Taking care of a newborn can feel overwhelming, and if you had your baby via C-section, it can be even harder as you try to heal. Knowing what to expect can help in your first days and weeks of being a mother.
If you follow doctor’s orders, recovering from a C-section can be relatively easy and painless. You can expect the healing process to take six weeks, as opposed to the four weeks following a vaginal birth.
First Days After Birth
When you have a C-section, you likely will stay in the hospital for one or two days. This is when the discomfort from your surgery will be the strongest, and nurses and doctors will regularly monitor your vital signs and manage your pain levels.
Some women only need ibuprofen or acetaminophen, and some may need stronger medications. If you are experiencing discomfort that feels excessive, speak up so that your doctor can adjust your medication.
Doctors also will check your incisions for infection. And they will massage the uterus to check for firmness, adequate tone and proper contractions — all of which signal proper healing.
As soon as six hours after surgery or as soon as it is comfortable, you will start walking around your hospital room or hallway. This speeds recovery by:
- Increasing blood flow and oxygen to tissues
- Decreasing risk of blood clots
- Releasing endorphins
- Boosting gut motility
- Lowering risk of constipation
Two Weeks After Birth
Your doctor will provide instructions on how to care for your incision once you go home, and these will vary depending on whether stitches, staples or glue were used. To promote faster healing, you should:
- Keep the incision clean and dry to avoid infection. That means no baths or swimming.
- If you are taking narcotics as part of your recovery, restrict driving.
- Eat well.
Signs to watch for:
- Night sweats
- Heavy bleeding, defined as soaking through more than one pad in an hour
- Redness or oozing from the incision
All of these point to a surgical-site infection, and you should call your doctor. You could be fighting off endometritis, an infection in the uterus or another problem that needs medical attention.
Most of all, listen to your body. If the pain feels out of the ordinary or if the pain medication you were sent home with isn't adequate, call your doctor.
You should also have a follow up in the office one to two weeks after your cesarean delivery to ensure everything is going well.
Six Weeks After Birth
You likely will be feeling better but should still be careful. Avoid climbing the stairs as much as possible as that movement increases abdominal pressure. But staying in bed slows healing time and increases your risk of developing a blood clot in your legs or lungs. The answer is to find that balance between light activity and nothing.
Now is a good time to have a family member or friend visit and help around the house, whether that’s fetching items from upstairs or just generally limiting your physical load because you shouldn’t lift anything more than 20 pounds. Don’t try to be a superhero and overdo it, which could delay healing.
If you experience swollen extremities, shortness of breath, fever or excessive vaginal bleeding go to the ER. Oozing or foul odor from your incision site warrants a visit to your OB-GYN.
Signs for preeclampsia, which can show up any time during the six weeks following childbirth, include:
- Persistent headache
- Blurry vision
- Abdominal pain
Preeclampsia is a high-blood-pressure disorder, and if left unchecked, can damage kidneys and other organs.
For most women, healing has wrapped up around the six-week mark. One last visit to your OB-GYN is typical at this time. A clean bill of health marks the end of your pregnancy and childbirth journey.
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