What to Know About Postpartum Recovery: C-Sections

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Postpartum recovery is perhaps the most neglected side of maternity and women’s healthcare in the United States. When compared with many other European countries, the U.S. pales in comparison in helping new mothers navigate all that comes after the baby does.

So often, we focus on every minute detail of the pregnancy and actually getting to the hospital. Even now, there’s more focus on the actual labor and birth. But what about afterwards? What then?

For those who experience a C-section, you’ll be experiencing many of the typical postpartum symptoms while also recovering from major abdominal surgery. While a planned C-section can have far less issues, you’ll still have some weeks of serious recovery ahead. Here’s what you should know:

You’ll Receive Pain Medication

Any type of major surgery usually results in prescriptions for pain medication. Of course, you can deny any narcotics or other powerful pain medications, but keep in mind that your abdominal pain will be very real for at least the first week of recovery.

I personally was given mega doses of Ibuprofen along with about two weeks’ worth of Percocet since Lortab makes me sick. I tried to take less of the meds each day for two reasons: one, painkillers make me crazy. And two, I was breastfeeding, so I didn’t want that stuff getting to my baby. My advice is to take what you feel like you need, but try not to rely on it too much for too long. You want to be as alert as possible so you can remember bringing that sweet baby home!

You May Still Have Vaginal Pain

I had an unplanned C-section with my first child after going through all of labor and three hours of unproductive pushing. The result was that my vagina and vulva were extremely swollen and sore. Other women who don’t push first, or just have a planned C-section, may not experience this, but I’ve talked to many that still had plenty of pain “down there” no matter what, so just be aware.

Yes, you had a C-section, but you’ll likely still be very tender and appreciate something to help you stay clean down there when wiping seems like a no-go.

Other things that might help include taking a sitz bath and wearing Witch Hazel pads to soothe the area.

You’ll Still Bleed

The release of lochia after birth can take anywhere between 2-8 weeks after birth, and it largely depends on the woman and how her uterus is healing. While you get your uterus “cleared out” during a C-section, this organ is still taking time to shed layers of blood and tissue. Think of your uterine wall as a sort-of-open wound where the placenta used to be; it might take time for the flow of blood to slow down and stop, especially as your hormones level out. If you feel that the flow of blood is abnormally large or you’re seeing clots bigger than your fist, talk to your healthcare provider immediately.

You’ll Need Extra Support

Any new mom needs a support system after they give birth; after all, your body just went through a lot and taking care of a tiny, vulnerable human is all you should have to worry about for a while. What this means is that laundry, meals, and housework will fall by the wayside unless you have a support team set-up beforehand. When you’re recovering from a C-section, it’s difficult to move, sit up, and get out of bed–let alone do any strenuous tasks. You aren’t even allowed to pick up anything heavier than your baby. Ask for, and accept, help wherever you can get it: family, friends, fellow church members, etc. You can’t get through these next few weeks on your own, so do what’s necessary to get the help you need, especially if your spouse is returning to work soon after the birth.

Your Incision Demands Attention

Because you now have a large incision on your lower abdomen, you’ll notice that simple tasks are more difficult than before. Lifting, bending, and just getting out of bed all take a lot more time and care.

It’s a good idea to invest in a belly support band to promote blood flow and support the tissue as it heals.

In addition, having things like a changing table handy make all the difference, since the last thing you want to do right now is get on the floor for all those middle-of-the-night diaper changes. Keep in mind that although your guts won’t actually spill out, being hard on your incision may cause an infection or negatively affect the healing process, so take it easy. Most healthcare providers suggest walking often and listening to your body, but avoiding any heavy lifting or strenuous activities.

You’ll Have Gas and Constipation

Most new moms experience some form of gastrointestinal distress after having a baby, but surgery in particular can create some serious constipation and gas buildup. If possible, take a stool softener each day two weeks prior to the birth, and throughout your recovery period. If you’re really having trouble, talk to your doctor about taking a prenatal without iron to help your digestive system return to normal. That first poop is a doozie, and by that I mean scary as all get out. Take your time, and drink some milk of magnesia if necessary!

So along with the regular mood swings, engorged breasts, and night sweats, you have a host of other things to think about after a c-section. Is this annoying? Absolutely. But, think of it this way: your baby is here safely, and you’re alive and well. Here’s to modern medicine!

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