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Your roadmap to a supported c-section recovery

Zofishan Umair

Zofishan Umair

Zofishan is a journalist, humour columnist, and a mum who has survived nappy explosions mid-air. She has over a decade of experience writing for print and online publications and is currently working on her first book.
Created on Apr 08, 2024 · 12 mins read
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In 2021, 38% of women in Australia gave birth through a caesarian birth, commonly referred to as a C-section (AIHW).

Despite how common it is now, many women head into this major surgery without much info on the c-section recovery process; making them unprepared to tackle postpartum care once their little one slips out of the sunroof (if you know what we mean).

New parent life is enough of a leap without worrying about how to stick the landing mid-caesarian recovery.

This is how to make your c-section comeback one for the ages, so that you can heal faster, manage any plot twists, and care for your wound and your baby.

Immediate post c-section care

Postpartum care after a cesarean delivery starts in the recovery room. Regardless of whether you had an emergency caesarean or an elective one, you’ll find yourself in good hands with a trusted midwife or doctor.

Since a c-section is a major surgery, vitals like your blood pressure, heart rate, and bleeding will be monitored.

If you’re awake, you’ll be able to see and hold your baby straight away. Mums administered a general anaesthetic before surgery may find themselves in the recovery room until waking up, which usually takes about 30 to 60 minutes. Once you’re awake, you’ll be able to snuggle into your new baby – and good luck trying to let go.

Doctors even encourage skin-to-skin contact and breastfeeding your new baby. In case you can’t muster the strength (fair enough, you’ve been through a lot!), don’t worry – your partner or another support person can step in to assist.

Your baby can usually stay with you unless there are concerns about either of your health. However, right after birth, the medical team needs to clear your baby’s nose and mouth of fluids and assess your baby’s health. Some babies may also require some extra care or support from the medical team.

Managing your c-section incision

Ouch! While just the thought of an incision sounds painful, taking care of it in the early weeks is your top priority. Let your support network help to take care of your baby, while you take care of yourself.

Your incision will have a dressing or bandage and some doctors may require you to change it once a day. The area is water-tight 24 hours after your surgery so if you have a c-section, you can take your shower the next day. With stitches, staples, or glue, you can take off the dressing and shower.

Your doctor will share information on how to keep the area clean, how to change your dressing, different pain relief methods, and the signs of infection. These include redness or swelling around the incision or fluid leaking from the wound.

You’ll be asked to keep the area clean and gently wash it with mild soap and water (i.e. ditch the fancy-smelling scrubs). While you can enjoy a warm shower, take some time away from soaking in the hot tub or swimming until your doctor approves it. Usually, this is not until after a few weeks post-surgery. 

The first 24 hours

In the first 24 hours after your c-section, you’ll be navigating recovery, a new baby, and a bundle of emotions. Three birds, one stone,

If your caesarean delivery was done with an epidural, it’ll take a few hours before the feeling returns to your lower body. During this time, you won’t be able to walk or use the bathroom without help. You’ll likely have a catheter in place for several hours to assist with urination – there’s no room for pride as a new parent, that’s for sure.

Mums who are given general anaesthesia for cesarean delivery, on the other hand, may wake up feeling groggy, nauseous, or confused. These feelings are normal as the anaesthesia wears off.

For the parents that just want some time with their bub, many hospitals now offer what’s known as a gentle c-section. This is where the baby is delivered slowly, head first, before being placed on mum’s chest. You can discuss this option with your midwife when developing a birth plan.

Hospital stay duration

The length of your hospital stay after a c-section can vary.

Most women spend about 2 to 4 days in the hospital. This time allows for initial recovery, pain management, and the beginning of mobility exercises under the guidance of healthcare professionals.

Pain or discomfort is expected a few days after the surgery, but your midwife or doctor will prescribe strong pain medication to help you find some relief. Effective pain control makes such a difference to your recovery. Remember to communicate your feelings, pain levels, and any discomfort like nausea.

