Despite the pain of labor and delivery, many women prefer to give birth naturally. However, your doctor may give you an option to have a C-section or determine that a C-section is better for you medically.
A C-section, also known as a cesarean section or cesarean delivery, is the use of surgery to deliver one or more babies. The World Health Organization recommends that a cesarean section should be performed only when medically necessary (1).
This can be due to obstructed labor, twin pregnancy, high blood pressure in the mother, breech birth, or problems with the placenta or umbilical cord.
A 2016 study published in PLOS ONE found that as per the data through 2014 from 150 countries, 18.6 percent of all births occur by C-sections, ranging from 6 percent to 27.2 percent in the least and most developed regions, respectively. Latin America and the Caribbean region have the highest C-section rates (40.5%), followed by Northern America (32.3%), Oceania (31.1%), Europe (25%), Asia (19.2%) and Africa (7.3%) (2).
In the United States, the National Vital Statistics Reports published in January 2018 showed that the cesarean delivery rate declined for the fourth year in a row to 31.9 percent of U.S. births in 2016, the lowest rate since 2007. The rate of cesarean delivery peaked in 2009 at 32.9 percent after increasing every year since 1996 (20.7%) (3).
If you have a C-section, there are many simple things you can do to help your body recover quickly.
Here are some tips to recover faster after a C-section.
1. Take the Prescribed Painkillers
After a C-section, it’s normal to experience pain. You may have to bear with it for up to two weeks, although it will lessen each day.
A 2009 study published in the Brazilian journal Acta Paulista de Enfermagem reports that post-cesarean section pain was rated as moderate. All of the participants reported that sitting down and standing up were accompanied by the pain, and 75 percent of them felt pain when trying to walk (4).
Pain management is very important for a nursing mother, as pain can interfere with the release of hormones needed to help milk flow.
To relieve the pain, doctors often prescribe an anti-inflammatory medication like ibuprofen and a narcotic pain medication, both of which are safe to take while breastfeeding. Take the medicines as directed by your doctor to deal with the pain and get your life back on track.
However, avoid aspirin or pills containing aspirin for the first 10 to 14 days following surgery, as aspirin can reduce blood clotting.
2. Start Walking
As soon as your doctor gives you the green light and you consider yourself fit enough to get out of bed, follow the advice to start moving around seriously.
Walking will increase blood circulation, which will reduce your risk of developing blood clots. It will also help prevent typical C-section side effects like constipation and gas buildup in the abdomen, help with bowel function, and increase your body’s ability to heal.
It is usually very uncomfortable to begin walking, but the more you walk, the better you will feel.
Ask family and friends for help and start taking short walks several times a day. You do not have to take long walks. Just a walk around your room or home is enough. Doing so can also help you to tighten loose skin after pregnancy.
3. Take Care of the Incision
The incision from your C-section may be closed with dissolvable stitches or staples that your doctor needs to remove. No matter what, you have to take proper care of the incision to reduce the risk of infection.
Clean your incision daily with warm, soapy water and pat dry your skin. If there are strips of tape on your incision, let them fall off on their own or remove them at the time specified by your doctor.
Do not use lotion or powder on your incision. Avoid rubbing, scrubbing, soaking or sunbathing, all of which can slow the healing of your incision. Also, it will increase the risk of reopening the wound.
Keep the area as dry as possible and if you feel warmth, redness or increased pain, report it to your doctor immediately.
4. Get Plenty of Sleep and Rest
A C-section is major surgery and your body needs time to heal. It is recommended to give your body proper rest for up to six weeks to let it heal completely.
While it is easy to say, try to get seven to eight hours of sleep a night if possible. Sleeping encourages tissue growth, which will help your wound heal. Sleep also helps lower your stress levels and reduces your risk of developing postpartum depression.
Apart from a good sleep at night, take short naps during the day whenever you can. If needed, do not hesitate to ask people to take care of the baby so you can take a nap.
5. Combat Constipation with Fiber
Many new moms experience constipation after delivery. Following a cesarean delivery, there are several other possible causes of constipation.
As a C-section is a major abdominal surgery involving anesthesia, side effects like constipation are common. Also, the use of narcotic pain medications, dehydration, iron in prenatal supplements, and weakened pelvic muscles can contribute to constipation post-delivery.
