c-section recovery
C-Section Postpartum Recovery

C Section Recovery Timeline and Tips

By Kayla Young

Okay, you made it through pregnancy and your cesarean section, your baby has arrived, and the next chapter of your life is about to begin. Even though you’re probably in the throes of endless feedings, diaper changes and night wakings, don’t forget to try to take it easy; a C section is major surgery after all.

There’s a good chance that you may have been too exhausted to absorb all the info your health care provider gave you about C section recovery, so we’ve rounded it up for you to read after your next power nap.

What should I have for my c-section recovery?

c-section recovery gear

✅ Pain medication

Talk to your doctor about what pain relievers you can take post-op. The hospital will likely send you home with some, but it’s always good to have extra pain medicine on hand. Stock up on over the counter pain relievers like ibuprofen (Advil) and acetaminophen (Tylenol) before the big day - you'll thank yourself later.

✅ Stool softeners or laxatives

Even though they are recommended all over the place, there isn't a lot of evidence to support stool softener or laxative use as being helpful after birth. That said, post surgery is not a time I'd want to be constipated so chat with your ob-gyn to see what they’d recommend to keep your bowels in check post-op. The combination of wonky hormones and pain medication can wreak havoc on your digestive system, making trips to the bathroom a literal pain in the ass. Don't forget to drink plenty of fluids to keep things moving along.

✅ Loose-fitting bottoms with a waistband that can sit above your C section scar

You may also want to continue wearing your maternity clothing during recovery.

✅ Underwear that won’t rub against your C section scar

You may want to opt for some regular ol’ granny panties that sit nice and high. There is also underwear designed specifically to be worn during C section recovery, as they provide extra support and reduce irritation to the tender spot on your abdomen.

✅ Postpartum girdle or binder

This isn’t about looking slimmer. Some of the potential benefits of wearing a postpartum girdle include a reduction in post-op pain, posture and abdominal support, possible help with healing diastasis recti, helping the uterus shrink back to size, and protecting your incision site. You can find some great picks here.

Also, check out Nesting Days carriers – the band keeps your baby high and adds some gentle compression.

✅ Maxi pads

I hate to break it to ya, but even if you have a cesarean delivery, it’s pretty likely you’re going to have what feels like the longest period of your life complete with heavy bleeding and menstrual cramps. You won’t be able to use tampons, so stock up on maxi pads. And on that note, some disposable underwear that you don’t have to worry about bleeding on are definitely a good idea. Frida even makes disposable postpartum underwear and Bodily makes a fantastic C-Section Recovery Box.

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, staples 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 To Massage Your C-Section Scar
How To Massage Your C-Section Scar

How do I know if I have an infection or complication?

Some signs of infection to watch for include:

  • 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).
  • Painful urination.
  • Foul-smelling vaginal discharge.
  • Difficulty breathing.

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, the recovery timeline for this major abdominal surgery is about 6 weeks. Of course, this will vary from person to person.

What activities do I need to avoid during recovery?

⚠️ Driving

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 ensure 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.

⚠️ Strenuous work

Now we’re talking! You’ve got a legit medical reason to let the dust bunnies live another day.

⚠️ Having sex

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.

⚠️ Strenuous exercise

So like, no Crossfit or marathons for a while.

What can I do to help with C section recovery?

C Section Recovery Timeline and Tips

✅ Walking

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.

✅ Rest

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.

Do C-section scars go away?

In a word, no. Your scar will fade over time, and there are creams and patches that you can buy to try to minimize the appearance of your scar. The good news, however, is that the majority of C-section scars are what are known as “bikini incisions”, which are about six inches long and located so low that a pair of low-rise panties will cover them up. It's pretty low so most people won’t have a clue the scar is even there.

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 and anxiety are no joke and deserve just as much attention as wound care.

Do you have any tips when it comes to C section recovery?

We’d love to hear them in the comments!

Our next reco: Ten Things You Should Know About Having a C-Section

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