Tips for healing after a cesarean (c-section) delivery

Healing after a cesarean (c-section)

Every C-section is different. Recovery may take longer when someone has a C-section as an emergency procedure. Infections, problems with the incision, and underlying health problems, such as diabetes, may also make recovery times longer.

The most important thing a person can do to recover more quickly is to talk to their healthcare provider. They should ask lots of questions about what to expect, then follow the recommendations they receive.

People can speed up their recovery from a C-section with the following methods:

1. Get plenty of rest
Rest is vital for recovery from any surgery. Yet for many new parents, rest is nearly impossible with a newborn in the home. Newborns keep irregular hours and may sleep for only 1 or 2 hours at a time.

People should always try to sleep when the baby sleeps, or get help from a loved one so they can take a nap.

It is easy to feel overwhelmed by chores or to want to entertain visitors. But giving up sleep to put away dishes or keep the house clean can be damaging to someone’s health. It is more sensible to try to sleep as much as possible.

2. Ask for help
Newborns are demanding. Caring for a baby after major surgery can be exhausting, and it is not possible for all new parents to manage this alone. Ask for help from a partner, a neighbor, family, or a trusted friend.

People may benefit from lining up a meal train or a schedule of visitors who can watch the baby while they rest or take a shower.

3. Process your emotions
Giving birth can be an emotional experience for all involved.

Women who experience emergency deliveries or traumatic births, as well as those who have cesarean deliveries they hoped to avoid, may have to process difficult emotions about the birth.

These new feelings can make the transition to parenthood more difficult than it is for others, and can trigger feelings such as guilt and shame.

Many people benefit from getting help with processing these emotions.

Talk to a partner, friend, or therapist. Getting early support may help reduce the risk of postpartum depression and can help women experiencing postpartum depression to get quicker treatment.

Consider joining an in-person postpartum support group. 

4. Take regular walks
Lifting and intense aerobic exercise are out for the first few weeks of recovery. As an alternative, walking can help with staying fit and maintaining good mental health.

Taking a walk also reduces the risk of blood clots and other heart or blood vessel issues. Some new parents like walking with other new parents as part of a group, or meeting up with a neighbor to push their babies in their strollers.

5. Manage pain
There is no need to be in pain while struggling with all the other demands of new parenting. People must take the pain relievers prescribed by their doctor. If they do not work or if the pain gets worse, they should contact a healthcare provider for advice.

6. Watch for signs of infection
Some doctors will ask new parents to take their own temperature every 24 hours to monitor for signs of infection. People can consult with their doctor or midwife to ask if this is a good strategy.

Also, people must be mindful of other signs of infection, such as swelling, intense pain, red streaks coming from the incision, or chills. Contact a doctor or go to the emergency room if these symptoms appear.

7. Fight constipation
The combination of hormonal shifts, weaker stomach muscles, and spending lots of time lying down can lead to constipation. Severe constipation can be painful, and straining can injure the C-section incision.

Drink plenty of water and ask a doctor about taking a stool softener. Eating plenty of fiber-rich foods, such as fruit and vegetables, can help to prevent constipation.

8. Get support for breastfeeding
Having a C-section is linked to a higher risk of breastfeeding difficulties. A lactation consultant can help new parents successfully breastfeed, even when they face obstacles, such as separation from the baby after birth. If breastfeeding is not going well, people should ask for help.

If a new parent is in pain, sitting in a comfortable, supportive chair and using a breastfeeding cushion, or nursing in a laid-back, reclining position can make breastfeeding easier.

9. Seek help for long-term issues
Some women experience long-term pain after C-section. Others experience muscle weakness, incontinence, or depression. These issues are common, and people should not feel ashamed if they have these experiences. Nor is there any need to suffer in silence.

If symptoms continue after the final postpartum appointment, a new mother should contact a doctor or midwife. They may then receive a referral to a specialist or be offered tips for resolving symptoms at home.

When to see a doctor

A doctor can offer advice on treating anxiety or depression following a C-section.

After a C-section, people should call or see a doctor if they experience the following:
  • intense uterine cramps
  • uterine cramps that go away and then return
  • difficulty urinating
  • frequent headaches
  • anxiety or depression
People should go to the emergency room if they experience:
  • bleeding that soaks through more than one pad or tampon per hour for more than 2 hours
  • signs that the incision has ruptured, such as bleeding or oozing from the incision
  • thoughts of harming themselves or their baby
  • intense calf pain, especially if accompanied by swelling or numbness in the feet
  • shortness of breath
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