When you’ve found out you’ll be having a C-section before delivering, your first two questions you have are “how long is the C-section recovery?” and the second one might be “What does the timeline look like?”
Many people wonder what they can expect, and how bad the pain will be, and what the side effects they’ll experience through C-Section.
While every situation is different, in this guide, we’re giving you a general rundown of the C-section recovery timeline.
C-section recovery: What to expect
Pregnancy and delivery cause major changes in your body. From abdominal pain to mood changes, here's what to expect during C-section recovery.
If you're planning a cesarean delivery or you want to be prepared in case you need to have a C-section, you might have questions about the recovery process. How much discomfort will you experience? What breastfeeding positions might work best for you? Understand how to take care of yourself and your baby during C-section recovery.
Treat your C-section incision with care
During the C-section recovery process, discomfort and fatigue are common. To promote healing:
Take it easy. Rest when possible. Try to keep everything that you and your baby might need within reach. For the first couple of weeks, avoid lifting anything heavier than your baby.
Seek pain relief. To soothe incision soreness, your health care provider might recommend ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin IB, others), acetaminophen (Tylenol, others) or other medications to relieve pain. Most pain relief medications are safe for breastfeeding women.
Look for signs of infection
Check your C-section incision for signs of infection. Contact your health care provider if your incision is red, swollen or leaking discharge.
Experiment with breastfeeding positions
You can begin breastfeeding almost immediately after the C-section. Breastfeeding positions that work well during C-section recovery include:
Football hold. For comfort, put a pillow along your side and use a chair with broad, low arms. Hold your baby at your side, with your elbow bent. With your open hand, support your baby's head and face him or her toward your breast. Your baby's back will rest on the pillow and your forearm. Support your breast in a C-shaped hold with your other hand.
Side-lying hold. Lie on your side and place your baby on his or her side, facing your breast. Support your baby with one hand. With the other hand, grasp your breast and touch your nipple to your baby's lips. Once your baby latches on to breastfeed, use one arm to support your own head and the other to help support the baby.
For support or breastfeeding information during your C-section recovery, contact a lactation consultant.
Manage other postpartum signs and symptoms
While you're recovering from your C-section, remember that you're also recovering from pregnancy. Here's what to expect:
Vaginal discharge. After delivery, you'll begin to shed the superficial mucous membrane that lined your uterus during pregnancy. You'll have vaginal discharge made up of this membrane and blood for weeks.
This discharge will be red and heavy for the first few days. Then it will taper, become increasingly watery and change from pinkish brown to yellowish white.
Contractions. You might feel contractions, sometimes called afterpains, during the first few days after the C-section.
These contractions — which often resemble menstrual cramps — help prevent excessive bleeding by compressing the blood vessels in the uterus. Afterpains are common during breastfeeding, due to the release of oxytocin. Your health care provider might recommend an over-the-counter pain reliever.
Tender breasts. A few days after birth, your breasts might become full, firm and tender (engorgement) once they begin making milk. Frequent breastfeeding on both breasts is recommended to avoid or minimize engorgement.
If your breasts — including the dark circles of skin around the nipples — are engorged, latching might be difficult for your baby. To help your baby latch, you might hand express or use a breast pump to express a small amount of breast milk before feeding your baby. To ease breast discomfort, apply warm washcloths or take a warm shower before breastfeeding or expressing, which might make milk removal easier. Between feedings, place cold washcloths on your breasts. Over-the-counter pain relievers might help, too.
If you're not breastfeeding, wear a supportive bra, such as a sports bra. Don't pump your breasts or express the milk, which will cause your breasts to produce more milk.
Hair loss and skin changes. During pregnancy, elevated hormone levels increase the ratio of growing hair to resting or shedding hair. The result is often an extra-lush head of hair — but now it's payback time. After delivery, you'll experience hair loss up to five months after delivery.
Stretch marks won't disappear after delivery, but eventually they'll fade from red to silver. Expect any skin that darkened during pregnancy — such as dark patches on your face — to slowly fade as well.
Mood changes. Childbirth triggers a jumble of powerful emotions. Many new moms experience a period of feeling down, anxious or inadequate, sometimes called the baby blues. Symptoms include mood swings, crying spells, anxiety and difficulty sleeping.
The baby blues typically subside within two weeks. In the meantime, take good care of yourself. Share your feelings, and ask your partner, loved ones or friends for help.
Postpartum depression. If you experience severe mood swings, loss of appetite, overwhelming fatigue and lack of joy in life shortly after childbirth, you might have postpartum depression.
Contact your health care provider if you think you might be depressed, especially if your signs and symptoms don't fade on their own, you have trouble caring for your baby or completing daily tasks, or you have thoughts of harming yourself or your baby.
Weight loss. After your C-section, you might look like you're still pregnant. This is normal. Most women lose 13 pounds (6 kilograms) during birth, including the weight of the baby, placenta and amniotic fluid. During your recovery, you'll drop more weight as your body gets rid of excess fluids. After that, a healthy diet and regular exercise can help you return to your pre-pregnancy weight.
