If you are like most “mothers to be” the thought of a Cesarean Section (or C-Section, for short) has most likely crossed your mind.
We often find that people have widely different views on what a C-Section is, when its used, and the expected recovery. For some it causes a distinct terror and anxiety, while others think it sounds “easier than regular childbirth.”
The HealFast team has personally helped deliver more babies than we can count. So you are in good hands when it comes to reading the best advice available. So let’s set the record straight and discuss what you can do to prepare for cesarean section surgery ahead of time.
Cesarean Section (C-Section) procedure: What’s it really like?
Some women tend to elect to have a C-section in advance, and others have it recommended by their physician in advance, and some have it unexpectedly during labor. The most common situations where it might be recommended include: twins, obstructed labor, umbilical cord and placenta issues, and blood pressure.
Whether you are planning a C-section or have just had one, don’t fear, it is a very normal and common procedure. In fact, it’s estimated that over 30% of women in the U.S. today deliver their child via a cesarean section, and it’s absolutely not a sign of weakness or anything wrong with the mother!
We’ll go over the actual procedure in another post, but let’s focus on what recovery from a C-section looks like. But the general overview is that it takes roughly 45 mins up to 1.5 hours to perform and involves a spinal block or general anesthesia to prevent pain from being felt.
This pain blocker is followed by two incisions, the first is made through the lower abdomen to allow access to the uterus and then second incision is made into the uterus to open it to allow access to the child. Once the process is over it takes a number of days in the hospital for the mother to recover before being released to home.
Make no mistake; a cesarean section is a major abdominopelvic operation. The incision is not small and must fit the whole baby. In making both incisions, multiple layers of tissues such as: superficial tissue, muscle, fascia, and uterus tissue are damaged. Lastly, bleeding from the uterus itself can be brisk, but sometimes even life threatening. Do not take it lightly.
Between all the tissue damage, blood loss, stress, lack of sleep, hormonal changes, and surgical pain, complications aside; a C-Section recovery is hands down the tougher recovery path over vaginal delivery in our opinion. Next we will discuss what you can do to prepare and optimize your C-section recovery.
C-section Recovery: What to expect and how to prepare.
1. Prepare to be patient. With C-Sections, patience is a virtue, never more needed
Be patient. You will likely spend three to four days in the hospital after the procedure (if there are no complications) and it can take anywhere between 6 to 12 weeks to fully recover from your C-section surgery.
The human body is incredibly resilient, but it still needs time and rest to heal. That said you will probably be excited to finally meet your newborn, and finding time to rest is not an easy as it sounds.
Golden rule to follow is if your baby is sleeping, so should you! That also means gathering an army of friends and family to help you with chores, diaper changes, and whatever else, especially in the early days.
2. Do not neglect nutrition – it’s one of your biggest friends
Pregnancy requires solid nutrition! You are not just eating for yourself, you are eating for a developing human being. And with this comes all the absolutely incredible complexity of developing tissue, neurons, and all types of cells or and organ systems that you can imagine.
However, that doesn’t end after you deliver. Pregnancy and the stress of surgery have likely depleted your body of many nutrients that are absolutely critical to healing and recovery. After a C-section, the tissue trauma done to your body is considerable. The incisions, moving of internal organs, loss of blood, etc., create an large void of critical nutrients required in tissue healing. And don’t forget, if you are breastfeeding, you are still your baby’s primary source of nutrition as well immune system support!
“Good” nutrition is certainly not easy, particularly when it’s hard to know what’s “good” in today’s ever-changing standards. If you are getting a wide variety of fruits and vegetables, some whole grains, and avoiding processed foods while washing off the pesticides, that’s probably a good start. If you can plan ahead and prepare surgery-safe supplements and meals for right before surgery and just after, that may help speed recovery and also allow you to set a routine that will ensure an optimized recovery timeline.
If you want to know more about recovery nutrition, we would like invite you to our recovery nutrition white paper, where we discuss all the nutrients that are important for healing and recovery, as well as where to get them.
