Childbirth is an exciting time. You finally get to meet the baby growing inside you for the last 9 months.
Yet, having a baby can be taxing on your body, especially if you’ve had a cesarean delivery, commonly referred to as a C-section. You’ll need more time to recover than you would after a routine vaginal delivery.
Here are six suggestions to help speed up your recovery so you can spend less time sore and tired — and more time bonding with your new baby.
A cesarean delivery (C-section) is major surgery. Just like with any surgery, your body needs time to heal afterward.
Expect to stay in the hospital for 2 to 4 days after your delivery. If there are complications, your stay will be longer. Give your body 6 to 8 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’s demanding lots of attention.
You’ve probably heard this advice from well-meaning friends and relatives: “Sleep whenever your baby sleeps.” They’re right. Try to sleep whenever your baby naps.
Ask for help from those friends and relatives 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.
Take extra care in getting around while you heal. Follow these tips:
- Avoid going up and down stairs as much as you can. Keep everything you need, like food and supplies for changing diapers, close to you so that you do not have to get up too often.
- Do not lift anything heavier than your baby. Ask for help from your partner, friends, or family members.
- Whenever you have to sneeze or cough, hold your abdomen to protect the incision site.
- It could take up to 8 weeks for you to get back into your normal routine. Ask your doctor when it’s fine 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 your baby to the world.
Your postpartum mental health
Remember that your mental health is as important as your physical health. Having a baby can bring up feelings you never expected.
If you feel sad, disappointed, anxious, or exhausted, do not ignore it. Talk about your emotions with a friend, your partner, your doctor, or a counselor.
Ask your doctor what pain medications you can take, especially if you’re breastfeeding or chestfeeding.
Depending on the level of your discomfort, your doctor might prescribe a pain reliever or advise you to take an over-the-counter (OTC) one, such as ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin) or acetaminophen (Tylenol).
In addition to pain medication, you can use a heating pad to relieve discomfort at the surgical site.
Good nutrition is just as important in the months after you deliver as it was while you were pregnant.
If you’re breastfeeding or chestfeeding, 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.
A 2017 study shows that eating fruits and vegetables while breastfeeding imparts flavors in breast milk that increase your child’s enjoyment and consumption of those foods as they grow.
Also, drink plenty of fluids, especially water. You need extra fluids to boost your milk supply and to avoid constipation.
Your body will continue to undergo physical changes even after your baby is born. Changes you might experience include:
- afterpains, a type of cramping that occurs as your uterus returns to its prepregnancy size
- breast engorgement, or swelling
- lochia, a type of vaginal discharge mostly made of blood
- vaginal dryness
- diastasis recti, or the separation of your abdominal muscles
- hair loss
- skin changes, like loose skin or acne
- night sweats
Some of these, like afterpains and lochia, will eventually go away on their own. Treatments and home remedies are available for some of the others.
Try the following:
- lubricants or vaginal creams made of estrogen for vaginal dryness
- exercises for diastasis recti or loose skin
- supplements and topical treatments for hair loss
- topical treatments, oral isotretinoin (Absorbica, Amnesteen, Claravis), or birth control pills for acne
- lightweight pajamas for night sweats
- OTC pain medications for headache
There are a variety of options to help you manage breast engorgement, like:
- a warm compress or warm shower
- a cold compress or an ice pack
- nursing to expel the milk
- breast massage during nursing
- OTC pain medications
The 12 weeks after your baby is born are sometimes known as the 4th trimester.
The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) recommends that people see their OB-GYN or another doctor multiple times during this period.
The first assessment should take place no later than 3 weeks postpartum. A comprehensive final visit should occur no later than 12 weeks postpartum.
During these checkups, you and your doctor will discuss topics like:
- your physical recovery
- your mental health
- your energy levels and how you’re sleeping
- how your baby is doing and their feeding schedule
- birth control and whether you’re considering having more children
- chronic condition management
- how you’re managing any pregnancy-related complications, such as high blood pressure
You’ll probably feel some soreness in the incision, and you may have bleeding or discharge for up to 6 weeks after the C-section. That’s expected.
However, 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°F (38°C)
- 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 or yourself.
Finally, if you have a friend or sibling who went through a C-section, try not to compare yourself to them. Every person’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 your normal.