Recovering from a C-section is a bit more complicated than recovering from a vaginal delivery. Here's what you need to know about the hours, days, and weeks after a Cesarean birth.
The Recovery Room
Immediately after your C-section, you’ll spend a few hours in the recovery room. How long depends on the type of anesthesia you received. Your vital signs will be monitored and your incision checked often, as well as the firmness of your
uterus. If you’ve had general anesthesia you may fall asleep and wake up off and on. If you received regional anesthesia, you’ll probably stay in the recovery room until you can feel your legs and wiggle your toes again.
Recovery Room Chills
It’s not unusual to feel cold after surgery, as the anesthetic might make it hard for your body to regulate temperature. But there’s no reason to be uncomfortable. Ask nurses for heated blankets while you recover. They’ll help you relax and keep you toasty warm while the anesthesia wears off and until your body gets over the shock of surgery.
Reactions to Anesthesia
You may feel nauseated for a day or two after the surgery. Ask about medications that may relieve the nausea. You might also feel itchy from the anesthetic or narcotics. Again, don’t just suffer. There are meds available that can relieve the side effects until they work their way out of your system.
In the recovery room and afterward, you’ll be asked to do deep breathing exercises and cough, to eliminate the buildup of fluid in your lungs. You can make coughing easier by holding a pillow to your incision.
Getting Out of Bed
Walking after a C-section will be difficult, but it’s also important. It may feel like your insides are going to fall out (they aren’t!), but these tips might make it easier:
- Always have help the first few times you get up to avoid falls
- Take it slowly, even just a few steps, several times a day
- Try to stand as upright as possible
- Splint the incision with a pillow to make it feel more stable
- Don’t watch the floor. Aim for a chair or table and watch that
Catheters and IVs
Likely with your C-section, you’ll have had a catheter inserted to drain your bladder. This will stay in place until you’re fully recovered from the anesthesia and can urinate on your own. If it’s painful to urinate after the catheter is removed, ask the nurses for suggestions.
IVs, too, will remain in place for some time after the surgery. You may have a PCA (patient-controlled anesthesia) pump to deliver pain medications after surgery, so the IV will need to stay in for that and for delivery of fluids while you recover. Once these are all removed, it will be easier to move around.
Just like with a vaginal birth, your uterus needs to shrink back down to normal size. During this time, you’ll experience what seems like a heavy period of bright red blood, called
lochia. Be prepared with heavy-flow pads at home, as this may last four to six weeks. You should not use tampons at this time to prevent infection. With activity, lochia will often increase. Don’t overdo it and ask your doctor if you have questions.
Gas buildup in the abdomen can be very painful after a C-section. You’ll be encouraged to walk within about 24 hours after the procedure, which will help relieve the gas. Other things you can do are to avoid carbonated beverages, drinks that are too hot or too cold, drinking through a straw, or eating gas-producing foods. If you’re still having difficulty with gas pains, ask your doctor for advice on how to relieve it.
Breastfeeding may take a little longer to get initiated after a Cesarean delivery, both due to your own anesthesia and the anesthetic effects on the baby. But it’s still important to bond with your baby, and introducing him to the nipple will get him interested faster. In the hospital, ask to talk to a
lactation specialist, who can show you how to best hold the baby to keep from putting pressure on your sore abdomen.
In the hospital, your incision will be checked often for redness, drainage, or separation. If you have staples or non-absorbable stitches in your skin, these will likely be removed before you leave the hospital and Steri-Strips applied in their place, which will fall off on their own. Absorbable stitches will have been used in the deeper tissues and will dissolve without further attention.
At home, you’ll need to monitor your incision for infection, too. It may start to itch as it heals, but that’s normal. Your incision could be painful for up to a year after surgery or damaged nerves could result in permanent numbness to the area.
In the hospital, you may receive pain medications before your anesthesia wears off and you may have a pain pump to control your own pain relief. This will be removed before leaving the hospital and you’ll be switched to oral medications.
You may not like the idea of taking pain medications if you’re breastfeeding, but the less pain, the more likely you’ll get up and move, which will speed the healing process. Talk to your doctor about choosing medications that will minimally affect your infant.
Once home, you’ll have to take it easy. Your energy and activity levels will improve daily, but don’t overdo it. “Moms need to remember that a C-section is a major surgery,” says Dr. Andrew Blechman, an OB-GYN at Jersey Shore University Medical Center. “They will need to rest, with no lifting or exercise so that the body can heal. We don’t want her stitches to open. She should not drive while taking pain medication because we don’t want her reflexes to be impaired. Finally, she shouldn’t have intercourse because we don’t want her to get an infection.” Other restrictions may include only showering (no baths) and not using tampons or douching.
Getting back to a normal diet will help with any gas or bowel issues caused by the surgery. The better your nutrition, the faster you’ll recover. “I encourage my patients to eat a high-protein diet, take vitamin C, continue their
prenatal vitamins and
iron to speed healing,” says Dr. Blechman. Eating well and getting plenty of liquids and rest will help restore your normal energy level more quickly, too.
At home, you’ll need to keep an eye out for complications. Contact your doctor if you have any of these symptoms:
- Fever, which may be a sign of infection
- Increased vaginal bleeding or passage of very large clots
- Bleeding, pus, redness, or swelling of your incision
- Pain or cramping in your legs or arms or swollen, red or hot skin (can be a sign of blood clots)
Emotions After Surgery
Just as your body needs to recovery after surgery, so do your emotions. You may have mixed feelings about delivering by Cesarean, especially if you had envisioned the “perfect birth.” Rest assured that whatever you are feeling is perfectly normal. Concentrate on the fact that you have a beautiful healthy baby and talk out other feelings with close friends or family. Be sure to tell your doctor if you find yourself feeling more than mildly blue after delivery.
Symptoms of postpartum depression include feelings of despair, sleep difficulties, tearfulness, or thoughts of wanting to hurt yourself or others. The Edinburgh Postnatal Depression Scale (EPDS) is an efficient way of identifying new moms at risk for postpartum depression.
Most doctors will want to see you 10 to 14 days after surgery to check your incision for healing, then again at about six weeks. At this time, you may be released from many of your activity restrictions if there are no problems and your energy level is back to normal. Don’t worry, though if it takes many months to feel like your old self.
Giving birth is not a magical time machine that instantly returns you to your pre-baby body.view gallery
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