3. Keep activity light but consistent where possible
When recovering from a cesarean section procedure, you don’t want to be completely sedentary.
From a less glamorous perspective of “new motherhood”, remember that any surgery near your bowel (including C-Sections), opioid pain medications, and prolonged bed rest are three factors that will severely reduce your bowel function.
This can include not only constipation but also severe gas pains as a sluggish bowel can accumulate gas and cause pressure. That’s why getting out of bed and going for a walk (once safe to do so) is a very effective way to kick-start bowel functions. That said, stool softeners and anti-gas medications may also be needed.
Getting out of bed will also improve your circulation and reduce your chances of recovery complications such as blood clots. However, staying active can be easy to overdone. For example, do not attempt to lift anything heavy, since any kind of straining can put tension on the surgical site. This is very important as it is possible for the suture to come apart, leading to a host of complications that you will not want to deal with.
4. Maintain an intricate balance on pain control
Surgeries hurt, there is no doubt about it. After the initial anesthetic has worn off, you’ll begin to feel discomfort.
You will have to take some pain medications, especially in the first couple of days, and you will be prescribed several different ones during your hospital stay and beyond.
Obviously, nobody wants to be in pain, but at the same time, taking enough medication to make the pain go away is also not a good idea. The opioid pain medications that will be apart of your initial regimen have side effects beyond addiction. In fact, the risk of addiction in the first several days after surgery is excessively low.
Some of the many discomforts you will feel include: nausea, respiratory depression, sedation, and constipation. These are quite common and with a balanced and controlled pain medication regimen can be alleviated. We recommend opting for other medications like NSAIDS (ibuprofen, motrin, alleve, etc) or Tylenol if possible.
If interested, reiki, breathing, meditation, acupressure may also be helpful. These are some of the techniques you should probably try to pick up early on if you can.
5. Lastly, listen to your body and speak up!!
Nobody knows your body better than you. Many changes occur after a c-section that can make you feel “weird.” There are some important things that you should definitely watch out for both in the hospital and after discharge.
The list below is certainly not comprehensive, but keeping these things on your doctors’ radar is important to help detect problems early.
Fever: There are a number of reasons why you may have a fever around the surgery, and all of them need to be evaluated by your physician. Some may be infection-related, and some may be related to normal changes that happen after surgery.
Heavy vaginal bleeding: staff in the hospital will be checking you frequently after a C-Section to make sure that the bleeding has slowed down and has not resumed. However, if you notice something yourself, you are your best advocate, and no one will fault you for alerting your provider
Swelling, oozing, or bleeding from the incision site.
Pain around the site: although some is normal, extreme pain that doesn’t go away with medications may signify that something is wrong.
Bad-smelling discharge from the vagina
Redness or swelling in your leg: Although leg swelling is very common, if there is warmth and swelling on only one of your legs, and you’ve been laying around a lot, this may signify a blood clot which may require treatment.
Difficulty breathing or Chest pain: A lot of physiologic changes happen around surgery, some may put significant stress of your heart and lungs. So you should promptly tell your healthcare provider about these symptoms so that proper investigation can occur in time.
If you are feeling sad. There are many emotional changes that happen around labor and delivery. Postpartum depression is particularly worrisome as it can be devastating to the mother, the baby, and the whole family. If you feel like there is nothing cheering you up, you are not alone, get help early!
We hope that this post has helped provide you a better understanding of what a recovery from C-Section surgery entails and some of the things to consider. There is so much going on and it is such a wonderful time in a mother’s (and family’s) life. When it's over and your newborn is in your arms, it's a magical moment never forgotten.
But make sure you are prepared ahead of time, line up family members to help, and ensure you are as healthy as you can be before entering surgery, it will help you in the long run.
If you have any questions, feel free to drop us an email with questions or other topics you would like discussed.
General Disclaimer: All information here is for educational purposes only and is not meant to cure, heal, diagnose nor treat. This information must not be used as a replacement for medical advice, nor can the writer take any responsibility for anyone using the information instead of consulting a healthcare professional. All serious disease needs a physician.