One in every four or five babies in North America will be born by cesarean section (C-section). Sometimes, the C-section is planned in advance; others are done with little or no warning due to last minute complications.
Regardless of the reason, if you have given birth by C-section you will need more recovery time than a woman who has given birth vaginally. Your questions will also differ.
Here are answers to the top 10 questions women ask after their cesarean section birth.
1) How will I control the pain?
You will have pain after your C-section but there are excellent medications to make you comfortable. Take your pain medications regularly to stay ahead of the pain, rather than waiting until you are already uncomfortable. If your pain is under control, you will be able to walk, move around and care for your baby more easily.
When you are ready to be discharged from the hospital, you will be given a prescription for medication you can use at home. Be sure to take a dose of pain medication before you leave the hospital. Getting home and settled in involves a lot of movement.
Once you are home, you may find it helpful to have a written medication schedule, or a phone reminder to take your next dose. You will have better pain control if you take more medication before the last dose has completely worn off.
2) How will I know if my incision is infected?
The first sign of an infection is usually increasing incisional pain, despite taking the same amount of pain medication. Other signs include:
- redness of the skin around the incision
- thick yellow or yellowish-green drainage (pus)
A small amount of bleeding or pinkish colored drainage from your incision can be normal: it is important to watch the color of the drainage. If you notice thick pus, be sure to contact your health care provider.
The stitches you can see on the outside hold only the outermost layer of skin together. There are multiple layers of sutures underneath. If the outer skin edges of your incision separate slightly, don’t be alarmed. It is important, however, to watch for signs and symptoms of infection (reddened skin, fever, thick yellow or green discharge). If the separation appears to be deeper than just the skin edges, notify your doctor.
3) Will I be able to breastfeed?
Yes! You can breastfeed as soon after surgery as you are comfortable. Most cesarean sections are done with an epidural or spinal block. With this type of anesthesia, you will be awake but free from pain. Many hospitals are beginning to put baby on mom’s chest in skin to skin contact after a cesarean birth.
If you had a general anaesthetic, you may breastfeed as soon as you are awake.
It can be more challenging to find comfortable nursing positions after a cesarean section birth. Many women like to use the football hold, side lying or laid back position as it keeps baby's weight off their incision. Learn more here.
4) Why am I feeling so emotional?
There are many reasons women feel emotional after the birth of a baby. Some women report feeling a high of euphoria and love post delivery while others report feel flat or dull. Everyone’s experience is different and there is no right or wrong way to feel.
Having a baby can be a very overwhelming experience, especially if it is your first baby. Hormonal fluctuations and sleep deprivation can lead to postpartum blues for the first few weeks. Taking time to rest and care for yourself is important.
If you had a c-section that was unplanned, you may experience even stronger emotions. Some women feel like their body has let them down; others feel traumatized from a difficult delivery.
Talking to your loved ones or your healthcare provider about the way you are feeling is important. If these feelings do not resolve in the first few weeks or the symptoms worsen, you could be suffering from postpartum depression and may benefit from treatment and a support group.
5) How soon can I resume regular activity?
It is important to get up and begin moving within 24 hours after surgery, even if you do not feel like it. You may need assistance as you will probably feel a bit weak at first. Even a few steps will keep the blood circulating in your legs and lessen the chance of developing a blood clot. In addition, walking will help to get your bowels moving.
Gradually increase the distance you walk. Your body will tell you if you are overdoing it. If your blood flow increases in amount or becomes bright red, you may be doing too much.
6) How much weight can I lift?
You should not lift anything heavier than your new baby for the first 6 weeks. A c-section is major surgery and your body needs time to heal. Enlist the help of your support people, especially if you have older children to take care of as well.
7) When can I drive?
It may take 3-6 weeks before you can comfortably resume driving. Pushing on the brakes or turning your body to shoulder check can be hard on your incision. Do not drive if you are taking narcotics for pain.
8) When can I have a bath or shower?
Once your dressing has been removed (usually 24 hours after surgery), you can have a shower. This will help to keep your wound clean. After your shower, gently pat your incision to dry or allow it to air-dry.
If you find your tummy folds over your incision, hold your abdomen back to expose it to the air. Do not soak in a bathtub for at least 2-3 weeks as this can increase the chance of infection.
9) What if I have to cough or sneeze?
After a c-section, coughing or sneezing can be painful! Using a small pillow or a folded towel, put gentle pressure on either side of the incision as you cough. This will help to lessen the discomfort. Keep your pillow or towel close by; you never know when you are going to need it!
10) Will I have vaginal bleeding?
Many women are surprised to learn that they will have vaginal bleeding after a c-section. The bleeding comes from the place where the placenta was attached to the uterus and from the sloughing of the lining of the uterus. The bleeding is lighter than after a vaginal delivery and usually only lasts up to 6 weeks.
Recovery after a c-section takes time and will vary from mother to mother. Try to be patient with your body throughout this healing time.