C-sections are more common than you may think. Estimates suggest that 30% of babies are born via c-section, and these numbers appear to be increasing. But the procedure is only half the challenge. A part of what makes c-sections so difficult is the arduous recovery time.
Below, we review everything you can expect when recovering from a c-section. But what’s important to keep in mind is that everyone recovers in their own time, and that’s perfectly okay.
How Long C-Section Recovery Takes
The recovery after a c-section is often much longer than a vaginal birth. Although you’ll begin to feel better as the days go by, it can take between 6 and 8 weeks for your incision to fully heal, Cleveland Clinic explains. You won’t be able to do strenuous activities or lift heavy objects during this time.
It’s normal to go for your first postpartum check-up 2 weeks following the procedure. Your doctor will inspect the incision to ensure its healing properly. If you experience any of the following, contact your doctor sooner:
- Chest pain
- Excessive pain
- Heavy bleeding
- Visual changes
- Signs of infection
- Trouble breathing
- Swelling in the legs
- Abnormal vaginal discharge
If all goes well with your recovery, you’ll likely have your final postpartum check-up. If you have little to no pain and the incision is healing correctly, you’ll likely be given the go ahead to resume your normal routine.
Side Effects From A C-Section
After a c-section, it’s normal to experience a host of symptoms. The following symptoms don’t indicate there’s something wrong with your recovery. Rather, it’s simply a part of the process.
It’s normal to experience pain near your incision site for the first few days after a c-section. But this should gradually improve as the days go by. If it doesn’t or your pain becomes worse, it could be a sign of infection. Don’t hesitate to contact your doctor.
In general, you can manage any discomfort through over-the-counter pain medication. You may also find relief through a cold compress or heating pad.
Some women experience after-pains following a c-section, which may feel like minor contractions or menstrual cramps. This is a sign the body is compressing blood vessels in the uterus to prevent excessive bleeding.
You may experience more after-pains while breastfeeding since the body is releasing oxytocin.
As Mayo Clinic Explains, the body starts to shed the mucus membrane that lined the uterus while pregnant shortly after delivery. This will mix with blood, giving it a red hue. It’ll likely be heavy initially but will become lighter as the days progress. It may become waterier and transform from a pinkish brown to a yellowish-white.
Your breasts will likely be engorged following the c-section, which can make them feel tender and firm. Breastfeeding can help reduce engorgement, though it can make the baby more likely to have latch problems. Whether you’re breastfeeding or not, be sure to wear a supportive bra to alleviate discomfort.
This is a common side effect after delivery, whether you had a c-section or not. Pregnancy hormones cause the body to produce more hair, so as these levels return to normal in postpartum, you may notice increased shedding.
Postpartum hair loss is common in the first six months after delivery. Speak to your healthcare provider for options on how to manage it.
As your hormones return to normal, it’s common to experience mood fluctuations. You may feel the baby blues, which can include anxiety and crying spells in the first couple weeks after giving birth.
However, you may also experience postpartum depression. Look for symptoms like fatigue, irritability, lack of interest, and loss of appetite. Consult your doctor if it doesn’t resolve itself in the first few weeks following the delivery.
It’s more common for women who had a c-section to still look pregnant after delivery versus those who deliver vaginally. But you’ll begin to see a more rapid weight loss in the weeks post-birth, especially if you’re breastfeeding.
How To Care For Your Incision
You’ll be provided with instructions for how to care for your incision following the c-section. In general, you should change the bandage at least once a day. Change it more frequently if it gets dirty or wet.
Medline Plus explains that you should wash the incision with mild soap and water when changing the bandages. Be sure not to scrub it or this could irritate the wound. You shouldn’t soak the wound in water (including pools and bathtubs) until you’ve gotten the go-ahead. Your doctor will let you know when you can stop keeping the cut covered.
How To Speed Up Your Recovery
There are things you can do to ensure a successful and speedy recovery, including the following:
Get proper rest
Any sort of surgery is traumatic on the body, including a c-section. So, making sure you get enough rest is important for encouraging your body to heal.
You’ll likely spend 2 to 3 days in the hospital following the procedure but will need to take it easy for 6 to 8 weeks once you get home. Don’t be afraid to reach out to loved ones to help care for the newborn while you recover.
Don’t push yourself
Your doctor will give you a detailed list of things you can’t do after a c-section, including lifting heavy objects and driving. Usually, you’ll be instructed not to lift anything heavier than your infant.
When you have a newborn (and a chaotic house), it’s easy to want to do as much as possible. But pushing yourself beyond what you’ve been told you can manage will only prolong your recovery and can make it more difficult.
You won’t be able to drive, have sex, and exercise as normal immediately following the c-section. You’ll even have to hold your abdomen when you sneeze or cough to protect the incision. The bottom line is to follow your doctor’s guidelines closely.
Get gentle exercise
You’ll need to avoid strenuous activity after your c-section, but it’s still important to get some movement. Healthline explains it’s important to get gentle exercise – like a slow-paced walk – to prevent constipation and blood clots. Ask your doctor about what sort of movement is okay in your case and follow their recommendations.
For more information on what to expect after a c-section, we encourage you to speak with your healthcare provider. Remember, everyone’s experience is different, and it’s okay if you take longer than average to recover. All that matters is your mental and physical health are in the best place possible.
Sources: Mayo Clinic, Cleveland Clinic, Medline Plus, The Atlantic,
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