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Cesarean Section Recovery

Reviewed by James Brann, M.D.

What to Expect in the Days after a Cesarean Birth

Learn about the recovery from a cesarean birth.

Recovering from labor and delivery is slightly different if you undergo a cesarean section. Typically after a C-section you will be whisked away to a recovery room, where you will be closely monitored for an hour to ensure that you don't develop any complications from surgery.

You will also receive pain medication to help alleviate the soreness in your abdomen. Believe it or not, within 24 hours your nurse or physician will encourage you to get up and start walking around, in order to help reduce the chance of blood clots in your legs and improve your recovery rate.

Walking can also help relieve gas build up that commonly occurs in the abdomen after a cesarean birth. Generally walking around is uncomfortable at first, but most women find the pain subsides within a few days after delivery.

You might consider holding a pillow to your stomach for some support.

Most women should expect a hospital stay of between 3-5 days after a C-section. During this time you will be able to feed and care for your newborn as you feel up to it.

Cesarean Section vs. Vaginal Recovery

Cesarean section incisions may take 4 weeks or more to heal completely, and most women report some tenderness for several weeks along the incision line.

Recovery from a cesarean delivery is much like recovery from a vaginal delivery. You can expect to bleed for a few weeks after delivery, and you will feel many of the same 'labor pains' after delivery including contractions of your uterus as it shrinks back down to its pre-pregnancy size.

Many women will require a little extra help the first week after a cesarean delivery. It is not recommended that you attempt to lift anything heavier than your baby, and your physician may instruct you to avoid stairs or driving for a couple of weeks after delivery.

Remember that you are the best judge of your pain and comfort. If things seem overwhelming, slow them down and remember to ask for help when necessary.

When to Call Your Doctor

In certain circumstances complications should arise, and you should alert your physician immediately to reduce the likelihood of a life threatening or severe condition. After your cesarean, call your physician if you experience any of the following:

  • Heavy bleeding that requires a fresh sanitary pad every hour for more than 4-5 hours.

  • Vaginal bleeding that gets heavier instead of lighter.

  • If you are passing large blood clots the size of a golf ball.

  • If you have a fever or increased drainage from the incision, or if your incision starts bleeding.

  • You experience pain or swelling and redness in your calves, which may be a sign of blood clots.

  • If you have any symptoms of severe postpartum depression, including feelings of despair, hallucinations or other dangerous thoughts.

Generally the scar in your abdomen will gradually fade and you will feel like your pre-pregnant self in no time at all.

At your six week check up your physician should give you the green light to begin a regular exercise program and resume intercourse if she/he hasn't already.

Remember that every woman is different, and each woman will recover from their cesarean labor experience at their own pace. Avoid comparing yourself with others, and remember to pamper yourself in this time of newfound joy.

Revel in the new life you have created, and you will be sure to recover swiftly and thoroughly. Many women find recovery from a cesarean no more challenging than that of a vaginal birth, and some feel it is easier.

Many women who undergo a cesarean for the first time will have the opportunity to attempt a vaginal delivery the second. If this is something you are interested in be sure to consult with your physician to ensure that any potential risks and benefits are weighed appropriately.

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