Vaginal vs. C-section Recovery: How Will Your Postpartum Differ?

Postpartum Looks Different Depending on How You Deliver

Like most things, understanding what life is like after your baby arrives will be best learned by living it.

We can read books, watch videos, or even take advice from mamas who’ve gone ahead of us on the journey, but it’s never quite like experiencing it ourselves.

One way a doula can support you is to help you set realistic expectations for what the early postpartum weeks will be like. For example – what life is like after baby arrives will depend on whether you delivered vaginally or by C-section. (Recovery is not the same!)

It’s best to have support, and a plan in place, to help you through this important and beautiful transition. Here are a few things a doula may share to help you prepare for after baby comes.

After a Vaginal Delivery

  • You can expect to stay in the hospital or birthing center for up to forty-eight (48) hours after the baby is born. 
  • You may experience a slight tear. If so, your provider will give you instructions on how to best heal.
  • Vaginal discomfort is normal, as is swelling and moderate bleeding.

After a Cesarean (C-section) Delivery

  • Your stay in the hospital is usually longer because you’ve just experienced major abdominal surgery.
  • Expect to be there for at least three (3) nights after a cesarean so you can continue to be monitored for complications.
  • You will be healing from a surgical wound so there will be special care for that, as well as pain management.
  • If you pushed prior to having surgery or delivered multiples, you may also have vaginal discomfort.
  • You’ll be told not to lift anything heavier than your baby for the first several weeks (that’s a great rule!) No carrying the heavy infant car seat in and out of the house, no lifting heavy baskets of laundry, and no bringing in the big package from Amazon that just arrived at your front door!

Create a Postpartum Plan

Take time before you deliver to think about what life with a newborn will be like. Being prepared for what lies ahead during this big life change will help you feel more confident. Preparing prenatally will also let you think about what feels most important to you. It can also get you in the habit of focusing on your own well-being.

Physical Recovery 

Make sure you stock up on essentials before the baby arrives. 

  • Thick pads
  • Ice packs
  • Nursing pads if you’re breastfeeding
  • Comfortable clothing and/or compression garments
  • Stool softeners and pain relief

Many people like postpartum compression garments. They can help reduce pain, increase your mobility, and stabilize your pelvic floor. After a C-section, a compression garment can also take the pressure off your incision while it heals. 

Take stool softeners and drink lots of warm water. Regardless of whether you’ve had a c-section or a vaginal delivery, that first postpartum poop might not be fun. Warm water helps move your bowels a bit better than ice-cold water, but hydrating well is more important than the temperature of what you’re hydrating with so drink up!

Prioritize Rest 

This isn’t necessarily the same thing as sleep, but by all means, sleep whenever you feel the need to sleep! 

Resting might look like letting your toddler have more screen time than usual so you can kick your feet up for a little while. Rest might be eating your lunch in the sun instead of standing up and on the go while doing a bunch of other things. Asking for, and accepting help from others is a huge part of postpartum recovery.

Seek Mental and Emotional Support 

If you’ve struggled with mental health complications in the past, make sure to line up support for after you give birth. 

If you’ve never had complications with mood, it’s still smart to pay attention to any changes after you deliver. Changes in mood are common and you should never struggle alone. 

Talk to your provider, family, or whoever supports you about how you are feeling, how to handle things, what to look out for, and how to get the best help for your specific needs.

Move Your Body 

Movement improves blood flow so getting back to a low-impact workout routine is a great idea – but not too soon. Check with your provider before beginning exercise and remember that it could take months to a year to fully physically recover.

When you’re ready to get started, don’t push yourself too hard. Walking while wearing your baby or pushing the stroller is a gentle, easy way to add movement to your postpartum recovery. 

Remember not to use your abs or back when sitting up or getting out of bed, especially if you’ve delivered by C-section. Instead, roll to one side and slowly push yourself up using your arms. And try to avoid stairs – only once or twice a day in the first several weeks if possible. If you have to climb stairs more than that, hold on to the railing and take it very slowly. 

Show Yourself a Lot of Grace

Things will get easier and movement will slowly feel more normal. Aches and pains should begin to ease and will disappear over time. But you know your body best. Trust how you feel and if something does not feel right or symptoms get worse instead of better, reach out to your provider immediately. 

Be sure to focus on taking care of yourself so that you can take care of your new baby – and find the most joy during this beautiful time.

Kelli Blinn is a Labor, Postpartum, & Bereavement Doula, Childbirth Educator, & Infant Feeding Specialist based in Columbus, Ohio. Learn more at @doulakelliblinn on Instagram and

Mae provides culturally-congruent pregnancy and postpartum care, expert-led virtual classes, resources, support and community. We are working with select insurance partners to bring free doula support to members in Florida, Illinois, Maryland, and Michigan. (And the list is growing!) Visit us at to learn more.

Mae is for doulas too. If you’re a certified doula, find out how we support birth workers at

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