You're finally ready to meet the baby growing inside your womb after nine long months! This is an exciting time for you, but childbirth can also be physically demanding, especially if you will have a caesarean delivery. Planned or unplanned, having a C-section can have an impact on both your physical and mental health.
Here's everything you need to know about recovering from a C-section safely with a handy C-section recovery week-on-week lineup.
In Singapore, the rate for caesarean deliveries increased to 34.4% in 20141, so there’s a good chance you will have one as well. It’s best to learn everything you can about the procedure and what it takes to recover from a c-section successfully.
When is a C-section necessary?
A C-section is done by making an incision across your abdominal wall or uterus to deliver your baby. While a caesarean delivery is considered safe, it is still major surgery, and going under the knife is more risky than a vaginal delivery.
A caesarean delivery may be carried out as a planned procedure (Elective C-Section), usually during the 39th week3. An ultrasound, for example, may show that your baby is in a breech (feet first) or transverse position (sideways). In such cases, the baby might not be able to exit the womb safely, so your doctor may advise you to have a C-section.
However, when complications arise before and during labour, emergency C-sections will be performed. One instance is when labour abruptly stops or progresses too slowly. Another is when the baby is experiencing foetal distress and not receiving enough oxygen.
An elective caesarean procedure is typically recommended for mothers who have pre-existing chronic conditions or infections such as diabetes, heart disease, or HIV4.
C-section recovery involves both time and care. Post-surgery, you will be required to stay in the hospital for two to four days, to ensure no complications develop from the procedure before being discharged, followed by at least six weeks of recovery at home2.
What to expect after surgery
Before you learn the dos and don'ts of C-section recovery, it’s important to educate yourself on the significant changes your body will undergo following surgery. Some of them include5:
Vaginal discharge: Vaginal bleeding is your body’s way of getting rid of the extra blood and tissue in your uterus.
Afterpains: These pains closely resemble menstrual cramps, as blood vessels narrow to prevent you from bleeding too much.
Soreness: Your breasts will be more firm, sensitive, and larger than usual.
Changes in hair and skin: Due to significant changes in your hormones, your hair might thin out in the next three to four months. Stretch marks are also likely to form around your belly and breasts.
Mental health issues: Pregnancy is a very emotional time, in general. And the arrival of your baby can elicit a wide range of emotions — you might cry one moment and feel anxious the next. Sometimes, these heightened emotions can lead to postpartum depression. As part of your C-section recovery, you should consider going to therapy to maintain your mental health.
If you have any concerns or are unsure, please contact your doctor for further clarification and assessment.
C-section recovery timeline - tips and tricks to beat the blues8
C-section recovery is no easy feat. It can be overwhelming at times, but remember to take as much time as you need to recover, physically, emotionally, and mentally.
1. Welcoming your bundle of joy with a smile
Within 2-4 days of your surgery, hospital personnel will assist you with pain management, ensure you're eating and drinking enough, and assist you in moving around. All of this is on top of bonding with your newborn.
2. Be gentle with physical activity
A C-section is a major surgery. Take it easy and keep your physical activities to a minimum. Walking around will help you heal and avoid blood clots6, but expect to tire easily. So don’t engage in rigorous activities like exercise just yet. . When you get home, take it easy and avoid lifting, twisting, or any other movements that could put pressure on the incision. Keep everything within reach if possible. Muscles around the abdomen and the pelvic area are pretty weak as a result of the incision, and hence it can be unsettling.
3. Manage the pain and bleeding
Your body is still vulnerable, especially in and around your abdominal region. Support your stomach when you need to cough, sneeze, or laugh. You may also hold a pillow over your incision. In case of vaginal bleeding, use sanitary pads instead of tampons or douches to avoid infection. A heating pad or a warm washcloth can also help with the post-partum pains or cramping. An abdominal binder, which is a wide compression belt that wraps around your stomach, can also be used to provide extra support and prevent stress on sutures.
4. Care for your wound properly
Expect your C-section incision to be painful as it heals. Over time, the pain will subside eventually, so just make sure to properly care for the wound as it heals into a scar. Keep the area dry and clean, at all times. You’ll know it’s starting to heal once it becomes itchy, but avoid scratching in order to not irritate it further. Allow your wound to breathe; wear soft, breathable fabrics as much as possible. To manage pain at home, take acetaminophen or ibuprofen on a regular schedule, as directed by your doctor.
5. Eat healthy food
C-section recovery requires proper nutrition as well. Constipation is common after the procedure7, and you should eat plenty of fibre-rich foods to keep your digestion healthy. Your diet should include fruits and vegetables such as pears, apples, broccoli, beans, and legumes, to name a few. And most importantly , drink plenty of water to replenish all the fluids lost during labour. Expectant mothers are also strongly encouraged to consume milk formulated with DHA and choline to help support the development of the unborn baby. Look for milk that can help meet the body's folic acid, calcium and protein needs.
6. Get emotional support
Remember that you are not alone in this. When things get tough, turn to your family and friends for assistance. It's natural to feel tired and overwhelmed by emotions. The most important thing is to be surrounded by people who adore you. Your loved ones can assist you in caring for your child or take over your responsibilities for a time if you need some alone time. Having your partner, family members, or friends assist you with tasks such as meal planning and preparation, laundry, and even baby care will help give you some much needed me-time.
7. Taking care of yourself
Taking care of yourself is just as important as taking care of your baby, especially after childbirth. Listen to your body and allow yourself as much time as possible to recover. Remember,C-section recovery involves not only your physical but also your mental and emotional well-being.
Putting together a 1 month c-section recovery tips manual in your third trimester is an excellent way to prepare for the new arrival.
Extra C-section recovery tips
Having a newborn while recovering from surgery leaves little time for self-care. But it's critical that you take care of yourself. Here are some pointers on what to do.
- Get enough rest. Your body needs time to heal, so don't rush back to your normal activities.
- Avoid lifting heavy objects. Nothing heavier than your baby should be lifted.
- Walk the walk. Walking, rather than heart-pounding exercises like running or lifting weights, will help your body heal.
- Don't forget to eat. It can be difficult to eat a healthy diet during the first few weeks with a newborn, but it is critical for both you and your baby.
- Keep track of your discomfort. To provide relief and ease, use a heating pad, comfort pillows, easy attire and practical footwear.
- Pamper yourself. Indulge in gentle massages, aroma therapy, music and healthy foods to keep the ‘baby blues’ at bay.
- Heed your doctor’s advice. Follow any pain medication instructions from your doctor.
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Dr. Raymond Choy Wai Mun
MBChB (UK), Aviation Medicine (Singapore)
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Caesarean birth: c-section recovery tips (n.d.). Retrieved October 16, 2020 from https://www.nct.org.uk/labour-birth/different-types-birth/caesarean-birth/caesarean-birth-c-section-recovery-tips
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Cleveland Clinic. Health essentials. Retrieved October 13, 2021. https://health.clevelandclinic.org/c-section-recovery/ What to expect after having surgery.