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With all the joy that comes with birthing your baby, it’s so easy to forget that you need to recover from a c-section. In fact, I can’t say this enough: it’s so important to give your body a chance to heal after your c-section. Crucial, actually.
Not only are you now caring for a new baby who needs you for their survival, but your body physically needs to recover from major abdominal surgery. It needs to repair itself and you need to rest and give your body a chance to work its healing magic.
And while some women may recover sooner than others, there are some universal healing and recovery tips that can really help a mama out. Here are 15+ c-section recovery tips to help you heal and recover smoothly, mama.
1. Walk Soon After Birth
Many moms who have had a c-section suggest walking as soon as you are able after a c-section. You’ll have to wait until your spinal wears off and the nurse gives you the OK. But as soon as you can get out of bed, work on sitting to standing, and then standing to walk.
You can walk to the bathroom or just around the bed. It might be uncomfortable, so take it slow and have someone nearby to hold onto for support and balance. You’ll gradually want to increase the amount of time you spend walking.
Why is walking so important?
- It increases blood circulation, reducing the risk of blood clots.
- It helps with your bowel function.
- It helps your body’s ability to naturally heal.
2. Take Your Medicine
I know it’s hard to be a natural mom facing a c-section, but it’s smart to take the pain meds if you need them.
You will be facing a significant recovery, and you also need to take care of your new baby. That is a lot all at once. I know you can probably “power through”, but that doesn’t set your body up for success and proper recovery.
Without any painkillers, even just for the first couple of days, it may be harder than it needs to be. Chances are your doctor will prescribe you an anti-inflammatory medicine, such as ibuprofen, and a narcotic pain medication. You can just take it home with you, even if you have no intentions of taking it. Then, if you need it, the medication is there.
Whenever I’m prescribed medication that I have no intention of taking, I will fill the prescription and then put the medicine bottle in my bathroom cabinet behind something else so it’s not always right there when I open the cabinet door. At the very least, take it home with you and keep it on hand in case you need it.
It may also help to develop a medicine schedule. For example, you could take ibuprofen throughout the day to help with inflammation, and then take your narcotic at the end of the day, which is great if you’re super sore by the end of the day to make sure you can still sleep at night.
Remember: it is OK to take your pain medication if you need it.
3. Take Prenatal Collagen
Collagen is the most abundant protein in the body and it plays a key role in supporting skin and tissue health. Taking a prenatal collagen supplement offers numerous benefits during pregnancy and postpartum.
Not only is collagen a wonderful source of essential glycine and protein, but it can also help support your body through pregnancy and postpartum. This is especially the case when it comes to recovering from a c-section because collagen can help support wound healing. Taking a collagen supplement helps support blood vessel and tissue formation, which may help support your body and your wound as you heal from surgery.
If there is a best-kept secret to postpartum recovery, prenatal collagen is one of them!
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4. Keep Your Incision Clean and Dry
While looking at an incision may make you feel a little uncomfortable, it’s important to take care of it and check on it daily.
To keep it from getting infected, always make sure you clean and dry the area, and protect it from rubbing your clothing. One of my friends actually just used a pad over her incision so it didn’t rub with her clothing. You can also wear high-waisted c-section recovery underwear or a postpartum belly band to help with this as well.
You’ll want to make sure you don’t see any extra redness or unusual discharge. And, always follow the care instructions provided by your doctor.
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5. Take a Probiotic
You should also take a prenatal probiotic after a c-section. During and after the surgery, you are given antibiotics to help prevent the development of an infection. However, these antibiotics are so strong that they can destroy the healthy bacteria in your body as well. This can lead to thrush in your baby or vaginal yeast infection for you, or even just a general degradation of gut health.
A healthy gut leads to healthy bowel movements, proper nutrient production and absorption, and optimal digestion — as well as a host of other healthy functions in the body. It’s normal to struggle with bowel movements after surgery; things take time to get back to normal. Adding a probiotic can help move things in the right direction.
6. Drink Plenty of Water
Your body needs plenty of water to help with the healing process. Not only does water help to help reduce constipation, but it also helps support a healthy breast milk supply.
Without proper hydration, your body will also not be able to repair and heal itself as it ideally should. Plan to drink eight to ten 8-ounce glasses of water each day. If you are breastfeeding, you will need even more water to maintain you supply while also keeping your own body hydrated.