The postpartum checkup
The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists recommends that postpartum care be an ongoing process rather than just a single visit after your delivery. Contact your health care provider within the first 3 weeks after delivery. Within six to 12 weeks after delivery, see your health care provider for a comprehensive postpartum evaluation.
During this appointment, your health care provider will check your mood and emotional well-being, discuss contraception and timing of future pregnancies and review information about infant care and feeding. Your provider also will talk about your sleep habits and issues related to fatigue, and do a physical exam. This might include checking your abdomen, vagina, cervix and uterus to make sure you're healing well. In some cases, you might have the checkup earlier so that your health care provider can examine your C-section incision. Use this visit to ask questions about your recovery and caring for your baby.
How do I care for my incision?
Your doctor will give you information on how to take care of your wound and how often to change your bandages. Generally speaking, it’s important to keep your incision dry and clean. You can wash it daily with warm, soapy water.
Your incision will either be closed with stitches or sutures. Some sutures will dissolve on their own over time, so you won’t need to have them removed. You may be given antibiotics to prevent or treat infection.
What is C section massage?
Something I wish I had heard about sooner is C section massage. By gently massaging your healed C section scar, you can help to prevent scar tissue at your incision site from adhering to other tissues and organs around it. It’s common for C section moms to develop adhesions on their colon, ovaries or between their bladder and uterus. This can cause issues down the road such as low back pain, frequent urination, painful intercourse, and pelvic pain. You also might end up with a lop-sided “shelf” of skin above your scar.
The sooner you can start massaging your scar, the better; even if you’re a year or two post-surgery, you can still massage your scar, but you’ll have to really work at it and the results might not be as good when the scar is mature. Ask your doctor or an osteopath about C section massage, and read up on how to do it here.
How do I know if I have an infection or complication?
A fever with a temperature between 100.5ºF and 103ºF. (38ºC - 39.4ºC)
Redness or swelling at your incision site.
Discharge from the wound (keep in mind, you may not be able to see your incision, since it takes a while for your uterus to shrink back to size. If you can’t get a good view of your incision, have someone else keep an eye on it for you).
Worsening or persistent pain at the incision site.
The following symptoms are also signs of complications:
Severe lower abdominal pain.
Leg pain or swollen legs.
Large blood clots.
Excessive bleeding (having to change your pad within an hour).
Foul-smelling vaginal discharge.
If you recognize any of the above symptoms, be sure to seek medical care.
How long does it take for a Caesarean scar to heal?
Generally speaking, it takes about 6 weeks to fully recover from a C section. Of course, this will vary from person to person.
What activities do I need to avoid during recovery?
Apparently there are no hard and fast rules on when you can get behind the wheel again, but you can definitely talk to your doctor first. (I think the reasoning is because if you have to quickly slam on the brakes to avoid a collision, it can open the wound). Also, you may want to check with your insurance provider to make sure that you have coverage when driving post-op.
Lifting anything heavier than your baby in their car seat
This means no lifting older siblings – which is easier said than done when your toddler throws a fit in Target. It’s still worth mentioning because, practical or not, it can affect your recovery.
Now we’re talking! You’ve got a legit medical reason to let the dust bunnies live another day.
Even if you haven’t had a vaginal birth, you still need to give your body time to heal. Talk to your doctor about when it’s okay to get back to business and don’t be surprised if the first time is a little painful.
So like, no Crossfit or marathons for a while.
You might be surprised to find that your nurses will probably have you up and walking around about 24 hours after your surgery. Those first few steps can be pretty daunting, but walking is a great activity to help with the healing process. It also helps to tackle blood clots and constipation.
I know you’re going to laugh at this one because it’s such a “no shit” suggestion (and also hilarious because… how?), but try to rest as much as you can. This means saying no to visitors you don’t have the energy for, not apologizing for taking naps, and letting someone else do the dishes so you can get some shut-eye.
Hold it together
Support your incision site when sneezing, coughing, or laughing by holding it or putting a pillow against it.
Place a heating pad on the surgical site to relieve pain.
Do C section scars go away?
C Section recovery is different for everyone
Reading this may seem a little overwhelming at first, but try to take your recovery one day at a time, and accept support from people you trust who offer it. The healing process is different for everyone, so don’t beat yourself up if your recovery is longer or more challenging than those of other C section moms you know. If you’re having a tough time emotionally, don’t forget to reach out. Postpartum depression is no joke and deserves just as much attention as wound care.
P.S. Do You Have a Fetal Doppler?
Do you know you can listen to your baby’s heartbeat while she’s still in the womb? Fetal doppler is a handheld device that picks up the sound of your baby’s heart beat and amplify it through a speaker. Many parents say that the fetal dopplers provide bonding and a level of reassurance.