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how to recover from a caesarean

WHAT TO EXPECT AFTER A CAESAREAN

What to expect after having a caesarean: What is normal and our tips for managing your recovery period after an abdominal birth.

WHAT TO EXPECT DURING YOUR ABDOMINAL BIRTH RECOVERY

April is Caesarean Awareness Month, so we wanted to shed some light on what a caesarean recovery might look like and what you can do to help alleviate discomfort and speed your healing up. We hope you find this helpful and please share with a new mama who it might help. 

Caesarean or abdominal births account for 29.1% of first births – consisting of 18.2% emergency births and 10.9% as elective. Some women choose to have a caesarean or are recommended one because of health risks to them or the baby. Fun fact: In the 1800s Dr James Barry was the first to perform a successful caesarean section where both the mother and child survived – and it turns out Dr James was actually a woman who pretended to be a man to enrol in university!

Ultimately, it’s the mothers choice if they choose to have an elective abdominal birth and sometimes in our Western culture women are made to feel bad about this, but it’s about what’s best for her physical and mental health as well as her child. Plus abdominal birth is not the easy way out!  

It’s a common misconception that having an abdominal birth or caesarean delivery is the easy way out. It’s major abdominal surgery! Although the scar might be small and neat, your surgeon has gone through skin, fat, fascia, abdominal muscles, and they have taken out your organs before bringing your baby earth side. Most likely you’ll need more time to recover than you would after a routine vaginal delivery, and day to day life looking after a newborn can be tough.

  1. GET LOTS OF REST

Recovering from a caesarean usually takes longer than recovering from a vaginal delivery. You normally stay in hospital for 3-4 days after having a caesarean, compared with an average of 1-2 days for a vaginal birth. This is so the doctors can check that you are able to go to the toilet, manage your pain, get up and move around gently to name a few. 

When you go home, you’ll need to take things easy at first. If possible you want to give your body six weeks to fully heal post surgery, which can be pretty tricky when you have a baby demanding lots of attention. It’s a well touted piece of advice but try and rest when your baby does – especially when they’re really young.

Ask friends and relatives for help with diaper changes and housework so you can lie down when possible. Even a few minutes of rest here and there throughout the day can help.

2. BE GENTLE WITH YOUR BODY

Take extra care moving  around while you heal and the incision heals too. In the first few weeks avoid anything that is going to cause too much strain – ie running up and down stairs and lifting heavy things. 

This can be super hard, especially if you have a toddler who wants picking up but try your best to come down to them vs picking them up. However you do want to try and gently walk around, stand up tall so the scar doesn’t form adhesions. Breathing deep into the lower abdominal can help this too.

3. LOOK AFTER YOUR INCISION POINT

Keep an eye on your incision point and how it’s healing. Allowing air to circulate around the scar will aid the healing process as will wearing loose fitting clothes. Your dressing should be taken off about 72 hrs so it’s a good time to take a look in the mirror and maybe take a photo so you can notice how it heals.

Like with any wound you should gently bathe it daily, patting it dry or even using a hairdryer on the cool setting.  This will help you to keep an eye on any changes too. If it becomes extra sore, red or inflamed chat to your midwife and they can rule out any infection.

This general awareness and care of the sar can also help you to desensitize the scar so that after 6 weeks you can begin some gentle scar massage for 5 minutes or so a day. Not only does scar massage help with the aesthetic of the scar, but it also helps ensure no adhesions form in the deeper layers, which can affect the body’s movement patterns. Nessa Organics do some great scar massage oil.

In the early days you should try and protect your scar from internal pressure –  i.e when you sneeze or cough. If you hold a pad or a cushion to your tummy this can help. A cushion when feeding is a great idea too, so you can keep the wiggly feet away from your stomach, or hold your abdomen to protect the incision site.

4. DON’T SUFFER IN PAIN

For some new mamas the pain can be excruciating whilst for others it can be manageable. Everybody is different so ask yourself if the level of pain interferes with day to day life? If so speak out – if it can’t be managed with ibuprofen speak to your healthcare provider. Unmanageable pain isn’t normal and you should be as comfortable as possible to enjoy these first few weeks.

5. FOCUS ON GOOD NUTRITION

Good nutrition is just as important in the months after you deliver as it was while you were pregnant. Your body is in a state of inflammation and depletion so we want to replenish your nutrient stores. This will both help you combat inflammation in the body from the trauma of birth and also help you mentally. 

If you’re breastfeeding you are still your baby’s primary source of nutrition. Eating a variety of foods will keep your baby healthy and help you get stronger. 

Research shows that eating vegetables while breastfeeding imparts flavours into the breast milk that increase your child’s enjoyment and consumption of those vegetables as they grow! Also, drink plenty of fluids, especially water. You need extra fluids to boost your breast milk supply and to avoid constipation.

NORMAL THINGS TO EXPECT AFTER A CAESAREAN BIRTH

Bleeding

Bleeding after having a caesarean birth is completely normal – this is your lochia. It sometimes surprises people but it can last up to 6 weeks. Let your healthcare provider know if you have blood clots, but know that bleeding is normal.

Gas

  • It’s super common to get gas after an abdominal birth, which can be super painful. It can also show up in your shoulder!
  • If you experience this, a rocking chair can help to ease this, as does chewing fennel seeds. You can either chew 2/3 seeds after eating, or make a tea. Fennel seeds also help with milk production which is a bonus!

Pain on urination

  • If there is vaginal tissue damage you can place a non latex condom in the fridge and gentle place on your vagina to bring down inflammation. Also filling a bottle with water and camomile tea and squirting as you pee can help with stinging.
  • Then general advice for a caesarean is to never force and drink lots of water.

Constipation

  • Again drinking lots of water helps to soften the stool, as does prune juice. Use breathing techniques and avoid holding breath.
  • Elevating your feet so your bowels are in an optimal release position is also really good. We love Squatty Potties
  • Holding a pad on the scar can also help support you physically and emotionally when you go to the toilet too.

WHEN TO CALL THE DR

You’ll probably feel some soreness in the incision, and you may have bleeding or discharge for up to six weeks after the C-section. That’s normal. But the following symptoms warrant a call to your doctor, because they could signal an infection:

Also, call your doctor if you feel sad and your mood never seems to lift, especially if you have thoughts of hurting your baby.

Finally, if you have a friend or sibling who went through a caesarean, try not to compare yourself to them. Every woman’s experience with this surgery is different. Focus on your own healing right now and give your body the time it needs to heal. As always, if you’d like more support or advice contact us at hello@planet-mama.co.uk.