If you had a c-section, whether it was planned or unplanned, the postpartum period can be challenging: After all, you’re not only caring for a newborn, but you are also healing from abdominal surgery. C-section recovery feels different for every mom—and can even feel different from one birth to the next, however a c-section is major surgery, so it’s important to focus on caring for your baby and giving your body the rest it needs to recover (and the rest can wait for another time).
How Can I Help Myself in the Early Weeks Post C-Section?
Take it easy.
It may be the single piece of advice everyone is on board with. Rest is essential to your c-section recovery. Get sleep whenever you can. That means if someone else can hold the baby and you can rest, absolutely do so. Try not to feel guilty if the housework isn’t done – you and your baby are the most important.
Accept help (even ask for it)!
It’s OK to ask for help at any time, especially in the early weeks after c-section. Your job as mum is to love, feed, cuddle, and sleep. Family, friends and other people will probably appreciate you telling them exactly what you need. Give people concrete tasks for example, ‘Could you pick up some bread and milk on your way to visit today?’ Or ‘Thanks for offering to pick up some food, but I really just need someone to hang out the washing today’. People love to help but remember they won’t know that you need the washing hung out if you don’t say it.
You will definitely need some help with any jobs that involve stretching upwards, lifting or bending, because of the strain these activities put on your c-section wound. This means you’ll need someone to hang washing on the line, do the vacuuming and help with any other strenuous household jobs.
In the early days, it’s OK to take pain medication; there is no need to be a martyr. Talk with your doctor or midwife about which pain relievers will be best for you, especially if you’re breastfeeding. The best advice is to stay on top of pain relief and not let it build up too much.
Log roll in/out of bed
Every time you go to lie down or to move from your back to a seated position, you’re going to lie to your side first. This is so we can avoid big crunching and sit-up type movements that put a pressure on the abdominals and c-section scar. Get into the habit of lying on your side and then slowly rolling to your back when getting into bed. Getting out of bed, roll to your side, lower the legs off the bed, then use your upper body strength to push yourself up to seated.
Even though you’ve had a c-section, you’ll still have bleeding from your vagina after birth. This is normal bleeding from where the placenta was attached to your uterus.
The bleeding might be quite heavy in the first week, like a heavy period. After the first week, your bleeding should gradually get lighter. You might have some bleeding for up to six weeks.
Check with your doctor, nurse or midwife if the bleeding gets heavier rather than lighter, you have a sudden heavy blood loss or large clots after the first few days, the blood smells bad, your uterus feels tender or sore, or you’re still bleeding after six weeks.
C-section wound care
Keeping your wound clean and dry helps to prevent infection. The wound will be covered by a waterproof dressing for several days, and you can usually shower with this on.
Once the dressing has been removed, you can gently wash your wound with water and dry around it with a towel. It’s best to leave it uncovered to ‘air dry’. Be especially careful if your wound is under a tummy fold because this will make it harder to keep dry. Wear loose cotton clothing that doesn’t press on your wound.
Some bruising around the wound is common. Numbness or itching around the wound is common too.
If you see any signs of infection around your wound, see your doctor straight away. Signs of infection include pain, redness, swelling, smelly discharge or the wound coming apart.
As pain begins to settle a gentle walk each day can help your body and your mind feel better – for example, you could start with five/ten minutes walking around your home. Build up gradually as too much time standing/ walking can increase your pain.
Diaphragmatic breathing is a great way to begin resetting your body after your c-section. Start lying on your side or semi reclined. On your inhale breath, breath into your lower ribcage and feel your belly gently expand, then extend down into the back passage region feeling the sitting bones in your bottom expand. Don’t force or strain this. It is a subtle movement. Try and do this for a few minutes throughout the day.
Pelvic Floor Exercises
Pregnancy itself is a risk factor for pelvic floor dysfunction so pelvic floor exercises are important for everyone after birth. Pelvic floor exercises can also help wake up your core muscles and are a great start to post natal rehabilitation. Start with a gentle pelvic floor contraction lifting up at the back passage with full concentration on the let go of the contraction. Follow each contraction with a diaphragmatic breath as described above. Aim for 8-10 contractions 3 times a day.
Gentle stretches and movements
Gentle movement can be quite calming on the body. The pelvic tilt exercise where you flatten your lower back onto the bed and then arch away is a great movement to help the lower back. Knee rolls side to side with the knees bent up are also fantastic. Never underestimate the effect of a simple shoulder roll to alleviate tension in the upper back. Always work in a pain free range and do a smaller movement if you are feeling a tug on your scar.
The bowels get very sluggish after a c-section, partly due to the shock of surgery and partly due to the pain relief. You can also expect to encounter some constipation and trapped wind pain as the bowels start to work normally again. Drink plenty of water. Fluids can help minimize constipation and keep things moving. Eating fiber rich food at this time is essential to keep the bowels moving regularly. Getting in some gentle walks can help keep things moving well.
For some women it is the discomfort of a bowel motion that can also contribute to constipation. A great tip is to get a little foot stool for your bathroom. Placing your knees higher than your hips helps when passing a bowel motion. “Moo to poo”, which may sound ridiculous but try it. Make a loud “moo” sound as you try and empty your bowels and you will feel your pelvic floor muscles relax and allow you to empty easier.
For some women after a C-section, the area remains quite numb so the signal from the bladder are not as clear as they used to be. In the early days after try and pee every 2-3 hours to help get your bladder working well again.
For some women, the opposite can happen where it feels like the bladder is calling you all the time. This is often caused by scar tissue from the wound to the bladder. Once the scar has healed well, you can begin C-section scar massage which will help this.
Now is not the time for severe calorie restriction, your body needs nourishment for healing. Plenty of protein, vitamin c and fiber all help with recovery.
Consider a belly band.
C-section belly binders function to keep your abdominal musculature supported. They’re not necessary, but some women feel more comfortable with some external support. But while there are moms that swear by them, others find them itchy, constraining or ineffective and some women find they pull on their scar too much to tolerate wearing them.
Doctors usually recommend that you avoid driving a car until your wound has healed and you can brake suddenly without feeling sharp pain. This is usually around 4-6 weeks. It’s best to talk with your doctor or midwife about when it’s safe to start driving again. Check the policy of your car insurance company because some companies won’t cover you if your doctor hasn’t cleared you to drive.
Your feelings after birth
Talk about your feelings. The hormonal roller coaster after any form of childbirth is real, but it can be especially rough if a c-section wasn’t in your original birth plan. Some women feel fine about having a c-section, whereas others feel disappointed or sad that they weren’t able to give birth vaginally. For women who have an unplanned (emergency) c-section, the change in plan can sometimes be a shock. Whatever your feelings, they’re OK. But it can really help to talk through those feelings with someone you trust.
See a women’s health physiotherapist.
An appointment can make sure you are healing well, your pelvic floor is functioning well and start doing some scar massage.