Recovering from a cesarean

After a C-section, you’ll experience many of the same post-partum symptoms as a mom who went through a vaginal birth – in addition to needing to recover from a major operation.

Mother lying in the bed and holding her baby boy.

It’s important that you take adequate time to rest and recuperate after giving birth. Here’s what you should do in the four to six weeks when recovering from a cesarean.

1. Take care of your incision

Gently wash the area with warm, soapy water every day. If your skin folds over the incision or your clothes rub against it, you can place a gauze bandage over it. Change your bandage daily. If you experience pain, prescription painkillers or over-the-counter pain relievers can help.

Maintain good posture at all times, and apply pressure to your incision when laughing, coughing or sneezing. Call your doctor right away if your incision becomes red, swollen or painful, or it starts oozing pus – these could be signs of an infection.

2. Don’t lift anything heavier than your baby

If you do, your incision could cause you more pain and take longer to heal. You should even ask your partner or another family member to help you lift your baby whenever possible.

3. Experiment with breastfeeding holds

You can start breastfeeding almost immediately after having a caesarean, but you may find that holding your baby across your belly is painful. You can minimize discomfort by placing a pillow over your incision or trying breastfeeding positions that don’t put pressure on your stomach, such as the football hold and side-lying hold. Ask a nurse or midwife to show you how to do them.

4. Rest and eat well

It’s not easy to get a lot of rest when you have a newborn, but try to lie down whenever your baby naps and accept as much help as possible. Resting will help you recover more quickly.

Eating plenty of nutritious foods will also keep your energy levels up.

5. Stay active

You’ll probably have to stay in bed for a day or so after the caesarean to let the epidural wear off and regain your strength, but after that you should try to walk a little bit every day.

Walking gets your blood flowing and helps prevent complications such as blood clots, pneumonia and constipation. But make sure you don’t overdo it – stay away from heavy housework or intense exercise until you get the all-clear from your doctor (and while you’re at it, ask them when you’re free to drive and have sex again!). In particular, avoid abdominal exercises such as sit-ups and crunches. You should be able to start exercising moderately six to eight weeks after the delivery.

6. Manage constipation

Constipation is a common problem after any abdominal surgery, so drink plenty of fluids, eat fiber-rich foods such as fruits, vegetables and whole grains, and take stool softeners if necessary.

7. Expect vaginal bleeding, contractions, and sore and leaking breasts

Just because you didn’t deliver vaginally doesn’t mean you’ll escape the four or so weeks of vaginal bleeding (lochia) as your uterus heals. It should gradually go from bright red blood to pink or brown discharge, and then become yellow or white. Wear sanitary pads and talk to your doctor if your discharge is heavy, smells funny or lasts more than a month.

You’ll also experience contractions (afterpains) in the first few days after the birth as your uterus shrinks (though it can take several weeks to return to its normal size). If they’re painful, take an over-the-counter pain medication. Once your milk comes in a few days after giving birth, your breasts could feel full and sore. Relieve the pain by breastfeeding (or wearing a supportive bra if you’re bottle feeding), taking hot showers, or placing ice packs or warm compresses on your breasts.