Midwife Elizabeth Stein answers the question, I'm having a c-section. What will my recovery be like?

By Elizabeth Stein, CNM


What will my recovery from a cesarean section delivery be like?


A cesarean section is major abdominal surgery. Your body has to recover from surgery while you are caring for a newborn and breastfeeding. No small task! Consider accepting all offers of help.

Following your cesarean section, you will remain under observation for several hours in the labor and delivery/surgical area. You will receive fluids by IV, and a Foley catheter will drain your urine into a collecting bag. All fluids and urine are measured and recorded. Your epidural catheter will remain in place for another day or two, so you should not have intense pain. After several hours of being checked for bleeding from the vagina and the incision site, changes in blood pressure and temperature, and adequate urine output, you'll be transferred to the postpartum unit. You will not be able to eat, but ice chips may be okay. Your diet will then change to clear fluids (apple juice, gelatin, tea) for 24 hours. Your Foley catheter and the IV fluids will be removed. If there are no problems, you can then eat regular food. While you are recovering, you can hold, care for, and breastfeed your baby. When the epidural catheter is removed, pain medication will be available if you need it. The pain should lessen every day. By the time you go home, two Tylenol every four hours should relieve your pain.

In the first days of your recovery, you'll be encouraged to move around, get out of bed, sit in a chair, go to the bathroom, and walk around the halls. You should have a nurse or family member help you at first. You will be asked to take deep breaths or blow into an incentive spirometer. This measures the amount of air you breathe in and out and helps clear your lungs.

If staples were used on your skin, they'll be removed before you go home. If Steri-Strips (adhesive strips like Band-Aids) are put on after the staples are removed, they may stay in place for a week or so or may peel off on their own. If they do, you don't need to replace them. You may shower with them. You can use water and a mild white soap over the incision area and perineum. Baths, douching, tampons, sex, and exercising should be put on hold until after your six-week post-op checkup. If your postpartum course is normal, you'll go home three or four days after delivery, depending on your insurance coverage.

You will be very glad to be home with your newborn. At home, heavy lifting (anything heavier than your baby) and going up and down stairs several times a day are discouraged. You should eat, drink lots of fluids, rest as much as possible, and continue taking your prenatal vitamins. I recommend continuing them for six to twelve months postpartum, but certainly as long as you are breastfeeding.

Two weeks after your cesarean section, you will have an "incision site" checkup in the office, to see how the incision area is healing. This not a complete exam unless there is a problem. Recovering from a cesarean section takes many weeks longer than recovering from a vaginal delivery, but you should feel back to normal by your six-week postpartum checkup.

I encourage new moms to accept all those generous offers of help with cooking, cleaning, and shopping. Everyone wants to see you and your newborn. You may want to limit the number of visitors every day and resist the urge to be the hostess. Please rest as much as you can and let your guests pamper you.

The information on this Web site is designed for educational purposes only. It is not intended to be a substitute for informed medical advice or care. You should not use this information to diagnose or treat any health problems or illnesses without consulting your pediatrician or family doctor. Please consult a doctor with any questions or concerns you might have regarding your or your child's condition.

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