What to expect from a C-Section: Recovery Tips & Complications

This is a guest post from Darla Lee, who has had TWO c-sections, one planned and one not planned, and can related to moms experiencing postpartum recovery in the form of c-section recovery, and she’s sharing her wisdom here today! 

Are you a mom who had the intention of having a natural or vaginal birth, but things took an unexpected turn? Or are you a mom who’s just undergone a planned c-section?

If you fall into the first camp, dealing with the emotional resentment can be difficult because you weren’t able to successfully have the vaginal birth you envisioned. IF you fall into the 2nd camp, you might have been better prepared to deal emotionally, but that doesn’t make the physical postpartum c-section recovery journey any easier! 

I can relate to the emotional disappointment of an emergency c-section, because things weren’t going as planned. The anger towards your body for letting you down. And the recovery pain you felt after everything was done just adds insult to (very real) injury.

I tried everything to follow my birth plan so I could experience an easy postpartum recovery, but in the end, I still had c-sections, and had to learn to recover from a c-section. 

(No shade to the moms who opt into a scheduled C-section – that was just not my goal.)

By sharing my experiences, I hope to pass on some truth and tips to support you in dealing with c-section recovery, and make the process a little easier. 

Realted: Postpartum Hacks (to make life easier!)
Related: The BEST Postpartum Advice from Mom’s Who’ve Been There

My Birth Story

I have had three different birth experiences.

My first Leo, 10, was an emergency C-section caused fetal distress (9 lbs, 10 0z). I had labored for 12 hours, dilated to 9 centimeters, and pushed for 30 mins. I was beyond disappointed when I was told that I need to have a C-section. Not only was I not mentally prepared for the procedure but my husband was not allowed in the room due to the urgency.

My second Dest, 4, was a successful natural VBAC (yes without any interventions). I was sure my labor was stalled with my son because of the epidural, so this time I was not taking any chances. The recovery was much easier, and the pain was more bearable.

And my third Leg, 6 months, was a planned vaginal birth that ended in yet another cesarean since she was 5 days overdue despite early preparation and attempting every trick found on YouTube, and Pinterest!  I also developed an infection which caused the incision to take 12 weeks to heal. Talk about the worst case scenario.

So, I know EXACTLY how hard C-section recovery really is and the complications that come with it!

Quick Cesarean Section Facts

According to the CDC, there are about 1.2 million moms each year having a cesarean section. That represents 1/3 of deliveries. Since there seems to be an increase in C-sections, it’s especially important to know what to expect and how you can recover from a c-section surgery.

The American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists identified several possible complications following a cesarean section:

  • Infection
  • Blood loss
  • Blood clots in the legs, pelvic organs, or lungs
  • Injury to the bowel or bladder
  • Reaction to medications or to the anesthesia that is used

Let’s make our lives easier and reduce the possibility of complications by following these C-section recovery tips.

C-Section Recovery Tip #1 At The Hospital

More than likely you will be relaxing in the hospital for three to four days. When my doctor asked if I wanted to leave early, I said no thanks. Not only did I need the time to heal but I didn’t want to go back to the real world. I enjoyed being pampered and not dealing with household responsibilities while sitting in my PJs all day.

Here are some C-section recovery tips you can use while still at the hospital:

After the first 24 hours, you will eat mushy food. If you try to eat too soon you may get sick from the anesthesia ( at least I did, trying to be greedy).

  • TAKE ADVANTAGE of the nurses and getting assistance while you can, who doesn’t love food delivered and snacks to right to your bedside.
  • DRINK CONSTANTLY. You need to flush your system so drink cranberry juice and plenty of water.
  • KEEP MOVING  It might sound painful, but the more you walk, the better you will feel.
  • TAKE PRENATALS & Consume a lot of healthy proteins, iron, and vitamin C to help fight potential infection.

C-Section Recovery Tip# 2 Take Your Prescribed Medications

There were times when I didn’t take my medicine because I was breastfeeding and didn’t want the baby to be medicated. But honestly, the pain of the incsion, bending down to use the bathroom, rolling over or anything that consists of moving was PAINFUL and not worth the anguish.

So don’t beat yourself up for taking your meds as prescribed by your doctor.

You’re a mom who just went through surgery and now have to care for a little baby. You owe yourself kindness and relief from pain!

C-Section Recovery Tip #3 Keep Your Wound Clean

All incsions are not created equal.

My first C-section scar below my bikini line was thin and barely noticeable. I had no complications and recovery was simple.

For some reason, my last C-section incision was a bit longer and was not the prettiest to look at and let’s face it: You’ve come out of childbirth as Cardi B says “ your body is broken” And having a C-section wound adds to the overall process of postpartum recovery.

Here’s how to promote scar healing: WebMD states,

“Don’t use skin cleansers, antibacterial soaps, alcohol, iodine, or peroxide. They can damage the skin in the wound and delay healing. Also, don’t put on any lotion, cream, or herbal product unless you’ve checked with your doctor first.”

C-Section Recovery Tip #4 Avoid Doing Too Much

You can easily fall into depression and anxiety after a cesarean section so try to take it easy, so you are not doing too much.

GETTING REST is a must. I know this is hard when you have other small children and trying to recover.

Besides, you can’t just stop being a mom to the other children. (Although I tried). But, your other kiddos still need to eat, want attention and need assistance with things.

So, if you can…GET HELP.

My husband stayed home for a week, and he cooked, did laundry, took the kids to school and sporting activities. We wanted their lives to remain consistent as much as possible.

