Tips for a Speedy Recovery from a Cesarean Section

postpartum swellIn addition to my experience as a Labor & Delivery and Postpartum Nurse, I have also had 3 cesarean sections myself. I wanted to pass along some words of wisdom that are tried and true.  It’s amazing how norm having a c-section is these days.  With rates soaring at around 30% of births, people often forget that this is major abdominal surgery.  It’s still mind boggling that you only get an additional 2 weeks given for recovery over a vaginal delivery (8 weeks total) when it can take months to fully recover.  Being that this time was my 3rd c-section, with the added knowledge of being a postpartum and labor & delivery nurse, I was able to heed my own advice to my patients, as a patient.  Each patient’s recovery is unique, and whether your c-section was scheduled or unplanned, there are some things you can’t escape.

  1. Don’t be a Hero!  Take the STRONGER pain medication.  There will be pain.  It’s inevitable.  A c-section is major abdominal surgery.  If you’re concerned about breastfeeding, check with your doctor and nurse.  Most medications prescribed post-op, ie. Percocet, are safe for breastfeeding.  You should also note that breastfeeding can cause noticeable uterine contractions which are quite painful on top of the surgical pain.  The uterine contractions with breastfeeding is completely NORMAL and how the uterus returns to pre-pregnancy state sooner than formula feeders.  My own personal recommendation is to take the stronger medication for the first day or two on a schedule to keep on top and ahead of the pain before it worsens.  Pain medication can take up to 30-45 minutes to go into effect.   As your body heals, you can then taper off to an overlapping regimen of acetaminophen (Tylenol) and ibuprofen (Motrin or Advil) and from there, you can taper/wean down to which one of the two you find more effective if you’re strongly against medicating.  
  2. Pain in the GAS!  With a c-section comes often gas pain. It is the result of air getting trapped in the abdomen during surgery. If you happen to have a BTL – Bilateral Tubal Ligation, we generally see our patients with increased gas pain.  REMEDY: The best medicine for Gas is circulation, so WALK! It sounds a little crazy.  You’re recovering from major surgery, in a lot of pain, and you need to walk?  YES!  Take your pain meds and get walking!  It will hurt initially, but slow and deliberate movements will get you on your feet and on the road to a faster recovery.  Are there any medications you can take?  Yes, you can take over the counter Simethicone also known as Mylicon or Gas-X.  Some people recommend drinking tea and guzzle (ginger ale) soda really fast helps — all in combination with walking.
  3. Just SWELL!  So you might have noticed some swelling in your feet, the ankles, maybe even the legs or as in the above awful picture of me, in your face.  They’ve taken away the Venodyne boots (calf compression machine) and now you’re blowing up bigger than a balloon.  That swelling is all the fluids they’ve pumped into prior to surgery from your IV.  Like most, you probably also were not allowed to eat up for at least 24 hours post-op and continued to receive IV fluids to keep you hydrated. You can only pee so much and all that excess fluid goes into, what we call medically, the third space, what you see as swelling.  REMEDY: Again, is walking!  Get that blood flowing and pushing all that excess fluid back into the blood stream so you can PEE it out!  Oddly enough, drinking LOTS and LOTS of fluids helps as well.
  4. OUCHY!  Every movement hurts.  Coughing hurts, laughing hurts, reaching for that remote hurts.  Something that eases that twinge is slight pressure on the incision in the form of a small pillow.  If you’re breastfeeding, utilizing pillows to elevate baby from the incision line and trying the football hold can help to alleviate some of the discomfort.  Utilize those arm muscles and pull yourself up to a sitting position.  If you’re lying down, try rolling to one side and up.
  5. Oh Poopy!  Passing your first bowel movement might give you a fright with all that surgical pain. Not to mention pain medications tends to slow everything else down, including having a bowel movement.  FIBER will be your best friend. Want a medication to help with that, often given in the hospital these days is a stool softener which you have to start immediately post-op and take on schedule for it to work effectively.
  6. Up and Down, Up and Down.  For some, stairs are simply unavoidable and yet incredibly painful for a freshly sectioned patient.  What helps is to actually walk up stairs backward, reducing the usage and strain on the abdominal muscles.
  7. Hold your baby… and don’t lift anything heavier.  The muscles in your stomach need at least 6 weeks to heal which is why it is generally not recommended to begin exercise regimens before then.
  8. Take a nap when baby naps.  No words are more true for a patient recovering from a c-section.  Rest aids in healing and your body simply heals faster when you sleep.
  9. Last but not least… Enjoy your baby. Moms are great multi-taskers but now is not the time to prove you’re a super mom.  (We know already.)  Chores can wait, let others help.  They grow up so fast, and that newborn stage goes all too quickly in the blink of an eye, so enjoy.   

Enjoy your baby!As you noticed a general theme with recovery from a c-section is circulation.  It not only helps with the above-mentioned pains, but decreases risks of blood clots and gets your digestive track moving again.  At my hospital, we generally recommend our patients get up and walking within 24 hours if not sooner.   While it will initially hurt more, the pain will decrease and your strength will improve.  You’ll find each time you get up, it’s a little easier and you’re a little stronger.  You’ll be on your way to being super mom again in no time!

What tips am I missing?  Do you have a tried and true tip for moms recovering from a c-section?  

While I am a medical professional working in Labor & Delivery and formerly a Postpartum nurse, these are my personal recommendations.  Always seek the advice of your physician as each person’s recovery is unique and individual with many other contributing factors.

[ editors note: This post was originally published on April 13th 2013 and has been updated to reflect additional insights and a quick video post. ]