
Other pain management methods include using a heating pad and wearing an abdominal binder. It can also help to hold a pillow against your abdomen if you cough or sneeze. And if you are nursing, learning a nursing position, such as the football hold, can be more comfortable since it doesn’t put pressure on the incision.
Once you can get up and move around, can go to the bathroom on your own, and the incision looks like it is recovering nicely, along with any other factors unique to your situation, your healthcare provider will likely discharge you home. If your baby is doing well, then they are usually discharged with the mom.
C-Section Recovery and Aftercare During the First Weeks Home
While family and friends may be anxious to see you (and baby!), it is vital to prioritize your rest during the first few weeks at home. Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai provides several instructions to help your body recover after a C-section.
First, managing your pain to care for yourself and your new baby is crucial. Ensure you understand your pain management plan before leaving the hospital, and call if you have questions. Some mothers only need pain meds for a few days, and others need pain medication for a few weeks.
You may have vaginal bleeding for up to six weeks post-delivery. While the bleeding may begin as bright red, by the six-week mark, it should have transitioned from bright red to pink to a whitish color.
Incision care may vary by healthcare provider. However, generally, you want to keep the incision clean and dry. Often just showering and allowing the water to run down the incision site is enough. It does not need to be scrubbed, and any steri-strips or glue (if used) can be left alone.
Your healthcare provider will advise you on what activity is safe for you to do. Generally, short walks are ok and are encouraged. You should not lift anything heavier than your baby for 6-8 weeks. Nor should you have sex or put anything in your vagina for at least six weeks.
Many moms find it helpful to have carts around the house stocked with essentials. For example, you might stock one with a bottle of water, snacks, diapers, wipes, diaper paste, and other baby essentials, such as the NozeBot. We designed the NozeBot with moms and babies in mind and know how frustrating using those little blue suction bulbs can be.
During C-section aftercare, it is typically recommended not to drive for the first two weeks after delivery. If your healthcare provider prescribes narcotic pain medication, you should not drive while taking it.
Additionally, many mothers experience constipation after delivery. Your healthcare provider may recommend a stool softener. Other steps to relieve constipation include drinking plenty of fluids and eating fruits and vegetables.
Also, it is crucial to understand that your hormones go through a significant shift after delivery. Some feelings of sadness or mood swings are normal. However, if you find yourself struggling, you aren’t sure if what you’re experiencing is normal, or if you have thoughts of harming yourself or your baby, seek medical care.
Looking for more tips on the postpartum period? You’ll find these helpful:
- 10 Parenting Podcasts To Help You Kick Off The New Year
- Postpartum Stories: Andrea Shares Her IVF And Infertility Journey To Motherhood
- Month One: What You Need To Know About Newborn Breathing
- 6 Tips For Safe Sleep For Baby
- 5 Newborn Tips For Your First Week Home With A Newborn
Other Considerations for C-Section Recovery and Aftercare
Delivering a baby is a lot of work! And if you are a C-section mama, recovery, and aftercare can often be more challenging since it’s a surgical procedure. Make sure to prioritize your self-care, even if it is in short windows, and that you have a support person you can rely on.
Support can look different for everyone. You may have a supportive family member, partner, or group of friends who can rotate turns to bring you meals and any baby essentials you need.
And, per ACOG, if you notice any of the following, reach out to a healthcare provider for advice:
- Leg pain, especially calf pain
- Shortness of breath
- Pain that is not improving
- Drainage from your incision, or it looks infected
- Heavy bleeding that soaks a pad in less than an hour, with large clots, or any bleeding that has you concerned
Everyone’s recovery will look different. While we’ve highlighted several common recommendations for C-section recovery and aftercare, it is essential to follow the instructions provided by your medical team. They may differ from what we have listed here.
And if you do have any questions or aren’t sure if a part of recovery is normal, call and ask your healthcare provider for advice.
The peace of mind will be worth it, and your medical team is there to answer any questions you may have so that you can recover as quickly and safely as possible.
Genevieve Kane, MSN, RN, is a mother of four and a registered nurse with a background in pediatrics. When she's not working, you can find her cooking up tasty family dinners or keeping up with her kids on a hiking trail in her home state of Colorado.
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