Most moms aren’t thrilled with the idea of having a cesarean section because let’s face it— it’s serious surgery that carries a laundry list of risks. Not to mention that some women feel disappointed or sad that they didn’t have the vaginal birth they envisioned.
Whether you have a scheduled C-section or not however, you should know what to expect afterwards so you can recover quickly.
Here, are 13 things you can do to reduce the pain, prevent complications and feel like yourself again in no time.
1. Take the painkillers.
After a C-section, it’s normal to have pain for up to two weeks, although you will feel better each day. Your doctor will likely prescribe an anti-inflammatory medication like ibuprofen and a narcotic pain medication.
“The need for pain medicine is very normal and it’s important to take it and not get behind on the pain because it’s sometimes difficult to get back on track,” said Dr. Nicole P. Scott, a board-certified OB-GYN at Indiana University Health in Indianapolis and an assistant professor of obstetrics and gynecology at Indiana University School of Medicine.
2. Take probiotics.
The antibiotics you are given during surgery can wipe out the healthy bacteria in your gut. Talk to your provider about taking a probiotic supplement which can help restore healthy gut flora that can prevent diarrhea and improve immunity and overall health.
3. Care for the incision.
You will most likely have stitches that will dissolve on their own but if you have staples, your provider will need to remove them.
Keep the area dry and if you feel warmth, redness or increased pain, call your provider because the incision could be infected. Also avoid pools and hot tubs for the same reason.
Ask your provider about massage techniques which can help decrease the pain, improve healing and encourage the abdominal muscles to work more efficiently, said Marianne Ryan, a physical therapist in New York City and author of “Baby Bod: Turn Flab to Fab in 12 Weeks Flat.”
4. Start walking.
As soon as your doctor gives you the green light, you should get out of bed with help.
Start by taking short walks and build up to 30 minutes after you’ve been home for a few days. Walking will increase circulation, which will reduce your risk for blood clots, help with bowel function and increase your body’s ability to heal.
“All processes in the body are sped up by exercise,” said Mary Beth Knight, a fitness expert in Cincinnati, Ohio and author of “Strategies for the C-section Mom: A Complete Fitness, Nutrition, and Lifestyle Guide.”
5. Eat right.
Nutrition is also very important for healing. Focus on eating foods that are anti-inflammatory and have vitamin C, like berries, kale and broccoli. Vitamin C supports the production of collagen, a protein that helps repair tissues. Foods that are rich in omega-3 fatty acids like nuts and seeds are also anti-inflammatory.
Limit red meat— which is inflammatory— and eat chicken and salmon instead because they contain amino acids that form proteins that make tissue.
6. Combat constipation.
Pregnancy hormones combined with the painkillers can lead to constipation. Straining will also put pressure on the incision and cause pain.
Try a toilet stool or prop up your feet on yoga blocks which will straighten the colorectal angle, instead of cramping it so your bowel movements will be easier, Ryan said.
Eat fiber-rich foods, drink plenty of water and ask your provider about using a stool softener.
7. Breastfeed with support.
If you breastfeed, it’s important that you bring your baby close to you and sit up in a straightback chair whenever possible.
Leaning forward will limit the amount of oxygen your body takes in which not only increases your fatigue but it will prevent you from re-training the transverse abdominis muscles and the fascia, the connective tissue that holds your abdominal muscles together.
“If you’re hunched over, you are telling your body that this is now the new position it should remember and keep you in,” Knight said.
8. Forget the abdominal binder.
After a C-section, you’ll be given an abdominal binder which provides sustained compression meant to help ease the pain. Yet these binders take over the work of the abdominal muscles which will make them weaker over time, Ryan said.
A binder can also put pressure on the pelvic organs and increase the risk for urinary incontinence and pelvic organ prolapse.
Instead, look for a graduated compression undergarment that will ease the pain and swelling without causing other problems.
9. Don’t lift anything heavy.
For the first two weeks after you give birth, don’t lift anything that weighs more than 20 pounds. You can then increase your activity as long as you don’t have any pain. If possible, have someone bring your baby to you and prop the baby up on pillows or a nursing pillow for feedings.
10. Avoid crunches.
“There are seven layers of tissue that are disturbed—cut or moved—during the C-section and your body needs to recover those and repair in order from the bottom to the top,” Knight said.
Yet any movement that pushes the abdominal muscles forward like crunches before the abdominal muscles and fascia are repaired can lead to a hernia. Instead, try exercises like modified planks and bridging, Knight said.
11. Ease back into sex.
Women who give birth via cesarean section are about twice as likely to experience painful intercourse 18 months after giving birth compared to women who delivered vaginally, a study in BJOG: An International Journal of Obstetrics and Gynaecology found.
Not only can pregnancy put stress on the muscles of the pelvis, but scar tissue from the incision can reduce the mobility of the pelvic organs, which can cause muscle spams and pain, Ryan said.
To prevent painful sex, devote plenty of time to foreplay and use a lubricant. A pelvic floor massage wand can desensitize painful spots too. If pain persists however, seek treatment from a women’s health physical therapist.
12. Ask for help.
Although you need to care for your baby, realize that your body needs to heal too. If you don’t get help, you’ll be exhausted and it will take your body longer to recover.
Ask your partner, a family member or a friend for help with grocery shopping, errands and cleaning so you can focus on your baby and your own health.
13. Get emotional support.
Whether your C-section was planned or not, it’s common to feel disappointed or sad about your birth experience. What’s more, some studies suggest that women are more likely to suffer from postpartum depression after having a C-section.
Don’t suffer in silence. Seek out an online or in-person support group for new moms or talk to a friend about your feelings. When you make yourself a priority, you’ll be a better mom for your baby too.
Julie Revelant is a health journalist and a consultant who provides content marketing and copywriting services for the healthcare industry. She's also a mom of two. Learn more about Julie at revelantwriting.com.