A Week-by-Week C-Section Recovery Timeline

Having a Cesarean section? Our C-section recovery guide will help you prepare for side effects, scar care, and everything in between.


About one-third of all babies are born via Cesarean section in the United States today. Yet a C-section delivery—and the recovery that follows—is not covered in much depth in many childbirth classes, if at all. Here's what you need to know about C-section recovery week by week.

Day Of C-Section

Immediately after surgery, you'll move to a post-operative area (if your birthing location has one) where you'll remain under observation, with hospital staff monitoring things like bleeding (from your vagina and incision), blood pressure, and temperature. An IV will deliver fluids and a catheter will help empty your bladder, as the effects of anesthesia will not have worn off yet to enable you to urinate on your own.

At this point, you still won't have sensation in your lower body because of the anesthesia, and you may feel a bit shaky and woozy if you received pain medicine in your IV. The good news: Barring complications, you'll be able to hold (and nurse, if you choose) your baby right away.

If there aren't any complications, your medical team will continue to monitor you for a few hours as your anesthesia continues to wear off. You can start to eat, but will be encouraged to progress slowly from ice chips to liquids (think broth and juice) before moving to solids.

Following your surgery, nurses will massage your uterus to encourage it to contract and shrink to its normal size. (Sadly, this isn't as soothing and spa-like as it sounds.) Depending on the hospital, you might encouraged to get out of your bed, if possible, on the same day. Yes, you just had major abdominal surgery, but the activity will help speed up your C-section healing.

One Day After C-Section

C-section pain typically spikes 18 hours after delivery. "That's when the pain medication you were given with your spinal anesthesia wears off," says San Diego perinatologist Sean Daneshmand, M.D. At that point, you'll be given an oral narcotic—or you may have "patient-controlled analgesia," in which pain medication is delivered through your IV on your own schedule.

If your urinary catheter is not out yet, medical staff will remove it the day after your C-section. After this, you will be encouraged to get out of your bed, as this will help your bowels start moving quicker and prevent gravity-related swelling from building up in your legs. Don't hesitate to ask for assistance as you've just had major abdominal surgery!

You might be given a blood thinner (usually a subcutaneous shot called Lovenox) to prevent blood clots after surgery.

Two Days After C-Section

"After the first day, we recommend increasing activity as rapidly as possible, but do recognize that this may cause C-section pain," says Aaron B. Caughey, M.D., a former member of the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists committee on obstetrics practice. "Increased physical activity helps with circulation, improves bowel function, and will get you back to baseline sooner."

You also can shower within a day of your surgery, and doing so helps reduce the risk of infection. Don't scrub your incision, but let the soapy water run over it. (Your bandages will be removed 24-48 hours after surgery and might replaced with small sticky bandages called Steri-Strips; it's fine if these get wet.) Dry the area by gently patting it or using a blow-dryer set on cool.

Prefer to take a bath after a C-section? Unfortunately, submerging yourself in water is only safe once the incision has healed, which is generally seven to 10 days after surgery.

At this point in your C-section recovery timeline, you'll be wearing a pad for postpartum vaginal bleeding, which may last several weeks following delivery. (Yes, even after a C-section!) This totally normal discharge is called lochia, and it's a combination of leftover blood, mucus, and uterine tissue.

By this point, if not earlier, you're likely eating solid food. Swelling after a C-section is completely normal, and gas pains can be excruciating. They should pass within a week, once your bowels are moving normally again (abdominal surgery causes them to "shut down" temporarily, so pooping after a C-section might not come easy).

In the meantime, taking anti-gas medication and a stool softener will help—and so will walking around. If you can't walk long distances yet, ask your nurse if you can rock in the glider in your room; sometimes the rocking motion can help relieve built-up gas too. Also, use of an abdominal binder can with post-op pain and may enable you to move around better. Your physician might recommend taking simethicone tablets (such as Gas-X), which can help alleviate gas and bloating.

Four Days After C-Section

Although parents who give birth vaginally generally stay in the hospital for one or two days, with a C-section, you may stay three or four days. Of course, the length of your hospital stay will be dependent on your insurance coverage and barring any complications. Before you leave, your doctor will remove your staples if you have them (sutures will dissolve on their own).

You'll be advised on caring for your incision; keeping the wound clean and undisturbed is your best course. "There have not been any good scientific studies demonstrating that any of the over-the-counter preparations are better than just proper wound care," says Rajiv B. Gala, M.D., the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists' young physician at large.

You'll also be instructed not to lift anything heavier than your baby, and to avoid anything in the vagina, including penetrative sex (both partnered or solo), menstrual products, and douche products (which should generally be avoided regardless) until after your six-week check-up.

The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) recommends not placing anything in the vagina for several weeks to prevent infection. Driving right after a C-section is a no-no in certain situations, and so is taking the stairs if it's uncomfortable. You might recruit a partner to move your essentials downstairs if you have a multi-story home—or, at the very least, limit your trips so that you climb stairs only when it's essential.

Week 2 of C-Section Recovery

You'll see your doctor again for a postpartum check-up to examine your incision, which should not show excessive swelling after C-section, redness, or signs of infection. (If you see these signs, or are running a fever higher than 100.4 degrees Fahrenheit, call your doctor.) Discuss any concerns you have, and ask for an update on recommendations regarding activity.

Although you're only two weeks out from a major abdominal surgery, you should expect to feel tremendously better by this stage. But keep in mind that you'll feel C-section pain and cramping for several weeks. "Whether you delivered vaginally or by C-section, it takes six weeks for the uterus to contract to its normal size," says Dr. Daneshmand. Resting a heating pad or hot-water bottle on your belly can help—and so can over-the-counter pain relievers like ibuprofen.

You can still expect to look pregnant at this stage (and much longer, for many people) due to laxity of the abdominal wall.

Week 4 of C-Section Recovery

At this point during your C-section healing journey, you'll be moving more swiftly and comfortably, taking longer walks, and noticing your bleeding taper off. But keep your expectations in check.

"Don't compare your recovery to someone else's because our recoveries vary as much as our genetics, and comparisons will only frustrate those who take a bit longer to recover," says Shawn Tassone, M.D., an Austin, Texas-based OB-GYN and author of the books Hands Off My Belly! and Spiritual Pregnancy. "Listen to your body, and if things hurt, slow down; if you feel tired, rest as much as you can. And it's OK to take the pain medications prescribed to you by your provider."

Week 6 of C-Section Recovery

Good news: Your initial primary healing is done. "Full recovery from an uncomplicated Cesarean section can range between four and six weeks," says Dr. Gala, who notes, "The healthier you are before surgery, the quicker the recovery."

At this point, Dr. Tassone says, most of your sutures, if you had them, will have been about 50% absorbed, your uterus will be back down to its normal size, and you'll be free to have penetrative sex. "Some people may still have pain if they're bumped along the incision, but for the most part the wound is perfectly healed at this point, and you can resume all normal activities," he says.

Of course, there is still a lot of healing that goes on in your body in the postpartum stage, so be sure to take it easy, rest often, and listen to your body as you adjust to your new life as a parent. And as a general rule of thumb, if at any point in the postpartum process you start to feel worse, not better, call your doctor. You should never suffer in silence, and help is always a phone call away.

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