C-Section Recovery: Everything You Need to Know

Is C-Section recovery painful?

Honestly, yes, but to varying degrees, and it lessens fairly steadily every day. “The first 48 hours is painful, mostly in your core and lower abdomen, around the incision site, and it’s difficult to get in and out of bed and sit down,” says Yvonne Bohn, MD, a Santa Monica-based ob-gyn in private practice. “Once you’re moving though, it’s not bad, so get up and start walking as soon as you can.” Walking will also help you to pass gas, and alleviate that pain, which can sometimes be worse than the soreness from the incision.

In addition, all women, whether they delivered by Cesarean or vaginally, will have afterbirth pains from the uterine contractions, which tend to happen more when they’re breastfeeding. “These can be more pronounced for some women who had a Cesarean delivery because of the healing-related inflammation in the uterine scar,” says Nancy Chescheir, MD, a professor of Maternal-Fetal Medicine at UNC Medical School, in Chapel Hill, North Carolina.

 How long does it take to heal completely?

The first week or two is the toughest part, and you will likely need both anti-inflammatory meds like Motrin, as well as prescription painkillers. (If you’re breastfeeding, your doctor will prescribe something that’s safe to take.) “After that, you can just take over-the-counter pain relievers, and by 6 weeks, you’ll be pretty well recovered,” says Dr. Bohn. Keep in mind though, that not only are you bouncing back from childbirth and surgery, you’re also caring for a newborn 24/7, which can make the healing process a little more complicated.

Is swelling after C-Section normal?

Yes, totally. Generally, you can expect swelling after C-Section to go down in about a week or so. Some of it is a general result of the edema you experience during pregnancy — ie. swelling in the feet and ankles — while some of it is a result of the fluids given during surgery.

How long do you bleed after a C-Section?

Bleeding after birth is called lochia, and it can last for up to six weeks. You’ll notice that you may bleed more during certain activities (or when you’re in certain positions); that’s a sign to rest. Lochia will change over time to pale pink or a dark red color, and then eventually to a yellowish or light color.

Will you need help after having a Cesarean birth?

If you can get it, yes — but that’s basically true for all new mothers, not just ones who have delivered by C-Section! “Recovery will be gradual, and you’ll likely need to focus on your newborn, as well as the emotional needs of any older children,” explains Dr. Chescheir. “If others can take on some of the household work, or can help with the baby, take them up on it, and give yourself the space to recover.”

Are there any products that can help C-Section recovery?

Dr. Bohn recommends an abdominal binder or band, which your doctor can order you from the hospital (don’t bother with the pricey “belly bands” because the hospital versions work just as well.) “It will help with the discomfort of getting up and down, in and out of bed,” she says. She also recommends taking a stool softener (such as Colace, which you can buy over-the-counter at the drugstore) since the pain killers can be constipating, and make going to the bathroom more painful. To protect the incision, Dr. Chescheir suggests using maxi pads at the site, sticking it to the inside of your underwear so the absorbent side is cushioning the scar.

What activities should you avoid after having a C-Section, and for how long?

No heavy lifting, and that includes picking up an older children weighing over 20 pounds, for about 2 to 4 weeks, says Dr. Chescheir. As much as you’re eager to get your pre-baby body back, no exercise, specifically core work, until you get approval from your doctor, generally at 6 weeks. However, Dr. Chescheir says taking the stairs is fine a couple of times a day, and walking is okay around week 2 to 4, as long as you start slow, and anticipate more fatigue than usual.

You’ll also need to avoid intercourse until you’re completely healed (about 4 to 6 weeks); when you do have sex, be sure to use contraception. “The recommendation is to delay the next pregnancy after a C-section for 18 to 24 months from the birth of one child to the conception to decrease the risk of uterine rupture,” says Chescheir. Yes, we know, when you’re immersed in life with a newborn, the next baby is probably the last thing on your mind! So do everything you can to avoid an, um, surprise.

Remember, you’re recovering from major surgery and the emotional onslaught of becoming a new mom (or adding another baby to the mix). So whenever your baby naps, take that time to lie down, rest, and give your body a break. The time really does fly by and, before you know it, you’ll be feeling more like yourself again.

Photo: Getty


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