Recovering From A C-Section
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Recovering From A C-Section
- When you give birth via C-section, you avoid much of the impact on the pelvic floor that comes from vaginal delivery, because rather than going through the birth canal, the baby is removed via surgical incisions in the abdomen and uterus. But C-sections have their own risks, side effects and recovery procedures, each of which is important for prospective mothers to understand.
Types of C-sections
There are three types of C-sections: Planned, unplanned and emergency.
Planned C-sections are the most common, and they’re scheduled when you and your doctor agree that it’s the safest way for you to give birth. Generally, if you’ve had a C-section before, you can expect that subsequent pregnancies will also be delivered by C-section.
Unplanned C-sections occur when you are expecting to have a vaginal birth, but as the delivery date or time approaches, your doctor concludes that a C-section is more appropriate. This might happen weeks or days before you’re due, or it can happen while you’re in the hospital waiting to give birth.
Emergency C-sections happen when there is an imminent risk to the welfare of either the mother or baby, and they can occur regardless of your previous delivery plans or timing.
When performing the procedure, your doctor will typically use one of two types of incisions, either a Bikini Cut – the most common type of incision – which is made from one side of the abdomen to the other, above the pubic hair line, or the Vertical cut – also known as a ‘classical incision’ – which is usually reserved for more complicated situations or emergencies.
C-section Considerations for Prospective Mothers
Many mothers-to-be feel pressured to make certain decisions about how they give birth and how they care for their newborns – home birth or hospital? Natural delivery or epidural? Vaginal or C-section? Breastfeed or formula?
Don’t let outside pressures influence the decisions you make. The only “right way” to give birth is what you and your doctor or midwife decide makes sense for you after you’ve taken into account all the relevant information. When it comes to vaginal birth versus C-sections, for example, here are a few of the things you may want to take into account:
- Consider the risks – C-sections may be safe, but like any surgery, there are legitimate risks that you’ll want to weigh as you make your decision.
- Consider the benefits – Urinary incontinence, anal injuries, and pelvic organ prolapse are all less common after C-sections, particularly those that are performed in the first pregnancy, and before labor begins.
- Personalize your decision – Most OBGYNs and midwives agree that, when the benefits outweigh the risks, vaginal birth is the preferred method of delivery. The most important part of that statement, though, is the “when the benefits outweigh the risks” part. If there are risks to your health or the health of your baby that make vaginal delivery a less desirable option, make the decision that’s in your and your child’s best interests. Remember, this is your life and your baby’s life – no one else’s.
The Side Effects of C-Sections
If you do go through with a caesarian section, keep in mind that you can still experience pelvic floor issues because of how close the pelvic floor is to the uterus. You may also find that immediately after delivery your core muscles weaken, and for many patients, recovering from the incision itself takes a good deal of time.
It’s also not uncommon to see women who’ve had C-sections report that they have incontinence or pelvic floor dysfunction immediately following birth and sometimes for years after.
Constipation and gas can also be issues that are either short-term or long-lived, and that’s not unexpected – it’s a fairly common side effect of major surgery involving anesthesia. Try to do what you can to avoid constipation during this time because that puts unnecessary strain on your abdominal wall and pelvic floor. A few tips to help you stay regular:
- Eat plenty of fiber, preferably from foods naturally high in fiber but also from supplements if necessary.
- Stay hydrated – water is your best friend right now!
- Get some light exercise like walking (as long as your doctor gives you the okay); it can really help get things moving.
- Practice good posture when going to the bathroom – Click here for our tips on good toileting habits.
Recovering From Your C-Section
One of the most significant drawbacks of a C-section over vaginal birth is that, for most women who have C-sections, recovery time can be considerably longer. That doesn’t hold true for everybody, so consider yourself fortunate if you’re back up and on your feet fairly quickly.
If you’re like most patients, though, it takes some time before things feel like they’re back to normal – or close to it. Here are some tips to help make your recovery speedier and more comfortable than it might otherwise be:
- Get the rest you deserve – You wouldn’t expect to be up and running after any other type of major surgery, so why would a C-section be any different? As a rule of thumb, you can expect to take anywhere from 6 to 8 weeks to fully recover.
With a new baby in the house, though, it can be hard to get the rest you need. Try to sleep when the baby sleeps, and don’t be shy about asking for help to manage – in addition to your partner, seek the support of family members and friends to get you the downtime your body needs to heal.
