Isn’t there some kind of user manual that comes with all this mothering stuff? What section lists all the c-section recovery tips?
I hear you. Those were my thoughts exactly.
First they gave me major abdominal surgery, then they handed me a newborn…and then they DIDN’T give me a user manual. They might as well have given me the keys to a stick shift car while they were at it!
I know I’m a rockstar and all… but even rockstars have agents and stage managers helping them along.
That’s why I’m writing this.
Those days in the hospital can be such a whirlwind—not every recovery tip may have made it out of your doctor’s mouth and into your ears. Planned or unplanned, emergency or non-emergency, all c-sections have something in common: They are major abdominal surgeries, and they require a recovery period.
So, here it is, ladies. Your C-Section Recovery User Manual.
As for that other “user manual” on baby care, check out our article Everything a New Mama Warrior Needs to Know About Baby Care.
5 C-Section Recovery Tips
for While You’re Still in the Hospital
Those first few days in the hospital will set the trajectory for your healing journey.
Tip #1: Get Moving…But Not Too Much
Ask your nurses what needs to be “checked off” before you can be discharged from the hospital, and do those recovery steps as soon as you can, while still taking it easy.
Their list may look something like this:
- Remove catheter (you didn’t want to go home with that did you?)
- Get up and walk on your own (a small thing that’s a big deal)
- Remove the IV from your arm
- Poop (Yes, it’s on their list)
C-section recovery is so attractive.
Tip #2: Get the Low-Down on Your Incision
Ask what they used to seal the incision, inside and out.
This information is important because staples, glue, and stitches/sutures each have different risks and benefits.
For example, wounds closed with sutures have a 57% lower rate of complications compared to using staples (which result in the highest chance of infection). If you have an allergic reaction to whatever was used, it would be good to know what to avoid in the future.
Also, it’s a good idea to ask whether your doctor used a single or double uterine suture. While there are pros and cons to each, a double suture is generally preferred—especially if you are hoping for a VBAC (vaginal birth after cesarean) in the future. (Better yet, decide which you’d prefer beforehand and make it part of your “in case of c-section” birth plan.)
Tip #3: Get the (Literal) Inside Scoop
Since he was poking around in there anyway, it’s a good idea to ask about anything the doctor noticed during surgery that might be good to know for future pregnancies.
Such as the…
- Position of your uterus
- Presence of a uterine window
- Shape of your pelvis
Tip #4: Keep Your Incision Site Clean
Your nurses should give you clear instructions on keeping your incision clean. In case they don’t though, just make sure to take showers during your recovery period (no baths till your doctor gives the green light). Use a cleansing bottle and some soap so you can clean the area without scrubbing (scrubbing is a definite no-no). Proper cleaning will help you avoid infection.
Not sure what an infection might look like? Keep reading. I’ll get to it in a little bit!
Tip #5: Use an Abdominal Binder
An abdominal binder wraps around your waist kind of like a corset and is amazing for a few reasons:
- Provides much-needed muscular support to the abdominal tissues.
- Keeps your stitches in place. (Moving stitches aren’t a good thing.)
- Helps you move more comfortably and with less pain.
- Promotes faster healing by keeping everything in place.
Unfortunately, not all hospitals offer them as standard procedure. If your hospital doesn’t provide one, you can ask for one specifically, or pick up your own abdominal binder and have it delivered straight to your home, so it’s waiting when you get home! Even better, order it ahead of time and throw it into your hospital bag.
4 C-Section Recovery Tips
for Managing Your Pain
Newsflash: It hurts when someone cuts you open and pulls out a human being.
A C-section typically involves a longer (and more painful) recovery period than a vaginal delivery. Which makes these pain relief techniques your new best friends.
Tip #6: Don’t Skip Your Drugs
From one c-section recovery mama to another, let me give you this very important piece of advice: keep your prescriptions filled, and use them on schedule.
If you’re ready to stop taking narcotics, you can ease off gently by alternating taking Tylenol and Advil. (If you can only take Tylenol every 8 hours, take a Tylenol, then wait 4 hours and take an Advil, then 4 hours later Tylenol, etc. etc.)
If you’re breastfeeding, remember that a mom who is in too much pain to take care of her baby would be worse for him than some medicine in his breastmilk. Studies have shown that these medicines are safe for breastfeeding mamas to use.
Tip #7: Embrace Aromatherapy
Even if you’re a skeptic, it’s worth trying, right? (Besides, your house will smell heavenly!)
Tip #8: Laughter is
the Best Medicine Painful
For the first couple weeks, laughing and coughing, while being great for your lungs and your well-being, will be so painful for your incision. Keep a pillow handy to press against your incision site when you sneeze and cough—and be sure to use that abdominal binder!
