Recovering from a C-section

C-section recovery Monday, November 26, 2018

Regardless of whether you deliver your baby vaginally or via a cesarean section (C-section), your body will need time to recuperate. If you end up having a C-section, there are important factors to consider.

One, this is a major surgery and may require longer for your body to recover. Two, recovery requires caring for your body and listening to the advice of your doctor. Finally, even with the best preparation, there may be postpartum situations that require a doctor’s help. Here’s what you need to know.

1. Understanding the surgery

Leading up to the C-section, your care team will prep you like any patient readying for surgery. For instance, you may get an IV line in your arm or hand, to receive fluid during the procedure, or have a catheter tube inserted to make sure your bladder remains empty. Just before surgery, you’ll receive anesthesia. Certain types put you to sleep; others simply numb the area affected.

During the procedure, the physician will make one cut, either up and down or sideways, through the skin and abdomen wall, and then another through the uterus. The baby will arrive via these incisions, and then everything gets closed with stitches or staples. For more details about the procedure, the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists website is a great resource.

Though C-sections are common—almost 32 percent of all deliveries in the U.S. occur by this method, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention—it’s still a major surgery, stresses Sue Moreni, MD, a clinical associate professor in the department of Obstetrics and Gynecology at UW Medicine. “It is a large incision and we do enter into the abdominal cavity,” she says. “We’re accessing the internal organs.”

Immediately following the surgery, you’ll go to a recovery room or hospital room to begin your recuperation. 

2. Healing after surgery

Internal healing takes at least four to six weeks. So, even if you feel better on the outside, there’s likely still more you can’t see that needs to bounce back. Keep in mind there are certain absolute no-nos following a C-section and some additional recommended precautions, explains Dr. Moreni. 

“We instruct patients not to do any heavy lifting. We say nothing over 10 pounds or nothing heavier than your baby for six weeks,” she says. In addition, no intercourse, tampon use, or generally anything entering the vagina, to avoid the possibility of introducing infection. 

For the incision site itself, less is more, she adds. “We ask patients not to scrub or soap their incision. The water can run over it and then they can pat it dry. Nothing should cover the incision.” 

Beyond that, don’t exercise until your doctor says it’s OK, and even then, go light. Dr. Moreni recommends walking, and only until your body tells you it’s enough. 

3. Calling the doctor

Certain circumstances require calling your doctor. In general, pay attention to your body.

“For any fever, you’d want to call the doctor. The origin can be any number of things. It could just be a cold or something totally unrelated, but for a fever in the postpartum period, we get concerned,” Dr. Moreni explains. “A fever is a sign of infection.” 

Heavy bleeding immediately following delivery is normal; continued heavy bleeding, soaking through a pad every hour, is not—particularly if the bleeding had slowed and then picked up again. The same goes for pain: Initially, pain is expected at the incision site but it should lessen. If it increases at any point, reach out to your care team. 

For more information about when to call the doctor and other facts about aftercare following a C-section, check out the American Pregnancy Association.  


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