What to Expect After a Cesarean

Pregnancy doctors, obstetricians, and surgeons at All About Women provide this free C-section recovery guide

When you're a new mother, your thoughts are likely with the child you've just brought into the world. Everything else seems trivial. The fact is if your child was born by cesarean section, you've just had major surgery.

While caring for your baby is paramount, you also need to care for yourself in some very important ways.

An estimated one in three women in the United States require a cesarean section delivery. These operations are fairly safe and straightforward, especially if you choose an experienced pregnancy doctor near you.

However, it's still important for mothers to know what to expect following this operation.

c-section recovery timeline

What is a Cesarean Section?

More commonly referred to as a "c-section" or "cesarean delivery," a cesarean section is a surgical operation that occurs when a surgeon cuts through the mother's abdominal wall to deliver a baby. C-sections are typically done when medically necessary such as when vaginal birth would put the life of the mother and/or baby at risk.

A few common reasons why cesarean delivery may be necessary include:

  • Obstructed birth
  • Preeclampsia (high blood pressure during pregnancy)
  • Breech birth
  • Placenta or umbilical cord problems
  • Prolonged labor
  • Birth defects
  • Twin birth

Cesarean section is a delivery method that has been used by obstetricians since almost the beginning of recorded history, and advancements in medical science continue to offer improved techniques and minimize the impact of this procedure. You are still, however, undergoing major surgery.

Browse our c-section recovery guide below to start preparing now for everything you'll need to know post-op.

c-section recovery guide from your Gainesville OBGYN, AllAboutWomenMD

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After C-Section: The First 24-48 Hours

Again, you've just had major surgery, so fatigue and pain are to be expected. Many women also report experiencing nausea for the first few hours. Depending on the composition of your epidural, you may have some itching.

Be sure to let your OB/GYN or attending nurses know about these symptoms so that they can give you medications to help alleviate some of your discomfort.

Some women also experience constipation following a cesarean due to the medications included in the epidural. You will likely be given a stool softener to help combat this, as straining with a fresh abdominal incision should be avoided.

Don't be squeamish when talking about this and other bodily functions. Your nurses will likely ask you very detailed questions about your urination, abdominal gas, and every other aspect of your digestive health.

A few hours after your surgery, your nurses will begin encouraging you to get up and walk around a bit. This may be the last thing you feel like doing, but it's important to follow their instructions. Movement might be painful and you will need to take care with your incision site, but lying in bed longer than necessary can cause your body to have far more difficulty once you actually do start moving around.

With your doctor's approval, you may be able to start eating within a few hours after delivery — it's vitally important you eat something nutritious as soon as possible. You should also be able to start breastfeeding immediately, barring any complications. In most cases, the bulk of your abdominal pain should subside within 48 hours. You will still need to limit physical activity and take care with your incision, but you should begin to feel a bit more like yourself within the first couple of days.

Post Cesarean: Days 3-5

Most women remain in the hospital for two to five days following a c-section. During this time, you should gradually regain your mobility and your pain will begin to subside, but you still need to take certain precautions. Strenuous movements, for example, can place undue strain on your incision site. Around day three, you'll be ready to shower on your own and generally become more mobile overall, but any heavy lifting or sudden movement should still be avoided.

If a sudden movement is unavoidable — for example, when you need to cough or sneeze — put your hand over your abdomen near the incision site and bend forward slightly to minimize the strain on your muscles.

Many women find it helpful to keep a pillow handy for these times, to further cushion the area and reduce strain.

Other normal symptoms you may experience in the days following a c-section include:

  • Afterpains (feel like menstrual cramps)
  • Breast swelling and sensitivity
  • Hair and skin changes
  • Fatigue and sadness (called the "baby blues")

After Returning Home From the Hospital

It may be a month or more before you are able to resume your previous activity level. During this time, you should continue to avoid heavy lifting and sudden movements. It's not yet time to pick up your exercise routine, and you'll need help around the house during the first few weeks.

You may also experience some vaginal bleeding and discharge for the first several days. This is normal. Use sanitary napkins rather than tampons to deal with this issue. Frequent urination is another expected symptom, and it's important that you not try to ignore the urge to urinate or "hold it in." Emptying your bladder can help prevent infections from occuring. Wait at least six weeks before resuming sexual activity, and only do so once you're physically comfortable with sex and with your OB/GYN's approval during the six-week checkup.

If you feel up to it, you can try doing some of these gentle exercises while recovering from your cesarean delivery:

  • Breathing deeply. Taking a few deep breaths can help prevent lung congestion caused by sitting or lying down for extended periods of time.

  • Shoulder circles. Sit up and roll your shoulders forward 20 times, then backward 20 times to help fight off stiffness.
  • Soft stretches. Put your back up against a wall and gently stretch both arms above your head. When you feel your stomach muscles contracting, hold for a few seconds and relax. Repeat this exercise up to 10 times per day.

Post-Cesarean Incision Care

After your c-section, you'll have an incision across your abdomen. Your OB/GYN and nurses will give you specific instructions on caring for the incision site. In general, you should be prepared to:

  • Watch the incision site for redness or swelling, and notify your doctor immediately if these warning signs appear.
  • Avoid clothing that may feel tight or binding around the abdomen. If you need to wear pants, choose a loose elastic or drawstring waist.
  • Regularly clean the incision area with peroxide, then apply antibiotic ointment and fresh bandages.

Long-Term Considerations

You'll likely have a permanent scar after undergoing a cesarean; however, in most cases, these scars are quite small and placed below the bikini line so that they may be easily concealed.

Beyond scarring, the only other significant long-term consideration relates to any future pregnancy. Your doctor will discuss options for future deliveries, which largely depend on the type of uterine scar and your specific plans. For example, your OB/GYN may recommend that any future children be delivered by c-section in order to minimize risk of the original incision reopening during vaginal birth.

Cesarean section is a delivery method that has been used by obstetricians since almost the beginning of recorded history, and advancements in medical science continue to offer improved techniques and minimize the impact of this procedure. You are still, however, undergoing major surgery.

Take care to follow your medical care provider's' instructions to the letter, and if you have any questions or concerns regarding the procedure or your recovery, don't hesitate to contact your OB/GYN.

Have More Questions? Talk to a Knowledgeable North Florida Pregnancy Doctor

Florida pregnancy doctors and midwives at All About Women provide the most comprehensive, and compassionate pregnancy care in Gainesville, Lake City and surrounding areas. Drs. Anthony B. Agrios and Joseph S. lobst, along with Certified Nurse Midwives Shelley Russell, Julie Rischar, support nurses and staff work to ensure the health and comfort of both you and your child. We're here for you every step of the way, and want you to be comfortable discussing any issue with us.

Don't just take our word for it. See what one of our past patients has to say:

Thank you so much for all you did during my pregnancy to ensure that Sophia came out as wonderful and healthy as she is. Having to be induced and then having it turn into a c-section could have made me completely miserable, but your willingness to take the time to go over everything made the decisions quick and easy. Thanks so much for everything!

To schedule an appointment in one of our North Florida clinics, or to just ask a question, please contact us today.

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