Recovering After a C-Section


This is a follow up post to the post I wrote about C-sections, The Reality of C-Sections.  While writing that post, the thought occurred to me that it may be helpful to share some tips and ideas that could help mothers recover from a C-section.  Some of these tips I learned first hand, while I was in my recovery period, and some I learned and heard about after the fact.   If you have any other tips or something that is not mentioned here that worked for you, please let me know and I’ll add it to the post.  If you have had a C-section, it can be a long process to get “back to normal,” so any ideas we can pass on to other mothers recovering from their C-sections, I am sure will be appreciated.  :-) 

  • Rest and Do Not “Over Do” It- I know this is easier said than done, especially since there is a new baby, but I believe, in general, this is THE most important factor in determining how fast your recovery time will be.  Not only have you just had major abdominal surgery, but you are caring for a brand new baby, whose existence depends on you right now.  The laundry, and housework can wait.  Give yourself permission to rest at least for a week, and not take on all the housework too. Focus on your baby- that will be tiring enough, without worrying about the housework.  Your body needs rest to heal properly. 

If you are finding it hard to do this, (like I did), pretend that you just had major abdominal surgery for any reason other than having a baby.  Pretend that you had to have a hysterectomy (which is very similar to a C-section).  Would you be up and trying to cook dinner?  Would you be stressed your towels weren’t washed, or your bathrooms weren’t clean?  Chances are, no.  You would forget about these tasks for a while, and would be resting.  More than likely, you would have your husband, friends, or other family members helping out.  That brings me to my next tip:

  • Let Others Help Out- Again, I know this can be easier said than done.  No one likes to admit that we need help, but the one time in your life where you will need help is after having a C-section with a new baby.  Let your husband cook dinner, and put away the laundry.  No, he won’t do it exactly like you do, but in the end, it will get done.  Or if you have a friend or family member nearby, and when they ask how you are doing (which they will) tell you need some help, or tell them it would be wonderful if they could come over and help with a small task.  Make a short list for them, so they know what you would like help with. This also ensures they won’t start cooking something for dinner, trying to be helpful, when your husband is bringing take-out home. 

It is hard to ask for help, but again consider if your friend just had a baby, and asked if you could help her with a load of laundry.  Wouldn’t you jump at the chance to help her out?  Most people want to help, and it makes them feel good and useful.  If they can’t do it, or don’t want to, they will find an excuse not to come over.  But I believe that would be an exception.  Besides, they are all dying to see your new baby, and if I have to throw a load of laundry in the dryer to see a cute new baby, no problem. 

Don’t forget that you can ask for help with the baby too.  Maybe you are just dying to take a shower, or grab a short nap.  If your baby is okay being held by someone else, ask them to come over for an hour.  Believe me, most people will jump at the chance to come over and hold your baby.  Having a few minutes or a shower in peace, is not being a bad mother- it is a necessity for you to keep going, and to heal.  Friends and family are wonderful and can help so much.  You only have to ask, and let them know a little help would be greatly appreciated.

  • Don’t Overdo It With Visitors- Didn’t I just suggest to have friends and family help out?  Yes I did, but there is a big difference in having a few trusted friends and family over who you know will help out with what you ask them to, say hi briefly, and be gone.  You will be wiped out from the surgery and taking care of a newborn.  Now is not the time to have your chatty Aunt Cathy over for hours, or all your college roommates.  There will be plenty of time for you to have extended visits with these family and friends.   You need time to rest and heal.  You can’t do that when you have a constant stream of visitors in your house. 

A few ways of keeping visitors to a minimum are, stay in your pajamas, get into bed,  or put a robe on when someone is coming by for a visit.  You can tell them that you were going to take a nap, and if they see you in your PJ’s, or even laying down in bed, or on the couch,  they usually will get the hint not to stay too long.  Another great suggestion is you can say your doctor advised you to rest, and not have visitors right now, so you can recover from surgery.  It is pretty hard for that insistent relative who has decided she needs to see your baby *right now* to argue with doctor’s orders.  I also had a friend who had her baby at home.   Her midwife put a sign on the door saying something to the effect while the family appreciates shorts visits, this is time for the family to bond, and for the mother to heal and rest.  It specifically asked that visitors stay no more than 10 minutes, and if you see something that needs to be done, it would be appreciated if you could do it. 

The point is, that it is your house, your body that needs to heal, and your baby.  You don’t have to play hostess right now.  You can call the shots, so to speak, on which visitors you take, and how long you would like the visits to be.  Don’t feel bad, guilty, or feel like you are being rude.  People who want to see you and your baby will understand you need to rest, heal, and bond with your baby now.  The baby will still be there in a week or two, or even three for them to visit.

  • Follow the Doctor’s and or Nurses Suggestions- This one may seem obvious, but because some of us (okay, me) think we know better, we may try to ignore some of the discharge instructions.  Obviously, the health-care providers have lots of experience and tips.  They are not telling you not to climb stairs to be mean and confine you to one area of your house.  There is a reason for the suggestions, and having learned the hard and painful way, the suggestions really are given to ease pain, and speed up your recovery.   

For me, it was driving.  I was told not to drive for at least ten days.  Ridiculous, I thought.  One night about a week after I was home, I really wanted to have some pictures of Ryan printed.  Joe was exhausted, so I told him I would hop in the Jeep (an automatic too) and drive the 3 miles to my closest Walgreen’s.  He reminded me I wasn’t supposed to drive.  I told him I would be fine.  BIG mistake.  I never knew you used the muscles that were cut during the C-section to drive, but you do.  Every time I hit the gas and brake, it hurt- a lot.  After I got home, I was very sore, and even during the next few days, it felt like I had stretched the muscles in the incision area, and they were very tender.  I learned that night there was a good reason I was told not to drive while I was healing- it hurt, and it was like taking five steps backwards with my body healing.

