I've had 5 Cesarean sections and have noticed that my body needs some similar things each time I deliver. May I offer six pieces of advice for recovery after a C-Section:
1. Be vehemently strict in following your pain management treatment plan.
With a 13 inch incision in your abdomen, and while caring for your newborn, it can be tricky to juggle every aspect of healing. When you receive a prescription of OxyContin, Vicodin, or extra strength ibuprofen, set your alarm and wake up every 4 hours, (even at 2am when baby is sleeping), and pop that pain pill! It will do wonders for you an hour later when your bebe wakes and you're not screaming in pain. Don’t forget to nourish your body with healthy nutrients. Eating a rainbow of vegetables, fruits, fish, grains and probiotic foods will help heal your gut and abdomen. Gassy foods that are rich in fiber - beans, legumes, salads or vegetables like onions, mushrooms, broccoli and cauliflower, should be avoided. Gentle foods like yogurt, steamed vegetables, whole grains, lean meats, and cheeses have helped me heal quickly without causing digestive distress.
2. Aquire supplies to provide daily relief
Stock up on a bin with heat packs, ice packs, binding bands, abdominal belts, Boppy pillows, body pillows, ace bandages, heating blankets, rolled up towels, and extra large tied pajama pants to provide the most comfort and the least amount of pressure on your scar. An abdominal binder, (a wide compression belt that goes around your stomach), can also be used to offer additional support and avoid putting stress on your wound. You will still bleed vaginally for up to 6 weeks. Stock up on thick pads, panty liners, Depends, or period panties will serve you well. When nursing and holding your infant, place him on the skin above or below your wound, to not compress your scar. Be gentle with your incision when rolling over in bed or drying off after a shower. Remember - no baths until your incision has healed and avoid tampons for the first 6 weeks to avoid infection.
3. Prepare before baby arrives
Whether or not you have a scheduled or unplanned c- section, it is often helpful to prepare for the month postpartum. With extra planning and support from family and friends, make enough freezer meals to last you a few weeks. At your baby shower, ask your friends to create a sign up genius or meal train or ask relatives to provide you with meals while you heal. To avoid heavy lifting, hire, ask, or beg your spouse, mother, mother in law and friends to help with laundry or other daily tasks so you can focus on your healing and bonding with your baby. Also, find lotions, creams, oils, makeup or other small beauty products to use specially after you’ve given birth, which can help you feel relaxed and beautiful as you recover.
4. Don’t be afraid to call your tribal woman for help
As women, the underlying pressure to work, cook, drop off children at school, look phenomenal, eat healthy, manage the home, provide activities and entertainment for the family can be exhausting. If this is your first baby or your fifth baby, find your circle of friends and ask them ahead of time to help you and your growing family. As mentioned above, this can include meal preparation and household duties, but more importantly, emotional, spiritual, and mental support. Your partner will be a great source of comfort, but having women who know and have experience, will provide deep healing in this time of need. Don’t forget to include female relatives, neighbors and church friends in your quest to provide support. Advice, comfort, and assistance comes from the nurturers and care givers which often flow from the hands and hearts of the women around us. In a study focusing on first-time mothers Dr. Valentina Tonei from the Department of Economics at the University of York found, “Unplanned caesareans may have a particularly negative psychological impact on mothers because they are unexpected, usually mentally and physically stressful and associated with a loss of control and unmatched expectations."
5. Take your time
If I have learned anything from delivering my babies via C-Section, it is that healing cannot he rushed or controlled on a timeline. If rushed, or you jump into activities prematurely, you can cause injuries and chronic pain in your future. Pace yourself! You just had major surgery! Ignore housework. Don’t go up and down stairs or carry loads of groceries or laundry. Strenuous activity can open up your incision or cause strain on the ligaments and muscles.
If you’ve had multiple C-Sections you may notice the numbness and pain is growing upwards towards your belly button and is no longer localized in your scar area. You may also find your scar tissue is bulging or pushing outwards when you lay down. Using heat, ice, and a pillow to hold on your scar as you stand, lift, or lay in a certain position will ease the pain and discomfort.
Also remember your emotions, hormones and mental wellness will take time to heal and settle after delivery. Take time for prayer, meditation, talk therapy, going out with friends and family, and finding moments to laugh. By hiring a trusted babysitter or asking your partner , even taking brief moments of time away from your family to breathe and think on your own without the mental and physical distractions of your baby can benefit your healing process.
6. Slow down when getting back to exercise
Walking is encouraged until you're cleared for more strenuous activity. “Walking is beneficial for the first 4 weeks," says Malavika Prabhu, MD, a specialist of maternal-fetal medicine at New York-Presbyterian and Weill Cornell Medicine. She recommend about 15 minutes of walking each day. If you have a pedometer, that's equivalent to about 1,500 steps.
Be extremely careful after you are medically cleared to exercise, not to jump into core, cardio or abdominal workouts too soon. It can create a further separation of your abdominal muscles called Diastasis recti - also called diastasis rectus abdominis or diastasis. It is the separation of the rectus abdominis muscles during and after pregnancy and effects the lower abdomen and can make a person lose "six-pack abs” and continue to look pregnant after baby is delivered.
These exercise movements should be avoided if you have diastasis recti:
Crunches or sit-ups of any kind
Planks or push-ups (unless using modifications).
Downward dog, boat pose and other yoga poses
Double leg lifts, scissors and other Pilates moves.
Any exercise that causes your abdominals to bulge, cone or dome.
Instead try rolling over every time you stand or sit up, deep breathing while slowly lifting a leg and lowering it to the floor. Do not lifting anything heavier than your baby for 8-10 weeks and find workouts that knit and bind your abdominal muscles together gently.
Here are two of my favorite great core exercises that heal Diastasis recti:
You can heal physically, emotionally and mentally from a cesarean birth with proper nutrition, medication, support of your female caretakers, a patient mindset, slow and steady daily movement and gentle supportive family members. A realistic expectation is 9 months of baby growth leads to 9 months of healthy healing. When you find yourself struggling, we're here to support you in your questions, pains and fears.
Article by Christina Packard
Christina is the mother of 5. She is a writer and educator for Made Mindful, LLC. Along with gardening, embroidery, and playing the piano and trumpet, she finds thrills in anything DIY or craft related.