As April marks Caesarean Awareness Month, we wanted to share some useful info on the recovery process after a caesarean birth/c-section.
Recovering in hospital
The average stay in hospital after a caesarean (C-section) is usually 3 or 4 days. You may be able to go home sooner if both you and baby are well.
While in hospital, you:
- Will be given painkillers to reduce any discomfort
- Will have regular close contact with your baby and can start breastfeeding
- Will be encouraged to get out of bed and move around as soon as possible
- Can eat and drink as soon as you feel hungry or thirsty
- Will have a thin, flexible tube called a catheter which will remain in your bladder for at least 12 hours
- Will have your wound covered with a dressing for at least 24 hours
When you are well enough to go home, you will need to arrange for someone to drive you as you will not be able to drive for a few weeks.
Recovery at home
Caring for a newborn baby is demanding and can make your recovery challenging.
Like any operation, your body needs time to recover after a C-section. Rest is a key part of this recovery process.
Try to rest whenever you can. Get help from family and friends to ensure you get as much rest as possible.
Looking after your wound
Your midwife should advise you on how to look after your wound.
You will usually be advised to:
- Gently clean and dry the wound every day, pat it dry and change the dressing
- Wear loose, comfortable clothes and large cotton underwear - you may find it more comfortable to wear underwear where the waistband is much higher than the wound
- Take a painkiller if the wound is sore – for most women, it's better to take paracetamol or ibuprofen (but not aspirin) while you're breastfeeding
- Watch out for signs of infection - these may include your wound or the skin around your wound becoming red, painful or swollen. Contact your GP, public health nurse or midwife if any of these signs develop
Non-dissolvable stitches or staples will usually be taken out by your midwife after 5 to 7 days.
Hold a pillow against the wound area when you:
- Get up from a lying or sitting position
Controlling pain and bleeding
Most women experience some discomfort for the first few days after a caesarean, and for some women the pain can last several weeks.
You should be given regular painkillers to take at home for as long as you need them, such as paracetamol or ibuprofen.
Aspirin and the stronger painkiller codeine present in co-codamol is not usually recommended if you're breastfeeding.
Your doctor will be able to advise you on the most suitable painkiller for you to take. If you are breastfeeding, make sure your doctor knows before they prescribe medicine. Many medicines can pass in small amounts to breastmilk.
You may also have some vaginal bleeding. Use maternity or sanitary pads rather than tampons to reduce the risk of spreading infection into the vagina, and get medical advice if the bleeding is heavy.
The more active you are, the more likely you are to have an increase in your bleeding. If you are breastfeeding, there can be an increase in bleeding when your milk production increases.
Urgent advice: Contact your doctor or midwife urgently if:
- You bleed heavily or pass several large clots
- Severe pain
- Odorous blood, fluid or pus coming from your vagina
- Red, swollen or painful wound
- Shortness of breath, chest pain or a cough
- A swelling or pain in your lower leg
- A temperature or a fever
- Feeling generally unwell
Returning to normal activities
At first, you should not carry or lift anything heavier than your baby.
Try and go for short gentle walks and stay mobile. This will reduce your risk of blood clots.
You may have to wait up to 6 weeks before:
- Having sex
- Lifting or carrying anything heavier than your baby
Trying for another baby
You should wait for at least 6 months after a caesarean before trying for another baby.
How can you help a C-section scar heal?
The wound in your tummy will eventually form a scar.
This will usually be a horizontal scar about 10 to 20cm long, just below your bikini line. In rare cases, you may have a vertical scar just below your bellybutton.
The scar will probably be red and obvious at first, but should fade with time. On darker skin, the scar tissue may fade to leave a brown or white mark.
Following these tips will help your C-section scar heal better:
- Keep it clean. Once a day (when you shower), let soapy water drip down your wound. There’s no need to waterproof it, but you should avoid vigorous scrubbing. When you’re done, gently pat the area dry with a clean towel
- Air it out. Air promotes healing in skin injuries, so whenever possible, expose your scar to air, such as by wearing a loose gown at night to get the air circulating
- Keep your appointments. If your incision was closed with stitches that don’t dissolve, be sure to go to your follow-up postnatal appointments so your doctor can remove them. For C-section births, the timing and frequency of your doctor's visits might be different, so talk to your doctor about when to come in after having the baby.
- Hold off on exercise. You need to take it easy to allow the scars on your uterus and your abdomen to heal. Avoid bending or twisting your body or making sudden movements as much as possible, and don’t pick up anything heavier than your baby. Get the okay from your doctor before resuming exercise
- Get moving. Just because you can’t train for a marathon right now doesn’t mean you can’t stay active. Increased blood flow, in fact, helps healing and decreases your chances of developing deep vein thrombosis, or DVT (a blood clot that’s more common during pregnancy and the postpartum period). Once you feel up to it, pop baby in that buggy and take a walk around your neighbourhood
How long does it take a C-section scar to heal?
By two weeks, your scar should look and feel much better. That said, it can take anywhere from six weeks to three months before you’re fully healed.
For more information check out the HSE website or contact your GP, obstetrician or midwife.