Childbirth does a number on your body, especially in the hygiene department.
Regardless of the type of birth you have, there’s a good chance you want to get cleaned up. But if you had a cesarean delivery (C-section), there are some things to keep in mind before your first bath.
It doesn’t matter if you have a C-section instead of a vaginal one — you’ll still have vaginal bleeding after delivery.
This is because the inside of the uterus has to heal in the area where the placenta was attached. Sometimes this comes as a surprise to people.
It’s OK to take baths if you’re still having vaginal bleeding, as long as you meet the other healing and timeline requirements we talk about below.
It’s important to be gentle with your skin in the weeks after a C-section.
The decision to submerge your body in water depends on the status of your incision site. In general, most people can take a bath about 3–4 weeks after a C-section — although you may be able to take a bath sooner, depending on your circumstances.
Heather Irobunda, MD, OB/GYN, says some people may be able to take a bath around 2 weeks after delivery.
“Most often, when you have a C-section, there are stitches under your skin that are dissolvable, so there’s no concern that there will be an issue with the internal healing taking place at 2 weeks,” she says.
By this time, Irobunda says the skin over the wound from the C-section should be healed over.
If you take a bath prior to 2 weeks, Irobunda says there’s a risk of introducing an infection to the incision.
“Infection can not only be painful and inconvenient, but it can also make the scar from your C-section heal worse and be more prominent,” she says.
However, it’s always best to consult with your healthcare provider if you have any questions or you’re not sure if it’s safe to get in the water. They’re the best resources for instructions on bathing.
The old 6-week rule
Providers used to tell all people to avoid taking a bath for at least 6 weeks after giving birth, regardless of the type of delivery.
Some doctors still stand behind this guidance despite no hard evidence for it, so be sure to talk to your OB about the reasoning if you receive this advice.
Jessica Madden, MD, medical director for Aeroflow Breastpumps, says the best way to cleanse the surgical area in the days after a C-section is to take showers with warm water, using a mild, gentle soap.
“You should clean the area gently by hand — rubbing or scrubbing with a washcloth or bath sponge can irritate your skin and impact healing,” she says.
Also, avoid applying the soap directly on the incision site. Instead, put a small amount of soap in your hands and lather. Then, use your fingers to clean the area gently. To rinse, allow the water to run over the incision. This is typically enough to rinse off the soap.
Hooray! You got the greenlight to soak in the tub. But before you do, check out these tips for your first bath.
Safely getting in and out of the tub
Before you take precautions for your incision site, you first need to be sure you can get in and out of the tub.
Even if your incision is healed, your strength may not be back to normal. If you don’t feel strong enough to support your weight getting in and out of the water, ask someone for assistance or wait until you’re fully recovered.
Choose the right bath product
Avoid any bath products that are too harsh as you would not want to irritate the area.
Instead, stick to a gentle, fragrance-free soap — you could even use what you use on your newborn. This strictly gentle rule also applies to lotions or moisturizers.
Aim for a lukewarm temperature
Use warm water rather than hot or cold. When you wash the incision site, be careful not to scrub it, especially with a harsh washcloth.
Let the water run over the site
Once your incision is healed, it’s fine to let the water run over the site. But you’ll want to make sure to avoid spraying water from a hand shower directly on the incision or pouring water over it.
Dry off with soft hands
When you get out of the bath, it’s important that you dry the incision thoroughly, so infections don’t occur. But you also need to be careful not to irritate the area. To avoid this, always pat down with a towel rather than rub across the incision site.
Once you get the all-clear to take a soak in the tub, do it! Taking a bath, especially during the postpartum period, is good for the body and the soul.
Here are just a few of the benefits of taking a bath after a C-section:
- A bath, even a short one, gives you time to yourself — something new parents definitely don’t get enough of.
- Warm water can help relieve sore muscles and promote relaxation throughout your body. Quiet relaxation is the perfect environment for mindfulness meditation.
- Taking a warm bath before bed may help you sleep, especially if you’re dealing with baby blues or postpartum depression.
- A sitz bath, which is a shallow bath with only a few inches of water in the tub, may help soothe soreness in the pelvic area. This may be helpful if you were in labor for a while before giving birth via C-section.
- If you have hemorrhoids, a sitz bath for 15 to 20 minutes can also help soothe pain and relieve itching and irritation. Just make sure to use warm water, not too hot or cold.
Before you take a shower or get into the bathtub, examine your incision area and take note of any signs of infection, which may include:
- worsening pain in the incision area
- increasing redness around the incision
- foul-smelling wound change
- any fluid draining from the incision
- green- or yellow-colored drainage from the incision site
- bright red bleeding from the incision site
- general malaise
Recovering from a cesarean section takes time.
Some people are ready for pre-pregnancy activities like taking a bath within a few weeks after the C-section. But for others, it may take 4 weeks or longer for the surgical site to heal.
The decision to take a bath comes down to the incision site. It needs to be well healed before submerging your body in the water. This includes no bleeding or signs of infection.
When the time is right, make sure the water is warm, use a gentle soap, and rinse instead of scrub.
If you have any questions or concerns about your recovery, talk to your doctor. They can help you determine if your body is ready for a bath.