When caesarean sections - or C-sections - are necessary, they save lives. Yet, this type of birth is major abdominal surgery and recovery time can vary from one woman to another. During your caesarean section operation, the large abdominal muscles that have supported your growing womb, and which may already be weakened by your pregnancy, will be cut and sutured back together. This means that you will need to take extra care when moving about and lifting things.
What can I expect during my recovery?
Take it easy, your body needs time to mend, so you need rest and plenty of nourishment to do this. Eat healthily and arrange for help with normal day to day things, by asking your partner, family, older children, friends or hired help for extra assistance with daily chores, food prep and general life.
Avoid lifting heavy objects. As the abdominal muscles have been significantly weakened and will take time to heal and strengthen, lifting anything too heavy may cause you pain and future back and/or abdominal muscle problems.
You will not be able to drive for some time, so it may be wise checking your insurance policy to see what they specify. Even if you are legally allowed to, do not drive if you feel your body hasn’t sufficiently recovered to allow you to react as quickly as you normally would. Whether you are driving a manual or an automatic car, using your foot pedal/s requires a significant involvement of your lower abdomen.
What happens with my dressing?
Your dressing helps to protect the healing environment of your wound, so don’t be tempted to remove it until the day you were advised to. This is usually between day 5-7 after your C-section. Once your dressing has been removed, you should be able to clean and dry the area as normal. Baths or showers are advised daily to help keep the area free from infection.
Will my stitches need to be removed?
Most wounds are closed using dissolvable stitches, which sit under the skin and do not need to be removed. Occasionally, surgical staples or single stitches may be used and these are usually removed around day 5-10 after your operation.
What problems can I expect?
A certain amount of pain is to be expected, but this can usually be controlled by pain- killers that either your hospital will provide you with or recommend you buy. If you notice that your pain is increasing, speak with your midwife, GP or maternity unit straightaway. This could indicate an infection, for which you may need a course of antibiotics.
Poor abdominal strength
This is caused by the weakness of abdominal muscles which were severed and moved during your caesarean section operation. You should avoid using your abdominal muscles to sit up and, instead, roll onto your side and either walk your hands to sit up or use your arms to push yourself up.
A physiotherapist can guide you to the appropriate types of exercises to strengthen this area. Ask your midwife or doctor during your recovery when it is advisable to start exercising and which types are best to begin with, as everyone’s recovery is individual.
We know this is not a nice subject but understanding about wound infections and how to recognise when you may have the start of an infection can be invaluable to your recovery. They are more common than you think, so seek professional advice if you suspect you may be developing one.
Wound infections can be treated relatively easily, provided they are caught early. However, as you don’t always “see” the infection, it is important to know what to look out for:
- Any oozing of fluid from the wound, be it blood or yellow fluid, especially if it smells. This should be assessed straightaway, so contact your midwife, GP or maternity unit.
- Any increase in pain. Pain is your body’s way of alerting you to a problem. Although pain is to be expected with surgery, it should, in general, be on the decrease, not the increase as each day goes by.
- An increase in bleeding from your vagina may be normal, especially during breastfeeding or if you’ve overdone things a little. However, bleeding which is soaking through pads or with large clots in it isn’t normal. Contact your hospital, GP or midwife if you have any concerns over bleeding.
- If your belly hangs over your c-section wound, the latter may get little to no air, increasing your risk of infection. Use your hands to lift the overhanging flesh for around 10 minutes twice a day to allow the area to ‘air’. To help it remain dry and clean, place a piece of cloth (made from natural fibres) under your ‘pouch’. This will prevent irritation from sweat and skin rubbing against skin.
You should also contact your maternity team if you are concerned with smells, redness and/or irritation on the skin which is increasing, as these will need investigating.
Having a caesarean section could take longer to recover from than you might have anticipated, as it is major surgery. Knowing how to take care of yourself and address any warning signs can improve your postnatal experience and optimise your recovery.