Once he went back to work, I had to take the kids to school, while I put other typical day-to-day chores on hold. We ordered takeout or ate food that was prepped before I went into surgery.

I am all for teamwork and sharing the load to help maintain a  schedule and balance.

C-Section Recovery Tip # 5 Get a Waist Trainer

I kid you not everything from getting out of the bed to walking is painful. What really helped me was a girdle. Find out if your hospital can provide free girdles to help support your stomach muscles.

It definitely made simple things like going to pee easier because lord knows going pee during this time can be scary and hard to do.

At my hospital they provided 2 type of girdles, the one that you wrap on with velcro and the other you pull over your head. I tried both and pick the velcro one hands down. Not only could you adjust it to how tight you need it to be but, I didn’t have to maneuver the girdle above my body to get into it.

Call your hospital to find out or purchase your own and bring it with you!

C-Section Recovery Tip # 6 Tips & Tricks to keep in mind

Try different nursing positions: It can be extremely uncomfortable to breastfeed with pain in your abdomen.

  • Try a Boppy Pillow over your stomach to ease the baby’s weight.
  • The football hold is where you cradle your baby’s neck and head in the palm or hand, and rest her back along your forearm. Then, place their feet and legs under your arm.
  • The side-lying hold ( for lazy moms like me). You lie down facing your baby, and bring your nipple to the baby’s lips.

Related: 19 Awesome Breastfeeding Tips + Hacks for New Moms

In the House: If you have stairs, camp out on the main floor. Going up and down the stairs is not good for your incsion and could actually slow your recovery down.

Get organized: The state of your mind is just as important as your body. I created the bomb checklist to help you keep track of all the upcoming doctor visits you will encounter. Believe me Mommy brain seems to kick in and remembering things will be your weakness. Staying on top of your appointments is necessary so let your mind relax and grab free medical record printable here: How to stay on top of your child’s medical records and doctors visits. 

C-Section Recovery Tip # 7 Don’t Beat Yourself Up

I  planned to have another VBAC since it was successful with my middle child (7 lbs 3 oz).

However, my doctor scheduled a C-section date for 5 days post the expected delivery date. I was sure I would have her early since this was my 3rd child. Boy was I Wrong!

Unfortunately, things didn’t happen the way I wished. It was 4 days before the C-section date, and I was beating myself up.

I had only looked into planning a Vaginal Birth and didn’t educate myself on how to prepare for a C-section.

I was unprepared and did know what to expect. Remember, my 1st was an emergency C-section, so I was asleep under anesthesia. However, for the scheduled C-section I was going to be awake!

I didn’t know…

The room was small, felt cold and not inviting.

The doctors were coaching me on how to sit for the anesthesia injection.

As I got on the table to lay back, the lower portion of my body started to go numb. I laid there scared but luckily had my husband by my side.

Anticipating my daughter but scared of the possible pain. My breathing became labored as the nurse coached me to calm down and breath.

It’s about to happen…they are about to cut me open. I didn’t feel any pain, only pressure. There was a mirror that allowed me to see everything that was happening  

The good… I was able to see my baby girl come out which reminded me of vaginal labor.  After about 10 mins she was out (9 lbs 3 oz) and beautiful.

The bad and ugly… there was a pool of blood where my stomach was supposed to be. And I still had to be stitched back up.

They showed me my baby for a quick minute, and then swooped her away. I was happy, relieved and disappointed all at the same time.

But, I was lucky to have a supportive husband who kept reassuring me that things happened the way God intended and more importantly we have a healthy baby.

Hopefully, reading about my journey will help you understand that things change. So, if you have a plan and it doesn’t work out, then please don’t beat yourself up.

C-Section Recovery Tip # 8  Know When to Call the Doctor

Understanding when to call the doctor could help you recover. The faster you are able to identify the problem,the faster you can address it. So, be sure to keep an eye out on the incision site for signs of infection.

I contacted my doctor because my incision became infected.

Call your doctor if you experience swelling, redness, warmth, tenderness or drainage from your C-section incision or the incision opens up, or chills and fever higher than 100.4 F

Here are few other reasons to call a doctor according to HealthPages.org:

You have a lot of vaginal bleeding, or it smells bad.

  • Heavy bleeding that soaks a pad in 15 minutes or less or soaks more than 1 pad per hour for 3 hours.
  • Pain or discomfort (with or without swelling) in your lower abdomen after the first few days.
  • Sharp chest pain or problems breathing.
  • Pain in either of your lower legs with tenderness, swelling, redness, or warmth.
  • A lump or hardened area in one of your breasts (you may have a blocked milk duct).
  • Pain, swelling, tenderness, or redness of your breasts.
  • Difficulty urinating, pain or burning with urination, blood in your urine, or you can’t pee.
  • Vaginal discharge that smells bad or bright-red blood after the first week. 
  •  If postpartum depression occurs (or if you suspect postpartum depression)

I was lucky my incision didn’t need to be drained. I read a horror story about moms who had to get their wound reopened to  drain fluid from the infection.

Recovering from a c-section takes time and patience. But, I hope these few tips help you have a speedy recovery.

Connect with Darla founder of FamLee of Four, a blogger writer and working mom of 3. She understands the struggle of working/self/family balance. In the midst of all the chaos, she shows moms how to stay empowered and inspired to follow follow their dreams. Helping moms rediscover their passion, achieve goals, stay motivated, and make extra money utilizing their life purpose.

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