To ease constipation, include more high-fiber foods in your diet. Both soluble fiber from fruits and vegetables and insoluble fiber from whole-grain cereals and breads are beneficial.
Fiber adds bulk to your digestive tract to keep food moving through your body. It also absorbs water, helping to soften stools and make them easier to pass.
Along with fiber-rich foods, drink plenty of water and get moving.
6. Eat Right
Nutrition is also very important for healing after a C-section. In fact, healthy food works as medicine and aids the recovery process.
If you are breastfeeding, good nutrition is even more important, as your breast milk is your baby’s primary source of nutrition. Eating a variety of foods will keep your baby healthy and help you get stronger.
Eat foods that have anti-inflammatory properties to help reduce pain and inflammation in the body. Have foods rich in vitamin C like berries, kale, and broccoli to support the production of collagen, a protein that helps repair tissues.
Eat salmon, as it contains amino acids that form proteins that make tissue. Also, have more iron-rich foods, as it is vital after blood loss.
7. Drink More Fluids
Post-delivery, you must increase your fluid intake. Drinking lots of fluids can help replace those lost during delivery and breastfeeding. Fluids also help prevent constipation.
Water intake is also important to help flush the anesthesia and medications out of your body.
While your fluid intake will be monitored in the hospital, you need to keep track of your fluid intake once you get home.
Keep water handy so that you don’t need to ask others for water. Instead of gulping down a glass of water all at once, sip small amounts at regular intervals.
8. Breastfeed with Support
If you are breastfeeding your baby, it’s important that you use the correct position. Sit up in a straight-back chair whenever possible to feed your baby.
After a C-section, you may not be able to lift your baby. While in the hospital, you can ask your nurse to carry the baby to you. Once you get home, do not lean forward to pick up your baby on your own. Ask your partner or others to help you while you feed your baby.
Avoid leaning forward while breastfeeding. It will limit the amount of oxygen your body takes in, which in turn will only increase your fatigue and delay the healing process.
- Instead of using an abdominal binder that provides sustained compression meant to help ease the pain, opt for a graduated compression undergarment.
- The antibiotics you are given during surgery can wipe out the healthy bacteria in your gut. Eat probiotic foods to help restore healthy gut flora.
- For the first two weeks after your C-section, don’t lift anything that weighs more than 20 pounds.
- Avoid crunches and instead, try exercises like modified planks and bridging.
- As you need to care for your baby as well as your body, do not hesitate to ask for help from near and dear ones.
- Continue taking your prenatal vitamins to help promote healing.
- Avoid taking the stairs as much as possible for the first few weeks of your recovery.
- Hold a pillow over the incision when you cough or take deep breaths to decrease pain and lower the risk of your wound reopening.
- Wear loose and soft clothes that do not rub against your incision.
- Wear pads to absorb vaginal bleeding in the first month after childbirth. Do not douche or use a tampon, as this can cause an infection.
- Have all-natural broth, especially bone-broth, to speed the rate of healing.
- Due to surgery, new scars can develop. So, avoid going out in the sun for six to nine months or longer post-surgery.
- Whether your C-section was planned or not, many women suffer from postpartum depression. For depression, consult your doctor.
- Contact your doctor immediately if your stitches open.
- WHO Statement on Caesarean Section Rates Caesarean section rates at the hospital level and the need for a universal classification system. http://apps.who.int/iris/bitstream/handle/10665/161442/WHO_RHR_15.02_eng.pdf;jsessionid=4D72835C64362F354547690442DBA865?sequence=1.
- Betrán AP, Ye J, Moller A-B, Zhang J, Gülmezoglu AM, Torloni MR. The Increasing Trend in Caesarean Section Rates: Global, Regional and National Estimates: 1990-2014. PLoS ONE. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4743929/. Published February 5, 2016
- Martin JA, Hamilton BE, Osterman MJKS, Driscoll AK, Drake P. National Vital Statistics Reports Volume 67, Number 1, January 31, 2018. 2016;67(1). https://www.cdc.gov/nchs/data/nvsr/nvsr67/nvsr67_01.pdf.
- Sousa, Rodarti AC, Gomes, et al. Measurement and characteristics of post-cesarean section pain and the relationship to limitation of physical activities. Acta Paulista de Enfermagem. http://www.scielo.br/scielo.php?pid=S0103-21002009000600003&script=sci_arttext&tlng=en.