We live in a two-story house so I like to have two water bottles set up for each day: one for upstairs and one for downstairs. If you have a breastfeeding station set up around your house, keep one water bottle there. This helps reduce how many times I have to refill the bottle, and also means I don’t have to lug around a heavy water bottle in addition to carrying the baby around the house and whatever else needs to come along with you.
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7. Eat Nutritious Foods
Eating good, clean meals and getting plenty of nutrients is always essential, but it’s particularly important after surgery.
Eat warming foods such as soups, bone broths, cooked grains, and herbal teas. Add foods that contain plenty of vitamin C such as broccoli, peppers, and berries. These important nutrients support collagen production, a necessary protein that repairs body tissue.
8. Use a Pillow for Counter-Pressure
Here is one of my favorite recovery secrets: keep a small pillow with you and use it for counter-pressure on your abdomen if you need to cough, sneeze, or laugh. That’s right – laughing can be a little bit painful after surgery.
The muscles that were separated during surgery are also the muscles you use to quite a lot from standing and sitting to coughing and sneezing. Applying a pillow to your pelvic area will help provide support/pressure so it’s not as painful when you do use those muscles and help to reduce any discomfort in the meantime.
9. Make Sure You Don’t Lift or Run
For a few weeks after delivery, your doctor will likely advise that you not lift anything greater than the baby’s weight. Gradually, you can increase how much you lift, but remember that strenuous activity can cause incision problems and prolonged pain.
You also want to avoid other types of exercise like jogging, running, crunches, etc. You need to let your body heal and repair for several weeks (likely at least 6 weeks). Always ask your doctor before you begin exercising.
10. Consider Hiring a Postpartum Doula
Here’s a super awesome tip that not everyone knows is a possibility: think about hiring a postpartum doula.
Unfortunately, most women who have planned or expected c-sections never consider hiring a doula because they typically are not allowed in the operating room. Most hospitals only allow one support person into the operating room, and if you have a partner, it’s unlikely you’re going to boot them out for a doula.
But a postpartum doula is a hidden gem. She comes to your house and helps to take care of you during your healing process. She can help you make sure breastfeeding is going well, make some dinners, fold laundry, hold the baby so you can shower, or be your emotional support.
Seriously, having a hot cup of tea or a snack brought to you while you’re breastfeeding and asked how you are doing feels pretty good! If you do hire a doula, be sure to ask these important doula interview questions.
11. Ask for Help
Always remember to call on friends, family members, or your partner to do housework, cooking, and cleaning for you. Allow them to help and serve you, just like you would if you were in their position.
While you may feel fine, your body still needs to heal. You definitely shouldn’t be vacuuming or scrubbing the floors. Now is the time to rest and recover. Too much strenuous activity can lead to incision infections or other complications. (Just send them a link to my article on Rules for Visiting a Newborn Baby.)
12. Use Your Arms (Not Your Abdominal Muscles)
When you get up to move around, you’ll quickly realize your abdominal muscles aren’t going to get you anywhere comfortably — plan to rely on your arm and leg muscles.
If you have to get out of bed, roll over to your side and let gravity pull your legs down, and use your arms to sit you upwards. You can also ask your partner or whoever is home to help you get up slowly and safely.
13. Avoid The Stairs If Possible
Stairs are not your friend, but sometimes, they’re unavoidable. If you live in a two-story home, at some point, you’ll need to go up the stairs. My friends who have gone through c-sections all suggest trying to limit how many times you go up and down the stairs.
Try to station yourself on one level of the home as much as possible during the day. You can keep diapers, wipes, and extra baby clothes downstairs. If you have a bathroom on the main floor of your house, keep pads and postpartum recovery kit items there so that you don’t need to go up and down the stairs throughout the day.
When you need to take the stairs, do so slowly. Take your time, and if you need a pillow for counter-pressure, use it! It can help ease the discomfort.
14. Comfortable, Loose Clothes Only!
You might be excited to fit into your jeans again, but that doesn’t mean it’s time to wear them. In those first six weeks, you’ll want to avoid tight clothing, especially those that might rub against your incision. Some women like to wear loose dresses, high-waisted sweatpants, and loose tops.
15. Give Yourself a Massage
Postpartum massages are a way to reduce the appearance of your c-section scar. Massages can increase your blood circulation around your incision, bringing fresh blood and nutrients to the site, and encourage skin regeneration.
That said, definitely don’t massage the site immediately following surgery; it’ll hurt too much. Wait four to six weeks, and be sure to ask your provider if it’s safe.