Right after the surgery, you’ll need to stay in bed until the effects of the epidural or spinal anaesthesia have worn off. With the help of midwives, you’ll then be encouraged to get out of bed. The drip in your arm and the bladder catheter are typically removed within the first 1 to 2 days post-surgery. While still in bed, you’ll be given breathing and leg exercises to help prevent complications like chest infections or a blood clot.

Breastfeeding after c-section

Breastfeeding after a c-section is possible and encouraged, but can come with some hoops to jump through.

One common issue is a slight delay in milk production after the baby is born. Lactation begins sooner after a vaginal delivery, so mums with a c-section might see a slight delay.

If you find that breastfeeding isn’t starting as quickly as you’d hoped, it’s important to ask for help to express colostrum. This early milk is packed with nutrients and antibodies essential for your baby’s immune system and development.

Breastfeeding tips and positions

When it comes to breastfeeding positions, comfort is key. Here are a few tips to make breastfeeding easier:

  • Place a pillow on your lap to cushion your wound and create a soft barrier between your incision and your baby. This can help reduce discomfort while breastfeeding.
  • Lying on your side to breastfeed can take the pressure off your abdomen and make it easier to rest while your baby feeds.
  • Try the “football hold,” where you hold your baby under your arm with their feet pointing towards your back. 
  • Use a nursing pillow for extra support.
  • Lactation cookies and bars can help increase milk supply.

If you’re finding breastfeeding challenging or if you simply want more guidance, don’t hesitate to ask for a lactation consultant. Most hospitals have lactation consultants available who can provide personalised advice and support for a successful breastfeeding experience.

Home recovery tips

Recovering from a c-section at home requires you to pay careful attention to your body’s needs and limitations. You can’t pour from an empty cup so make sure to get as much rest and sleep as possible. Accept any help offered and allow yourself to focus on your recovery as you bond with your baby.

  • Be sure to eat a balanced diet rich in fruits, vegetables, and protein to aid in your recovery. Add iron supplements to your diet to help with postpartum hair loss. Drink plenty of fluids to stay hydrated, especially if you’re breastfeeding; it helps with milk production, overall hydration, and prevents constipation.
  • Avoid lifting anything heavier than your baby for the first few weeks. This precaution helps prevent strain on your incision and supports healing. When you need to cough, laugh, or move, support your abdomen with your hands or a pillow to reduce discomfort.
  • If your incision was closed with staples, they’ll need removal within 3 to 7 days after your surgery. Stitches may dissolve on their own. Keep your wound clean and dry, and wear loose clothing to avoid irritation. 
  • Be vigilant for signs of infection, such as increased redness, swelling, pain, smelly discharge, or fever, and contact your healthcare provider if you notice pain or bleeding.

Your midwife or doctor will guide you on when to gradually start resuming normal activities. It’s important to listen to your body and not rush this process. If an activity causes pain or discomfort, give yourself more time to heal.

Nutritional needs for healing after a major surgery

Good nutrition is crucial for healing after childbirth and if you’re breastfeeding, you’re the primary source of nutrition for your baby.

A varied diet rich in fruits and vegetables can introduce new flavours to your baby through breast milk. It’s also important to stay hydrated, particularly with water, to support milk production and avoid constipation.

Protein is essential for tissue repair, so include sources like lean meats, beans, and legumes. Whole grains provide necessary energy and fibre, while healthy fats from avocados, nuts, and olive oil aid in recovery and your baby’s brain development. 

Don’t forget about calcium, especially if you’re breastfeeding, with dairy, fortified plant milks, and leafy greens being great sources. Balancing these nutritional needs helps with your recovery and sets a healthy foundation for your baby.

Physical activity and rest

Recovering from a c-section requires a careful balance of rest and gentle activity. Initially, expect a hospital stay of 2 to 4 days, with your body needing 6 to 8 weeks to fully recover. While it’s challenging with a newborn, try to sleep when the baby sleeps (cheesy advice, but true) to maximise rest.