Tip #9: Two Words: Granny. Panties.
Granny panties are the new beautiful. After you graduate from using the mesh underwear from the hospital (congratulations!), you still probably won’t want a strip of elastic digging into your incision (shocker, right?).
Panties like these will provide the comfort and protection you need without making you actually look like a granny.
3 C-Section Recovery Tips
to Fix Your Plumbing
Gas. Constipation. Major abdominal surgery will wreak havoc on your digestive system. The sooner you can get back on track, the better.
Tip #10: Conquer Your Constipation
First of all, drink a TON of water. Like a gallon a day. (Using a good dishwasher safe water bottle like this one is a must-have to keep you drinking!)
If you struggle with constipation normally, get ahead of the problem by taking try stool softeners, eating a high-fiber diet, and slipping in some magnesium supplements towards the end of your pregnancy (and postpartum).
All these things will help *ahem* move things along. Check out our postpartum constipation article for more ideas. Yes, we have a whole article about it, because, as Karen says, “friends don’t let friends have poop babies.”
Tip #11: Restore Your Gut Health
Pick up a high-quality probiotic to get your gut back to optimal health after your surgery and all those antibiotics the doctor has you taking.
You may also want to try probiotics for your baby—a c-section can mess with his gut health, too. Especially if your baby seems fussy after birth, probiotics can really help with colicky refluxing newborns
Tip #12: Get Rid of the Extra Gas
Major abdominal surgery can and will fill your belly with gas. Get Gas-X.
5 C-Section Recovery Tips
to Pamper Your Scar
These are your battle scars, Warrior Mom. They should be honored and treated with care.
Tip #13: Watch for Infection
If you see any of these signs of infection on your incision, call to see your doctor right away!
- Redness of your incision
- Swelling of your incision and surrounding area
- Pain at the incision site that does not improve with time
- Fever over 100.4
- Stinky pus discharge
If you have these symptoms, don’t panic! Infected incisions are fairly common and easy to treat. Just be sure to call up your doc right away—it’s important to catch an infection early so it can be treated with the necessary medication.
#14: Use a Healing Ointment or Oil
Once your incision is sealed, you can try some ointments to help your skin heal faster. Here are several that actually work.
- Correct-X is an all-natural essential oil ointment that worked wonders on my scar.
- Farewell Scars contains myrrh and helichrysum essential oils to reduce inflammation and promote healing and cell regeneration. (Bonus: they give part of their profits to help end human trafficking.)
- Mederma Quick Dry Oil is formulated to improve the appearance of scars.
- Aloe vera is known to accelerate the healing of wounds.
- Honey has antibacterial and anti-inflammatory properties.
Tip #15: Boost Your Collagen
If you want lips like Angelina, look elsewhere. I’m not talking about Botox. Collagen is the body’s most abundant protein and is critical in healing your scar well.
Tip #16: Massage Your Healed Scar
FIRST notice that I said “healed” scar! Do not start massaging your scar until it is completely healed! Open wounds are not the goal here.
The goal is to make the layers of your skin un-stuck once they’re healed. Move along your scar with the pads of your fingers. Then massage any “stuck spots” according to these directions.
Tip #17: Protect Your Scar
Be nice to your tummy! It’s had a rough time lately!
Think of ways to protect the scar area. Wear cute dresses instead of pants. If you’re breastfeeding, try the football hold or Heather’s favorite “secret” position that takes pressure off your abdomen.
5 C-Section Recovery Tips
for Your Sweet Mental Health
Not only are you busy getting to know a new family member, keeping her alive, and attempting to catch up on sleep—you are also recovering from major surgery. You absolutely must take care of yourself. And I don’t want to hear any ifs, ands, or buts about it!
Tip #18: No Working Allowed
If ever there were a time to accept that you can’t do it all and let people help you, this is it. Have friends sign up on MealTrain.com to bring hot homemade meals and healthy snacks to you and your family for the first few weeks. Hire someone to take care of the cleaning and laundry. And, by all means, let others do all the heavy lifting!
If you are a snacker, but worry about all those accidental calories, consider signing up for a trial membership at Naturebox. They will mail you a smorgasboard of healthy snacks you don’t have to feel guilty over (or go to the store and buy).
Click here to give Naturebox a try and get 3 FREE snacks with code GET3 at checkout.
Tip #19: Grieve if You Need To
Many c-section mamas are disappointed by their birth experience. If that’s you: I’m so sorry. I understand what it’s like to have emotional scars much deeper than your physical scars. I wish I could sit and cry with you and listen to your story.
