Childbirth is an exciting time. You finally get to meet the baby who’s been growing inside of you for the last nine months. Yet having a baby can also be taxing to your body, especially if you’ve had a cesarean delivery (C-section). You’ll need more time to recover than you would have after a routine vaginal delivery.

Here are five suggestions to speed up your recovery so you can spend less time sore and tired, and more time bonding with your new baby.

1. Get Plenty of Rest

A C-section is major surgery. Just like with any other surgery, your body needs time to heal afterward. Expect to stay in the hospital for three to four days after your delivery (longer if there are complications), and give your body up to six weeks to fully heal.

That’s easier said than done. It’s hard to crawl into bed for hours on end when you have a baby who is demanding lots of attention. You’ve probably heard the advice from well-meaning friends and relatives: “Rest whenever your baby rests.” They’re right. Try to sleep whenever your baby naps. Ask those friends and relatives for help with diaper changes and housework so you can lie down when possible. Even a few minutes of rest here and there throughout the day can help.

2. Baby Your Body

Take extra care in getting around while you heal. Avoid going up and down stairs as much as you can. Keep everything you need, like diaper changing supplies and food, close to you so that you don’t have to get up too often. Don’t lift anything heavier than your baby. Ask for help from your spouse or a friend or family member. Whenever you have to sneeze or cough, hold your abdomen to protect the incision site.

It could take up to eight weeks for you to get back into your normal routine. Ask your doctor when it’s OK to exercise, go back to work, and drive. Also wait to have sex or use tampons until your doctor gives you the green light.

Avoid strenuous exercise, but do take gentle walks as often as you can. The movement will help your body heal and prevent constipation and blood clots. Plus, walks are a great way to introduce baby to the world.

Just as you take care of your physical health, don’t forget about your emotional health. Having a baby can bring up feelings you never expected. If you feel exhausted, sad, or disappointed, don’t ignore it. Talk about your emotions with a friend, your partner, your doctor, or a counselor.

3. Relieve Your Pain

Ask your doctor what pain medicines you can take, especially if you’re breastfeeding. Depending on the level of your discomfort, the doctor might prescribe a pain reliever or advise you to take an over-the-counter NSAID (Advil, Motrin) or acetaminophen (Tylenol). In addition to pain medicine, you can use a heating pad to relieve discomfort at the surgical site.

4. Focus on Good Nutrition

Good nutrition is just as important in the months after you deliver as it was while you were pregnant. If you’re breastfeeding, you’re still your baby’s primary source of nutrition. Eating a variety of foods will keep your baby healthy and help you get stronger. Research shows that eating vegetables while breastfeeding imparts flavors in breast milk that increase your child’s enjoyment and consumption of those vegetables as they grow!

Also drink plenty of fluids, especially water. You need extra fluids to boost your breast milk supply and to avoid constipation.

When to Call the Doctor

You’ll probably feel some soreness in the incision and you may have bleeding or discharge for up to six weeks after the C-section. That’s normal. But the following symptoms warrant a call to your doctor, because they could signal an infection:

  • redness, swelling, or pus oozing from the incision site
  • pain around the site
  • fever of more than 100.4 degrees Fahrenheit
  • bad-smelling discharge from the vagina
  • heavy vaginal bleeding
  • redness or swelling in your leg
  • difficulty with breathing
  • chest pain
  • pain in your breasts

Also call your doctor if you feel sad and your mood never seems to lift, especially if you have thoughts of hurting your baby.

Finally, if you have a friend or sibling who went through a C-section, try not to compare yourself to her. Every woman’s experience with this surgery is different. Focus on your own healing right now and give your body the time it needs to get back to normal.