By Caroline Vencil, Contributing Writer
I always planned on having a natural birth with my first son. I planned on having a normal birth with a normal postpartum recovery. That isn’t what happened.
I didn’t plan on having a c-section. I didn’t plan on needing help sitting up while I learned how to breastfeed. Or needing to learn how to care for a giant gash in my abdomen while my gigantic newborn kicked my still-sore stomach.
Recovering from a caesarean birth is much different than recovering from a vaginal birth.
C-Section Recovery: Everything You’ll Need
Especially if you had planned on having a natural birth. C-section recovery and recovery from a natural vaginal birth might as well be comparing apples and rocket fuel; there’s no real way to compare the two.
As one unplanned c-section mom to another, there are some things you will need to know as you recover from a c-section:
Give yourself time
It takes a long time to heal from a c-section. And that’s ok! No one expects you to be running marathons a week after major abdominal surgery. Try to relax. Don’t push yourself. This is a time of recovery for you as well as a time to get to know your new little person. Take all the time that you need to try to feel like yourself again.
From one stubborn person to another: accept the help! People will want to help you. If anyone asks if they can do something for you, say “YES!” Even if it’s asking someone to let the dog outside while you’re upstairs, accept the help. Cesareans are major surgery, and they should be treated as such both by you and by people around you. Accept the help!
Ask for help
You WILL need help. And that’s ok! Know that it’s ok to ASK for help. I couldn’t sit up by myself without help for a week after my c-section. How could I have made dinner when I couldn’t even stand for more than a minute without feeling weak? It’s ok to ask for help. Please, please, PLEASE. Don’t be afraid to call out the reinforcements to get some help.
Set up meals
You will need to eat. Both to recover and to promote a healthy milk supply. Food is important and vital to your recovery. Cooking after a cesarean is a big strain on your body. Ask your husband or mom or Aunt to set up a “meal train” to have people bring your family ready to eat meals throughout the days and weeks of your recovery. TakeThemAMeal is a great site to coordinate who will be bringing meals and when.
When you are cleared for it (and NOT before!), take a nice stroll with another adult to make sure that you have physical support if you need it. Don’t overexert yourself, but walking is very beneficial to your recovery both physically and mentally. It gets your circulation going, and it also helps get your endorphins going which is extremely helpful if you’re starting to feel the baby blues coming on.
Drink all the water that you can. You will need it to help your milk supply, but also to help aid in your physical recovery. Staying hydrated is very important after any surgery to help replenish and refresh your body. Buy a big refillable water bottle. That way, you won’t constantly need to get up to refill your glass.
Be Aware of Signs of Infection
Because it is major surgery, you and your partner will want to know dangerous signs of infection to look out for. Be sure that the scar is not infected, red or puffy. If you notice unusual pain, increased bleeding, or a foul odor, call your care provider right away. If for any reason, you feel that there is something wrong or just “off,” call your care provider. That’s what they’re there for. It’s better to play it safe.
Be Aware of Care For Your Incision
In the first few weeks, wash your incision with warm water only. Try to avoid scrubbing and using soap on the incision for at least the first few weeks.
Change your bandages as instructed by your care provider. Again, be aware of any foul odor or unusual discharge when you change your bandages. If you had staples, you may have a check-up around 2 weeks to remove them. At your 6 week check up your provider will check your incision and be sure it is doing well to clear you for working/driving/exercise/intimacy. When you are ready, consider massaging your cesarean scar to release adhesions and help it feel better.
Don’t Beat Yourself Up
I think this might be the most important piece of advice to take away from this. Do NOT beat yourself up for having a c-section.
Don’t feel defeated, or that your body failed, or that you didn’t do something “right.” Your body made a life and sustained it for the entirety of a pregnancy. You didn’t “fail.” If you need to talk about it or mourn the birth you had or wish you had, feel free to do so.
Find your local ICAN chapter. There are other moms just like you who didn’t get the birth they’d hoped for. Talking with these other women who know exactly how you feel can be very therapeutic and educational.
Don’t Feel Like You’ve Sealed Your Fate
“Once a c-section, always a c-section” is NOT true. You are not “doomed” to have c-sections for the rest of your births. There are other options out there. Coming from a two-time HBAC’er who was told by her doctor that she’d NEVER be able to have a natural birth: there is hope for a natural birth after a c-section.
But don’t focus on the next birth or the next baby just yet. Take care of you, mama. Let others take care of you. You don’t need to be Super Mom. Frankly, you already ARE Super Mom! Recovering from major abdominal surgery while dealing with all of the exhaustion that comes with life with a newborn is enough on your plate for now. Let others in your life help shoulder the burdens in your world. If you need “permission” to lie around in your maternity yoga pants for 6 weeks, or if you need “permission” to stay in your bed without walking down the stairs for a month, consider this your permission.
Recovery for a cesarean is sometimes easy and sometimes not. Either way, allow yourself time to recover and learn to adjust how you need to. Rest, relax, cry, laugh, and do what you feel you need to do to get through the day.