You know that C-sections are major surgery and you may have heard vague complaints from a friend that recovery was tough, possibly even tougher than she anticipated. But until you’ve had one yourself, you can’t know the entire list of weird and surprising challenges. Here, ob/gyns share all the down and dirty details about recovery.
1. Getting out of bed for the first time may hurt more than any labor pains you experienced.
Of course as a new mom you want to hop out of bed the instant you hear your tiny, brand-new bundle of love cry. But immediately after a C-section, and even up to two weeks after, it can be pretty darn painful to sit up and put your feet on the floor. While you’re in the hospital, you can avail yourself of the magic of the hospital bed, which can prop you up with the push of a button and has rails that you can use for support, not to mention around-the-clock medical care. But sadly, you can’t stay and enjoy the amenities indefinitely.
“Your doctor will prescribe you pain meds, which you should take,” Alyssa Quimby, M.D., assistant professor of obstetrics and gynecology at the University of Southern California, tells SELF. “That’s what they’re there for.” Once you’re home, experiment with rolling onto one side, using pillows (that Snoogle comes in handy) or asking your partner to lend a hand when you want to get out of bed.
2. Nursing after a C-section can get pretty uncomfortable.
“It can be difficult to situate your newborn in a position that you can maintain for upwards of 20 minutes comfortably when you have an incision on your lower abdomen,” Quimby says. “I encourage my patients to play around with different positions.” Many find the football hold, where you literally tuck your baby in along your forearm up to your breast like, yup, a football, to be the most comfortable post C-section, she says. (Confused? Ask your hospital’s lactation consultant for help.) You could also try a breastfeeding pillow or stack of soft throw pillows of different sizes and shapes to help get baby in a good position.
3. Going #1 and #2 may be uncomfortable. Very uncomfortable.
There are two different situations going on here. Peeing can burn or sting, or you may not feel that you fully emptied your bladder, because you more than likely will have had a catheter as part of standard hospital protocol prior to your epidural. (Women who get epidurals and have vaginal births may experience the same sensation.) “It’s totally normal to be irritated and should clear up in a few days,” says Quimby.
As for pooping—or rather, not pooping—there are a few possible culprits. “Pregnancy hormonestend to slow everything down digestive-wise and things don’t just miraculously return to normal immediately after delivery,” explains Angela Jones, M.D., founder of AskDrAngela.com. “So if you were having issues with constipation during pregnancy, they are not likely to resolve spontaneously once your baby is delivered.” Complicating the problem? Those pain meds. Many have a side effect of constipation. Though it’s undeniably difficult to get up and move around, even a short walk around the hospital floor can help get things moving again (ask for help if you’re feeling woozy). You can also try a stool softener, like Colace.
4. Those cute pre-pregnancy shoes you were fantasizing about wearing will have to stay in the back of your closet a little longer.
It’s very normal for your feet and legs and even hands and face to swell after any type of delivery and particularly after a C-section. During pregnancy, blood volume increases, on average, by almost 50 percent, to support your pregnancy. “Between that, and all the IV fluids you received during labor and/or at the time of your C-section, that fluid has to go somewhere,” Jones says. She recommends getting up and walking as soon as you can after surgery and drinking water with lemon to help flush it all out.
5. Forget about a good night’s sleep, starting tonight!
You just had a baby and major surgery, possibly after hours of labor, so of course you’ll be left alone to get a good night’s sleep, right? Not so, in a majority of hospitals. You’ll need to have your vitals checked (blood pressure and temperature) every three to four hours, likely for the duration of your stay. Not to mention that you now have a newborn, who won’t know the difference between day and night for weeks to come.
6. You may be left with a C-section “shelf” above the incision that is more puffy on one side…for years.
During the actual C-section procedure your obstetrician will cut horizontally through skin, your subcutaneous fatty layer, and the fascia, the tough, web-like connective tissue that surrounds all your body’s organs, explains Quimby. After delivery, your doctor stitches back your top layers, but your fascia closes on its own, which can create scar tissue. Sometimes the scar tissue develops unevenly, hence why the puffiness and tenderness can be more pronounced on one side. The scar tissue will soften over time and be less noticeable on the outside, but it may never disappear completely.
7. Itching and numbness along the scar are par for the course.
This goes back to the actual surgery itself, as well. “When your obstetrician cuts through those layers, she may cut some nerves, which can result in the loss of feeling,” says Quimby. It’s not unusual for the numbness to last for several years.
8. You’ll be sidelined for up to eight weeks.
“That means no lifting anything heavier than your baby, no pushing and pulling motions, and no deep bending until your incision heals,” explains Jones. In the real world, that translates into no carrying the laundry basket, no vacuuming or walking your dog, and no emptying the dishwasher for at least the first two weeks. Besides, you’ll have a new baby to tend to, so let your family and friends help with cooking and household chores. “You’ll also have to get used to sitting in the passenger seat for up to the first two weeks as driving is often a no-no, at least until you are comfortable looking over both shoulders without any pain and hitting the break without wincing,” Jones says.
As for exercise, walking and climbing stairs are great right off the bat. But wait a full eight weeks to make sure you’re entirely healed before you do any type of ab work, including Pilates, yoga, and even swimming. “We need to let that incision heal,” says Jones.
9. Planning another baby? A vaginal birth may still be in the cards.
Depending on the reason for your C-section, you may potentially be a good candidate for a vaginal birth after Cesarean section (VBAC). Women who had C-sections because of a non-recurring reason (i.e. breech birth, twins, fetal distress) are the best candidates, says Quimby. But even then, that doesn’t mean your doctor or your hospital will allow it. The biggest concern with VBAC is uterine rupture, which means the uterus tears open where the C-section scar is. It’s rare, but a real risk because it requires an emergency C-section and in some cases, a hysterectomy. Some hospitals simply aren’t staffed to handle VBACs and the potential complications. If that’s the case and experiencing a vaginal birth the next time around is important to you, seek out a second opinion.