- Be gentle on yourself – Don’t try to push yourself to do too much too soon. Keep the supplies you need to care for the baby and yourself nearby so you’re not getting up and around more than you need to, avoid lifting anything heavier than your baby, and make sure to brace your abdominal muscles when you sneeze or cough or lift. By the same token, don’t exercise, drive or engage in sexual activity until you get the go-ahead from your doctor.
- Treat your pain safely – There’s no reason you need to suffer any more than is necessary while you recover. Talk to your doctor about the best ways to manage your pain, what medications you can take, and what strategies you should try to minimize discomfort.
- Eat and drink wisely – Good nutrition is especially important following a C-section. Staying properly hydrated can help stave off constipation, and we’ve already talked about how important that is. But it’s also critical if you’re breastfeeding, as is eating a healthy diet that includes a good variety of fruits and vegetables.
- Pay attention to your body – You’re going to experience a number of changes very quickly following childbirth, and you’ll want to pay attention to all of them to make sure you’re recovering properly. Some of the things to be expected include cramping, breast swelling, vaginal discharge, vaginal dryness, hair loss, acne, and headaches. Most of these will go away on their own, and they can be commonly treated with home remedies and over-the-counter medications (though, as always, it pays to check with your doctor just to be safe).
- Care for your scar – Treating your scar is more than just a cosmetic matter (though who says cosmetics can’t be important, too?). In fact, scars that aren’t properly cared for can produce lower back pain because of the way the scar tissue adheres to other tissues in the body. They can cause frequent urination – in some cases years after surgery – because the scar tissue can prevent your bladder from expanding sufficiently. And they can even produce pelvic pain that’s associated with intercourse. You can combat this by gently massaging your scar once it’s closed and considered well healed. Here’s a simple 1-2-3 procedure that you can follow:
- Start with the skin – Lightly put your fingers on the skin around your scar and move them up, down and side-to-side to see if there are any areas that move less easily than others. If you sense any resistance, work your fingers in the direction of the resistance until you feel a gentle stretching of the tissue. Be careful not to go too far too soon – you’re freshly healed and you don’t want to take any backwards steps. Hold it until you feel the tension release. After time, you’ll be able to massage not just around the scar but the scar itself, even reaching the point where you can roll the scar between your fingers.
- Next, the muscles – You’ll want to perform the same type of probing as with the skin, but this time, you’re focusing on the muscles that lie underneath. Gently press your fingers deeper into your abdomen so you feel your musculature, and then move them in all directions just like you did above. And like you did above, when you find a point of resistance, gently stretch the area until you feel it release or melt away.
- Finally, the organs – Here you’re going to go deeper still, so you can work the organs below the muscles. Start off by lying on your back with your knees up so you can relax your abs, then let your fingers sink deep into your abdominal cavity. Now try moving these deep tissues side to side, remembering to be gentle as you do it. Is one side more mobile than the next? If so, stretch and hold the less mobile side until it loosens up.
- Watch your mood – Considering all the hormonal changes going on in your body and all the sleep you’re missing, it would be amazing if you didn’t experience some changes in mood following childbirth. For most women, these tend to last only a week or two. However, for some women, depression after delivery can be deep and long lasting – and some research suggests that women who give birth via C-section may be particularly susceptible.
If you find yourself feeling unusually somber, depressed, unmotivated or otherwise unwell for longer than a couple of weeks, don’t wait for it to go away on its own. Seek help from your doctor immediately – there are things that can be done to address postpartum depression, and the sooner you do that, the sooner you can get back to enjoying your time with your new baby.
- See your doctor – In the first three months following your delivery, you should count on seeing your doctor at least a couple of times, and likely even more than that. You’ll want to have an initial assessment within three weeks after birth, where your doctor will evaluate your physical and mental recovery along with your baby’s health and development. That’s often followed by a 6-week checkup, with a final assessment at the 12-week mark.
By that point, you’ll probably be an old pro when it comes to motherhood, but it’s still a good opportunity to ensure that everything is as it should be moving forward. Of course, you don’t have to wait for your scheduled appointments to reach out to your doctor – if you experience any of the following, give them a call immediately, because these could be signs of an infection or something worse:
- Redness, swelling, pus or pain at the incision site
- Fever over 100.4 degrees Fahrenheit
- Heavy vaginal bleeding or a bad-smelling discharge
- Redness or swelling in the legs
- Difficulty breathing
- Chest pain
- Pain in your breasts (not associated with breastfeeding)
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