  • If You Have Stairs, Move What You Need Into One Area- Stairs can be excruciating to walk up right after a C-section.  I have 14 of them leading to my upstairs.  My bedroom, bathroom, and Ryan’s nursery are all upstairs.  Walking up and down the stairs killed me.  I thought my incision was going to rip open, with every step I took.  After two days of this, when I came home from the hospital, I sat down in the glider in Ryan’s nursery and told Joe I was staying right there.  I was NOT walking up and down the stairs anymore.  I had all of Ryan’s clothes, blankets, and diaper items right there in the room.  Joe would bring me water, and food.  Because of a technicality with our bed (it is very high off the ground), I could not climb up into it or get out of it, without intense pain.  So I slept in the glider for three nights as well.

Have your husband or all those friends and family who want to help, move your items on one floor for at least a few days so you don’t have to stress your incision by climbing stairs.  There may be cases where you have to climb stairs, but you will not want to make any trips up the stairs that are not necessary.  My baby’s room worked well for me, since all his items were there, it was pretty easy to “set shop” up there for a few days.  Joe just kept a monitor on downstairs, and whenever I needed him to bring me something, I just called him.  This may seem like a small point, but it will help your body heal.

  • Follow Your Pain Medication Instructions- I forgot often to take my pain meds.  It wasn’t like I was busy or anything with a new baby.  A nurse told me when your body has pain, then your blood pressure goes up and it will take more medication  and it takes longer to stop the pain, than if you had stayed on top of the schedule.  This was really true.  When I forgot to take my pain medication, it took more medicine and it took longer for the pain to stop.  When I took it on schedule, I virtually had no pain- there wasn’t time for the dosages to wear off.   

I didn’t like taking the pain medication and I know that contributed a lot to me forgetting to take it.  It was a big psychological block for me too.  I felt “sick” taking medication several times a day.  I tried to wean myself off of it for a few days, before I allowed myself to just take it. I had to tell myself I wasn’t sick, and I wasn’t going to be taking it forever, but for the time being, my body needed it to help control the pain, so it could heal. 

  • Have A Pillow Nearby You Can Hold Up Against Your Incision- I was sick to my stomach after my C-section, due to the anesthesia.  Throwing up after a C-section, is NOT fun.  It was the worst pain I have ever had in my life.  Coughing, and laughing after a C-section is not fun either.  More intense pain. 

After I was home, my aunt, who is a nurse, came to see me.  I told her how much it hurt when I coughed, sneezed, or laughed.  Actually, I was trying not to laugh to avoid the pain.  She told me to hold a pillow into the incision/stomach area.  She said that would help support the muscles in that area.  I tried it and it worked great!  It was a great tip- I only wish I had known about it when I was in the hospital.

  • Have Something To Prop Yourself Up In Bed With- While I was in the hospital, any time I wanted to sleep or rest, I could just hit the button on the bed, and it would adjust into a position I could be comfortable in with no pain.  After coming home, trying to lay down flat in bed was awful.  I needed to be reclined somewhat, but the pillows I had weren’t working.  Finally one of those reader pillows with the armrests to the sides, did the trick, when I was able to finally climb into bed and tolerate the pain. 

 Of course we didn’t have one, and no stores in our area had them, so my aunt saved the day when she brought me hers to borrow.  This was one of those things that I never even thought about, until I was faced with reality that I couldn’t lay down flat to sleep.

  • Eat Nutritious Food and Beverages- This goes without saying, but not only will you feel better if you eat nutritious and healthy meals, but your will be giving your body the best energy sources you can, to help it do its job of healing.  Drink as much water as you can, especially if you are breastfeeding. 

Eat as much organic everything that you can afford.  You can certainly have some treats if you feel like it, but the more nutritious food you supply your body with, the better and faster job it will do in repairing itself.      

  • Hire A Post-Partum Doula- If you have family and friends nearby, this may not be necessary.  But if you don’t, or don’t have anyone you feel comfortable with asking to help out, a post-partum doula can be a lifesaver and the best money you will spend.  PP doulas will come to your home and will follow up with you, see how you are doing, check on the baby, hold the baby, cook, clean, do laundry, and general housekeeping.  I think a PP doula services would come in very handy as well, if say you only had your husband to help out.  He will be tired too, will be adjusting to the baby, and trying to keep you happy.  A PP doula can help ease his work load as well, and give him a much deserved break. 

In my area, the PP doula’s will come in for as little as one hour a day, up to forty hours a week.  Even if you think you can’t afford a PP doula, in actuality, you might be able to for a few hours a week.  Keep in mind too, it isn’t forever- just until you have recovered enough to start taking on the chores yourself.  Different doulas charge differently, so it may be helpful to interview a few several weeks before your due date, so you can have someone in mind.  Even if you don’t have a C-section, a PP doula is wonderful.  Consider how much it would cost if you overdo it, and end up back in the hospital for a few days.  You would have to pay for a hospital stay again, and most doulas fees don’t come anywhere near what you would pay for a hospital visit.  A PP doula can help you manage tasks, and ensure you don’t end up over doing it. 

If you have an unplanned C-section, you may not have even thought of many of these tips or ideas, but hopefully you can incorporate as many as you can, depending how far along in your recovery you are.  However, if you know you have to have a C-section, do what you can before the C-section in terms of moving things in one area, lining up friends and family to help, etc. and it will make it that much easier and restful for you, and your family when you come home. 

I know first hand how hard it is to be out of commission for a while.  If you overdo it, you will be out even longer.  Allow yourself the time you need to feel better, and recover from your C-section.  You will feel better faster, and you will be a much happier and healthier mama for your baby.