7 Things I Wish I'd Known About C-Section Recovery

I thought I was prepared for my C-section, but here's what I wish I would have known to make my recovery even smoother.

Pregnant Woman Holding Hands With Partner in Hospital Bed
Photo: RyanJLane/Getty Images

Like many parents, I did plenty of research leading up to and throughout my second pregnancy. And while I thought I was prepared for all outcomes, including having a C-section, I still wish I knew more about what to expect from the C-section recovery process.

Every person's experience with surgical birth will be different, of course, but here are a few things about C-section recovery that I wish I had known ahead of time.

1. Let Yourself Take Things Slow

After my C-section, my husband and mother waited on me hand and foot, caring for my son and doing the household chores. Being stuck on postpartum bedrest made me feel antsy, so I started doing "forbidden" things around the house: unloading the dishwasher, attempting to pick up a laundry basket, running around with my older child, etc.

The result was C-section recovery pain that set me back further. Indeed, I found myself spending more time healing from my attempts to prove my resilience. My biggest advice is to take things slowly, and you'll get back on your feet sooner.

2. Have a Plan for Your Older Children

I was told not to lift anything other than my newborn baby after my C-section, but I had a 19-month-old son who was anxiously awaiting my return. He couldn't understand why I refused to pick him up—and thanks to a combination of postpartum hormones, exhaustion, and mom guilt, combined with my physical recovery, I worried that our relationship might suffer.

I wept almost daily, worried that he thought I wasn't interested in him anymore. Luckily, everything went back to normal once I regained my strength and was able to settle into a routine with him. I wish I'd brainstormed ways to make my older child feel loved during my C-section recovery time, and I encourage you to do the same.

Enlist your partner, family member, or friend to take them out a few days a week, enroll them in a special camp or class, or arrange for a sitter to come while you recover. It might give you peace of mind to know that your older children are having an absolute blast, even without you—and before you know it, you'll be able to join in on the fun too.

My biggest advice is to take things slowly, and you'll get back on your feet sooner.

3. Painkillers Are Your Friends

On the third day after my C-section, I had about four relatively pain-free hours, and then I decided to stop taking my pain medication. Bad idea! I woke up in the middle of the night, about eight hours after my last dose of medication, writhing in pain.

I couldn't even reach for the bottle on my nightstand. I wish I had known not to wait for the pain to work itself up to an intolerable level before taking the next dose. When it comes to C-section recovery, it's best to stay ahead of the pain by taking your prescribed meds on schedule, instead of trying to chase the pain down after it gets too intense.

4. Don't Be Embarrassed by Bodily Functions

Before leaving the hospital after your C-section, your nurses need to make sure you're passing gas and having normal bowel movements. They'll ask some pretty direct questions about your intestines—and like me, you might feel embarrassed at first.

But if there's one thing I learned after having two children, it's that you need to check your pride at the door when you get to the hospital. Your doctors and nurses are there to help, and being honest can prevent medical complications. Oh, and take the stool softeners they offer you. Trust me on this one.

5. Laughing, Sneezing, and Coughing Can Hurt—A Lot

When I was waiting out my recovery, I spent a lot of time scrolling through Facebook and watching ridiculous YouTube videos. I quickly learned that laughing felt like stabbing myself in the gut. I even worried that my stitches were coming apart.

While it's rare for your stitches to come apart, it is important to give yourself literal, physical support after a C-section. The best thing you can do when you feel like laughing—or coughing or sneezing—is to put a pillow over your stitches and press it onto yourself. This technique is called "bracing" and you can ask a nurse how to do it before you leave the hospital. I know I wish I'd known this pain-soothing C-section recovery practice beforehand.

6. You Might Need Help in the Shower

Maybe you've never dropped a shampoo bottle in the shower—but I promise you, it will happen during your C-section recovery. It's nearly impossible to bend over and pick things up yourself, so consider showering with someone nearby.

You could also get some "soap on a rope" or an easy-to-dispense bottle of mild liquid body wash or install some temporary wall dispensers for shampoo and conditioner.

7. Everyone's Recovery Will Look Different

Contrary to what a lot of people experience, I bled much more after my C-section than after my vaginal delivery. The amount of blood scared me at first since I was convinced I was hemorrhaging (the nurse assured me this was normal). The bleeding also stuck around for several weeks; I went through many boxes of extra-absorbent pads.

My C-section recovery experience won't be the same as yours, though—some people will have heavy bleeding, while others have super-light bleeding. Similarly, everyone will have a different level of pain. Talk to a health care provider about the symptoms you're experiencing to ensure that they are within the wide range of normal.

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