With more than one in three women now delivering by cesarean, you need to know what to expect after the procedure. Healing can take four to eight weeks, and along the way, you've got a new baby to care for, friends and family to consider, and a home to run. For a healthy c-section recovery, here are a few things to remember:
Ask for help. Bouncing back from major abdominal surgery is a slow, uncomfortable process, so put off the thank-you notes, phone calls, and visits for a few weeks, and ask family and friends to pitch in. They can shop, cook, and straighten up while you focus on the baby and get some rest.
Treat your pain. Be sure to take the medication you've been given, and don't let it wear off, reminds Maureen Connolly, the Montclair, New Jersey-based coauthor of The Essential C-Section Guide. Pain is stressful to the body, and any added tension may slow milk production if you're breastfeeding. Your doctor will likely give you a prescription pain reliever for the first few days. After that, both acetaminophen (such as Tylenol) or ibuprofen (such as Advil or Motrin) are considered safe.
Seek breastfeeding advice. It can take a few extra days for breast milk to come in after a cesarean, points out Rita Rubin, the author of What If I Have A C-Section, so it's important to seek help for breastfeeding problems right away from a nurse or lactation consultant. Cradling your baby while breastfeeding can put pressure on your incision (you may also experience painful gas because of extra air trapped in your abdomen); choose positions like side-lying or the football hold, which reduce pressure on your belly.
Don't clean the house. Because rest is critical to recovery, lifting laundry baskets, vacuuming, and climbing stairs are no-no's for now, as you may strain stomach muscles. Driving is also not recommended in the first few weeks because certain medications can slow reaction time. At your six-week postpartum checkup, your doctor will probably give you the okay to start exercising. Begin with light workouts which can include walking, swimming, and stretching.
Take care of yourself. For some women, a cesarean may be an unwelcome surprise, especially if you planned for a drug-free birth. In fact, the risk of postpartum depression is higher for those who have unplanned c-sections than for women who have a scheduled one or a vaginal delivery. While an unexpected c-section can be disappointing, try to keep your healthy baby in mind, says Rubin. If you're feeling blue about your delivery, talk with your doctor about finding counseling or a support group.
Jennifer Kelly Geddes is Parenting’s senior associate research editor.