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C-section recovery: What to expect and how to help yourself heal

Around 1,000 babies a day are born here in Texas, and about a third of them come into the world via a Cesarean section, or C-section—a type of surgery in which a healthy baby is delivered through an incision in the pregnant person’s abdomen and uterus.

Recovering from a C-section takes longer than recuperating from a vaginal birth. After all, you’ve had a baby and surgery. It usually takes about six weeks to bounce back from a C-section. Knowing what to expect as you heal can make your recovery easier for you and your new family.

Starting your C-section recovery

Most women spend about three days in the hospital after a C-section. Your stay could be shorter or longer depending on whether you had complications during pregnancy or delivery and how your recovery progresses.

During your stay, the hospital staff will work with your doctor to make certain you’re recuperating well—eating proper meals, walking a bit and starting to bond with your new baby. Most women have some pain around their incision; your doctor can give you a prescription or over-the-counter medication that you can use in the hospital and at home for relief.

Healing at home after C-section

A C-section leaves a scar on your lower abdomen between 6 and 8 inches long. Your doctor will monitor it while you’re in the hospital to make certain it’s healing properly. At home, keep your incision clean and dry and watch for signs of infection, including:

  • Redness around the incision
  • Warmness in the areas near the incision
  • Fever
  • Discharge and/or foul odor
  • Pain around the incision
  • Swelling

Contact your doctor if you notice any of these symptoms.

Many C-section patients also have bleeding for as long as six weeks after delivery. It shouldn’t be heavier than your regular period. If it seems heavier (more than one pad an hour) or if you have cramps or other pain, call your doctor.

You should see your OBGYN about a week after delivering to make certain everything looks OK. Your OBGYN can also talk to you about any changes you’re noticing, like drier skin, hair loss or mood changes. These could be caused by the hormone shifts that your body has been going through for the past nine months, and your doctor can help you understand and deal with them.

Getting back to your routine with a new baby

Soon after you and your new baby return home, you can begin to ease back into your regular daily activities. It’s important that you don’t just sit all day—because a little movement can help the healing process—but be careful not to overdo it. Too much activity too soon can stress your body and your incision and could cause a setback in your recovery.

Here are a few specific tips for easing back into things:

  • Start with walking. I usually recommend that my patients start with frequent, short, slow walks and gradually build up to longer walks at a faster pace. You can also go up and down stairs when you first get home, but do it slowly and carefully.
  • Don’t lift heavy items. Also, be careful to not to pick up anything too heavy. I advise patients not to lift anything heavier than their babies at first, and nothing that weighs more than 15 pounds until they’re fully recovered.
  • Avoid strenuous activities and housework. Of course, you can take care of your baby while you recuperate. It’s perfectly safe to pick them up, feed them, change them and play with them. But avoid more strenuous housework and chores, and don’t push yourself to do more than you feel you can handle.
  • Let others help. This is where others can pitch in. Don’t hesitate to ask for help. And if someone offers to do something for you, say yes. Your partner, family and friends can change diapers and bring the baby to you for feeding. They also can cook, clean, run errands, do yard work, receive visitors, and care for your other children and pets, if you have any.

Babying yourself a little

Besides taking care of your baby, you need to take care of yourself. In addition to getting plenty of rest, I recommend that my C-section patients be good to themselves with a few simple self-care steps:

  • Eat well-balanced, nutritious meals. If you can, eat several smaller meals every day. Healthy snacks also can help you keep your energy up.
  • Drink lots of fluids. Staying hydrated is important to your recovery. Limit the amount of caffeine you drink; stick to water and low-sugar fruit drinks.
  • Take time for yourself. Stepping away from the excitement surrounding a new baby, even for a few minutes
  • Talk to someone. Even if you had a trouble-free pregnancy, an uncomplicated delivery and a smooth recovery, you’ve been through a lot the past several months. You’re also recovering from surgery. It’s not unusual to feel overwhelmed. Sometimes simply letting your partner or friend is enough to make you feel better. If you feel you need more help, your doctor can help you find a counselor or other professional.  

Following up with your OBGYN

Your OBGYN will want to see you about six weeks after delivery to make certain your recovery is on track—your incision is healing, any bleeding has slowed and your cervix has closed. If everything looks good, you’ll be given the go-ahead to resume your usual day-to-day routine and ease into more strenuous activities, including exercise and intimacy with your partner.

But even after you’ve been cleared to resume life as normal, it’s important to be patient with yourself and your body, and allow time to heal. If you find you’re struggling, physically or emotionally, ask for help from your doctor or those close to you. Remember, your goal is a healthy baby and parent, no matter what type of delivery you had.

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About the author

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Egle Berzinskas, MD, is an OBGYN on the medical staff at Baylor Scott & White Medical Center – Grapevine.

C-section recovery: What to expect and how to help yourself heal