Gently massage the site with or without oil. It can be safe to use chamomile or frankincense essential oils near your incision once it’s fully closed. Always dilute the essential oils, typically 10-12 drops per two tablespoons of oil; you can even use hydrosols to avoid having to dilute an oil.
16. Use Heat to Heal
Heat can help reduce the pain that comes with a c-section because it relaxes your muscles, increases blood flow around your incision, and dampens the pain signal.
It’s safe to use a hot water bottle, heating pad, or hot compress on your incision. Though if it makes your skin uncomfortable when it touches you, then it’s too hot.
Taking a bath before your incision is closed and healed is not a good idea. It can introduce bacteria to your incision site. Talk to your doctor and ask when you can be cleared to take a bath. Once you are, soaking or taking a postpartum sitz bath can help reduce discomfort and pain.
17. Rest As Much As You Can
I know it’s easier said than done, but resting contributes to your recovery. Surgery is emotionally and physically taxing, and your body needs to rest to allow time to repair. Rest also keeps your immune system healthy.
Remember that resting doesn’t necessarily mean sleeping or taking a nap (but both of those are awesome). It means doing anything that soothes and calms you. That might be drinking a cup of hot tea with a blanket and watching a good TV show. For me, it’s listening to a healing meditation or a sound bath on youtube. Try it!
18. Make Sure You Have Freezer Meals Ready
Prior to delivery, you might plan ahead and make some freezer meals that you can easily thaw/cook during the early postpartum weeks for quick and easy meals. It’s the healthiest way to eat (rather than solely relying on carry-out food). And don’t forget that freezer meals can even include healthy snacks or breakfast items, too!
Healing from your c-section takes time, and you can use these c-section recovery tips to make your life easier. Slowly, with time and patience, you’ll get back to normal and start to feel better!
More questions about c-sections? Read on!
How long does c-section pain last?
Your c-section pain will last for several weeks, but the amount of pain should improve over that time. For example, the peak of your c-section pain will likely be about 12 to 18 hours after surgery. This is when your spinal pain medication will wear off and you will begin to rely on regular pain medication given to you by your doctor.
Around the two-week mark, you should expect to feel substantially better, but you will likely feel pain when standing or walking for periods of time, and certain sitting or lying down positions may remain uncomfortable.
Around the 6 to 8-week mark most of your pain should subside.
How should I sleep after a c-section?
It can be challenging to find a comfortable sleeping position after having a c-section. After all, it is major abdominal surgery.
Sleeping directly on your back is often the most comfortable position for sleeping since it keeps pressure off of your incision. Keep in mind, when you wake up, you’ll gently swing your legs to the side and use your arms to sit up rather than using your abdominal muscles. If sleeping on your back just doesn’t feel right you can also try setting a few pillows underneath your head for more incline. Many moms find this position comfortable.
For some people, sleeping on your side is comfortable and it makes it easier to get out of bed in the morning (or when your baby needs you). It doesn’t put too much pressure on your incision, but note that it’s not always comfortable since your belly may rest more to one side at that angle. It’s all about trying different positions and seeing what feels best for you.
How long does it take for a c-section to heal internally?
It takes about 4-6 weeks to heal from a c-section. This includes your uterus, abdominal wall, and your skin. Sometimes it can take longer especially if you’ve had complications.
How do I know if my c-section is healing properly?
You should expect the color of the incision to go from a red color to a more faded pink color, and it should grow less painful and less tender over time. If you experience red coloring, discharge, or increased pain over a few days, your incision may not be healing properly, and you should contact your doctor.
Can I hold my baby after a cesearean?
Most women will hold their baby themselves after leaving the operating room, but typically, the baby will be held close to the mother by her partner or nurse while in the OR for a few minutes. While the doctors finish the surgery, nurses will do routine checks on the baby. Once you are wheeled out of the OR, and they determine that both you and the baby are in stable condition, you will get to hold your baby and breastfeed.
Does a c-section affect milk production?
If you have a c-section, it can take a little longer for your milk to come in, but not substantially so. In general, whether you have a vaginal delivery or a c-section, it can take 2-4 days for your milk to really come in. Just remember to keep your baby latched as often as possible to help your milk come in. And consult a lactation consultant if you have any questions about breastfeeding and/or your milk supply.
Did you have a c-section? What tips do you have for other mamas? I’d love to hear!