Listen, sweet mama: It’s ok to be sad and it’s ok to grieve that your childbirth experience wasn’t what you were hoping for. It’s ok to feel happy and sad at the same time.
While I’d love to chat more on this topic, I’ll instead encourage you to start with these three things on your journey toward emotional healing:
- Watch this video for a better understanding of traumatic births.
- Read this article written by my dear friend Chelsea, who also had a disappointing birth experience.
- Write out your story. Grab a journal and recount all the details and how you felt about them. It may take time. It may be really hard to do. But it will be such a healing experience.
Tip #20: Watch Out for Postpartum Mental Illness
If your birth story was traumatic, you could also experience post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Please talk to your doctor right away if you think you might have PPD, PPA, or PTSD. He can help you.
These conditions affect many women (up to 34% of births are described as traumatic for moms, and as many as 20% of moms have PPD), so you won’t be alone.
Tip #21: Find Your Local ICAN Chapter
ICAN is the International Cesarean Awareness Network. My local ICAN group played a huge part in supporting me during my c-section recovery and helping me have an empowered birth experience with baby #2.
Tip #22: Consider Using a Postpartum Doula
A postpartum doula can help with everything from breastfeeding support and newborn care to meal prep and sibling care. Ask around in your area (your ICAN chapter leader should know of local doulas), or do a quick search in the DONA (Doulas of North America) directory.
This can be especially helpful if you don’t have family in the immediate area to help out!
3 C-Section Recovery Tips
to Develop Better Overall Habits
After the initial recovery, continuing to develop good habits will be key in making your body strong and healthy again.
Tip #23: Restore Your Core
Pregnancy, labor, and abdominal surgery can all mess with your core muscles. Take a few minutes to see if you have a diastasis recti (separation of your abdominal muscles). Once you’re cleared to exercise, start by working your deep core abdominals and pelvic floor.
BONUS TIP: Helpful reader Nissa suggested in the comments to “…see a physical therapist who specializes in postpartum pelvic care. When I finally did (after 4 months of debilitating pain) my PT told me that 80% of her clients are C-Section mamas. We so often get overlooked!”
Tip #24: Eat Healing Foods
Somehow it took a while after my unplanned c-section to realize that, since a c-section is a major surgery, any typical post-op medical advice also applied to my postpartum recovery.
Lean protein, probiotic yogurt, fruit, veggies, and nuts are great post-op foods for keeping you strong and healthy in the long run.
Tip #25: Be Kind to Yourself
Pregnancy. C-sections. The sleepless newborn phase.
All of these things are hard. Motherhood is hard.
Remember to give yourself grace. Treat yourself kindly. Would you treat a friend the way you are treating yourself? If not, lighten up on the self-criticism.
Don’t forget! You were willing to have major surgery for the sake of your baby. It was the among the first of many selfless acts of love you will give as a mom. You are a rockstar!
Go Forth, Heal Fast, and Be Awesome!
The aim in this article is absolutely not to add more stress to your recovery.
If this list just overwhelms you, please ignore me. These ideas are meant simply to help you have complete healing from your surgical birth.
Because these things don’t come with user manuals. Outrageous!
What was your c-section experience like? Which of these ideas do you want to try? Is there anything you’d add to the list?
Share your c-section story in the comments.
Have You Read These Yet?
15 Things You Should Expect When Maternity Leave Ends
I know it’s hard to think about. Trust me, knowing these things AHEAD of time makes it easier!
10 Hilarious Things About Childbirth Worth Laughing Over
Warning: Only read this AFTER you’ve experienced childbirth.
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Natural Ways to Help a C-Section Recovery. WellnessMama.com
8 Natural Tips for Recovering from C-Section Surgery. UniversityHealthNews.com
10 Ways to Improve Your Recovery After Surgery. VeryWell.com
C-Section Incision Closure – Staples, Stitches, or Glue? Worry-Free-C-Section.com
Do You Know these Manuka Honey Uses? UniversityHealthNews.com
The Importance of Massaging Your C-Section Scar After It Has Healed. MakingMomStrong.com
Bone Broth Benefits for Health. WellnessMama.com
Emotional Scars After C-Section Birth – 7 Common Challenging Emotions. BellyBelly.com.au
Childbirth Outcomes and Postpartum Depression: Are They Linked? PostpartumProgress.com
The Facts About Postpartum Depression. PostpartumProgress.com
In addition to being a wife, stay-at-home mom, and regular writer here at Mighty Moms, Christi does freelance graphic design work, and manages her Etsy shop. She also enjoys photography, fine art, spending time with family and friends, being organized, chocolate, reading, and being outdoors. Get to know her better!