Support from partners and loved ones when recovering from a C-section

March 08

Support from partners and loved ones when recovering from a C-section

15 min read By Malena Monteverde

Every woman who has recently birthed her baby (or babies) needs much support and containment. And this is especially true when they’ve had a Caesarean section (C-section).

Despite society’s (and, perhaps, even our own) expectations with having an early discharge from hospital and ‘getting on with it’, it is important to remember that a C-section is major abdominal surgery and, as such, women who have undergone one require plenty of time and opportunity to rest, recover and heal.

A C-section takes place after a woman has been pregnant – with all the changes and demands this has posed on her body – and, sometimes, after what may have been a shorter or longer process of labour and/or induction; all of which can be exhausting experiences in themselves. Furthermore, following her operation, she has a newborn to take care of, bond with and feed. There are very few instances in which anyone undergoing a similar major surgery is subjected to such a demanding 9 months pre- and (at least) one year (although we all know it’s oh-so-much-longer-than-this) post-surgery.

So, how can loved ones support a new mother who’s had a C-Section?

In theatre

Women having a planned C-section, may have made choices during their pregnancy on how to personalise their experience. But having an unplanned/emergency C-section does not mean that all of her wants and wishes are suddenly irrelevant. In most cases, circumstances will allow for her birth-partner to be present in theatre, meaning that they can act as the woman’s advocate and ensure that parts of her birth plan are honoured. For example:

  • You can request for delayed cord-clamping, as long as doing so is not detrimental to the woman/baby (which would be rare)
  • You can ask for baby to be placed skin-to-skin on mum’s chest or, if this is not possible, you can do skin-to-skin with baby
  • If appropriate, you could request that her chosen playlist is played during the operation 


In the recovery room

Continue to be mindful of what you discussed when she wrote her birth plan and try to honour her wants and wishes as much as possible:

  • If she expressed some colostrum during pregnancy and she is unable to breastfeed (due to anaesthetics, heavy blood loss or other reasons), you could give the baby the expressed colostrum via a syringe
  • You could also ensure mum and baby get some essential skin-to-skin contact in a safe manner by putting baby on her chest and remaining close and observant. Don’t leave baby on mum if she’s drowsy or the bed unsupervised as this could be unsafe
  • If appropriate and you wish to do so, send a group message to family and friends with an update/announcement and turn your phone off so you’re not distracted
  • Small gestures that can have a big impact include: a warm flannel to wash her face (you may need to do this), rearranging her pillows so she’s comfortable, getting her a straw so she can easily drink, putting her favourite tune on or, simply, holding her and telling her how much you love her and how proud you are of her


On the postnatal ward

At some point you will need to go home, either to collect extra items needed, tend to other children &/or pets or to get some decent sleep. Before you or another family leaves her on the ward, make sure that:

  • Baby’s cot is next to her, with the brakes on, and that baby’s close enough for her to soothe him (she may need to call the buzzer for someone to pass baby to her)
  • She has her phone, her charger is plugged in and at arm’s reach
  • Her water jug is full, nearby and that she has an extra-long straw to drink through
  • The buzzer is attached to the bed
  • She has snacks, medication, reading glasses, lip balm and other necessary objects close enough to reach
  • She’s had or is able to have some peppermint tea/water to ease the pain that trapped gas can cause after the operation – interestingly, this is often experienced as shoulder pain


For the trip home

  • Make trips to the car with all your stuff before she is discharged, as you will have to carry baby as she won’t be able to (and shouldn’t) carry weight
  • Attach a maternity seatbelt adjuster so that the seatbelt doesn’t sit on her wound. She may prefer to travel in the back with baby, rather than in the passenger seat, so ask her beforehand so you know where to put the adjuster
  • When you park, try to make sure the kerb is not on the side she’ll be getting in and out of, as this can pose a painful challenge for her


At home

For at least the first 2 weeks – but could be longer, depending on individual circumstances – partners, family and friends should do all they can to ensure all the new mother does is rest, feed and bond with her baby. After this period, she can gently start to do things, but will still need a lot of support.

The best ‘new baby gift’ her support network can give her is to pull their weight and not let her lift a finger doing chores by:

  • Providing cooked/frozen meals for her & her family
  • Running errands
  • Doing the school run for older children and offering after-school/weekend childcare where appropriate
  • Cleaning the house/hiring a cleaner
  • Taking laundry with them and bringing it back ready to put away
  • Looking after pets
  • Making sure she has everything she needs at hand: reading glasses, phone & charger (plugged in!), her breastfeeding/support pillow, pain-relief medication, the remote, a large drink with an extra-long straw and anything else she may require
  • Adapting the surroundings to minimise her need to bend or twist – e.g., placing baby’s changing mat and nappies on an uncluttered kitchen table, so she can sit to do nappy care

Most women don’t benefit from family/friends ‘taking baby away’ to give her a rest. This can often result in missed feeding cues, emotional stress for both mother & baby, and sense of pressure to let others have a cuddle and not ask for her baby back. It is important to be mindful of the new mother and baby’s needs and not let our own wants and wishes get in the way.

Saying this, she will need some rest and time for self-care everyday – which may include a nice restorative bath, a nurturing massage, a relaxing yoga class or just some quiet time for herself – and this is when looking after baby by her loved ones will be most beneficial.


In the long-term

As with any major operation, recovery times vary, and the needs of different women will be very individual. She’ll continue to need support and watchful consideration of her needs for at least a few months after her operation, if not longer, and this is normal.

 

Summary

The support that partners, family and friends can provide a new mother with is precious and vital, and it becomes essential after she’s had a C-section. By following the above tips and advice you, her support network, will give her the best gift of all: extra rest and help to allow her body and mind to heal and recover optimally.