Rest, recovery, healing… all essential things you would expect to be doing after a major surgery, right? But giving birth by C-section is not like any other surgery. It’s probably the only one where you go home from the hospital to take care of another person! You might know in advance that you will be having a C-section birth, or it might be unexpected. No one can predict exactly how your labor will go. So, it’s important to have a postpartum plan that includes C-section recovery. Your birth doula will have knowledge and experience to help you anticipate your needs during this time. And after birth, postpartum doula care can provide crucial support for your healing process and adjustment.
Here are some tips on what to expect and how to approach C-section recovery:
Manage your pain – After a major surgery (and possibly hours of labor before that), your body will feel tired, achy, and sore. Your incision will be painful. Make sure you have a plan for pain management and stay on top of your medication schedule for either prescription or OTC pain relievers. If you are breastfeeding, talk to your doctor or lactation consultant about which medications to take, since many are considered safe.
Think before you move – Ever thought about how often you use your abdominal muscles? You’re about to get real familiar since just moving around the house can be tough during the first days and weeks at home. Go slowly and think carefully about each movement when you get in or out of bed, stand up or sit down, get into a car, etc.
Don’t take the stairs – If you have stairs at home, try to avoid going up and down as much as possible. You might need to set up a diaper changing station, nursing or feeding area, snacks, water, and any other supplies on each floor, so you can stay put.
Keep it light – Your hospital will tell you not to lift anything “heavier than your baby.” Remember, this includes the car seat, the diaper bag, your hospital bag, and any older children.
When you laugh – Laughing, coughing, or sneezing can be a challenge. Try holding your abdomen or pressing a pillow against your incision when you feel one of these coming on. Some parents find that abdominal binders help support the area and ease pain, but medical research on these isn’t conclusive.
Keep walking – Strenuous exercise and sex will be off the table, but brief, gentle walks are recommended to help with healing, ease constipation, and prevent blood clots.
Got milk? – If you’re planning to breastfeed, it can be crucial to get support from a lactation consultant or postpartum doula. Learning comfortable nursing positions from an expert and addressing any problems early can make all the difference. Many C-section parents find the side-lying position useful, since you can feed without sitting up.
Feed yourself too – All the focus on feeding the baby can make it hard for parents to stay nourished. A healthy diet is a critical part of recovery, so make nutritious meals and snacks a priority. Bonus points if someone else can make them for you!
Help wanted – You’re going to need help. This is the time to ask family and friends to handle meals, housework, laundry, errands, caring for older siblings, holding the baby so you can nap or shower, and anything else you need. Visitors who are coming over just to “meet the baby” can probably wait, and you should never have to entertain anyone. Postpartum doulas can take on many of these tasks, as well as being newborn care experts. You might also consider overnight support where a doula can help with feeding, changing, or holding your little one while you get some extra sleep.
When to call a doctor – Get medical help if you experience any of the following:
- Severe or increased pain
- Redness, swelling, or pus at the incision site
- Fever of over 100.4°F
- Pain or swelling in your legs
- Chest pain
- Shortness of breath
- Vaginal bleeding filling one pad per hour or large blood clots
- Abnormal vaginal discharge
Also, contact your OB-GYN or midwife if you have symptoms of depression, anxiety, or PTSD lasting longer than two or three weeks.
Process your birth story – Whether your C-section was expected or not, you may go through a range of emotions afterword – from lingering fear or anxiety to disappointment or anger if you planned a vaginal birth. You might have symptoms of trauma if you or your baby had serious medical issues, or if you experienced discrimination or abuse. Your doula can help you talk through your birth story and provide emotional support as you process it.
Remember – It can take eight weeks or more to fully recover from a C-section, and everyone’s experience is different. So, even if your sister or your best friend seemed to bounce back more quickly, try not to compare and go at your own pace.
Interested in how a doula can support your recovery after a C-section? Visit MeetMae.com to create a profile and connect with an expert.