Minimise using stairs and keep necessities close to avoid frequent movements. Avoid lifting anything heavier than your baby, and support your abdomen when coughing or sneezing to protect the incision site. 

Call on your friends and family for household tasks and caring for the baby, allowing you more time to recuperate.

Consult your doctor before returning to regular activities, including exercise and work, which usually take up to 8 weeks. However, some movement, like a gentle walk, can help aid recovery by uplifting your mood, preventing constipation and blood clots.

Emotional support and mental health

After a c-section, it’s common for your emotional and sexual relationship dynamics, including intimacy with your partner, to change. It’s normal to need time to feel ready for sexual activity again, and these feelings can vary greatly from one person to another. 

Some women feel positive about their c-section experience, while others feel disappointed, and struggle with complex emotions. Some women also feel sad, depressed, and even angry, especially if the surgery was unplanned.

Whatever you’re feeling, it’s valid.

Postpartum depression

Around 1 in five mums in Australia find themselves suffering from postpartum depression. That’s why it’s important to talk about your feelings with a trusted partner, friend, or healthcare provider. If you have thoughts of self-harm or are unable to function and have trouble caring for yourself or your baby, let your doctor know.

Just like physical rest, taking care of your mental and emotional health is integral to your recovery process. Reach out to friends, family, or a support line like Lifeline (call 13 11 14) for support.

Postpartum checkups and health monitoring

The American College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists recommends seeing your healthcare provider early on, with the first checkup by 3 weeks postpartum and a thorough visit by 12 weeks. 

These checkups cover your physical and mental recovery, sleep, baby care, future family planning, and managing any health conditions. It’s essential to attend these appointments to monitor your healing process and address any concerns.

When to call a doctor

Optimizing postpartum care starts with knowing what to expect and what requires immediate medical attention.

For example, after your c-section, it’s normal to have some soreness and bleeding. But, there are signs you shouldn’t ignore, as they might indicate a serious problem:

  • Redness, swelling, or pus at the incision, or increased pain there
  • Fever over 100.4°F (38°C)
  • Vaginal bleeding or bad smelling discharge
  • Swelling or redness in your leg
  • Trouble breathing or chest pain
  • Severe pain in your breasts
  • Ongoing sadness or thoughts of harming yourself or your baby

If you notice any of these or experience severe pain, blood clots, heavy vaginal bleeding, or any symptoms of postpartum depression, talk to your healthcare provider and seek immediate medical attention.

Impact on future pregnancies

Certain health issues or complications, like an abnormal heart rate or problems with the placenta or umbilical cord, make a c-section the better choice.

However, a cesarean birth, elective or emergency, can in turn impact future pregnancies and future births, increasing the risk of placental problems with each surgery.

Despite this, a vaginal birth after cesarean (VBAC) is often a safe option for many women with a previous caesarean section. But don’t leave your decision to a Google search (that can only go sideways), discuss any future pregnancy plans and birth options with your healthcare provider early on.

Vaginal birth after caesarean birth

When considering a “vaginal birth after caesarean” (VBAC), arm yourself with reliable information and statistics.

According to ‘The Royal Women’s Hospital’ and the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) (2022), “around 25% to 30% of women have a cesarean birth” indicating that VBAC is a significant consideration for many women in their subsequent pregnancies. 

The Royal Australian and New Zealand College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists emphasises the importance of the 6-week postnatal check as a crucial time to evaluate a mother’s physical and mental recovery after childbirth. This check is an opportunity to discuss the possibility of VBAC in a future pregnancy, assessing the risks and benefits based on the most recent delivery.

Thinking of your next birth?

For those seeking more personalised guidance, the Women’s Health Doctor Database provides a valuable resource for finding a women’s health doctor specialising in postnatal care and VBAC considerations.







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