What to Expect after Your C-Section

If you’ve experienced a routine C-section, whether it was planned or unplanned, you can expect to be closely monitored by healthcare professionals for the next 24 hours to ensure that no problems develop.1 Your care team will provide you with medication to help manage pain and encourage you to walk short distances once your epidural is removed. This movement can help to relieve gas buildup in your abdomen and may be uncomfortable at first.1

You and your baby will likely stay in the hospital for at least two days.1 During this time, you’ll be able to feed and care for your child and/or ask for any help you need, especially if you’re having mobility issues. Your care team will be able to suggest breastfeeding positions and will send you home with post-surgery instructions, including warning signs of complications.1

How Long Does It Take to Recover from a C-Section?

Most mothers can go home from the hospital two to five days after having a C-section, but it may take four to six weeks to fully recover.1 Before you leave the hospital, your care team will tell you how to properly care for your incision, what you can expect to experience during your C-section recovery and when you should contact your doctor.1

Caring for Your Cesarean Incision

After your surgery, the area around the incision will likely be very sore and you may experience:2

  • Pain
  • Bruising around or along the incision
  • Small amounts of blood or pink fluid coming from your incision

While a C-section is considered a common surgical procedure, there is a risk of the incision getting infected, so taking proper care is of utmost importance.3 Possible signs of infection include:1,4

  • Fever
  • Red streaks leading from the incision
  • Foul-smelling discharge or redness at the site of the incision
  • Nausea and/or vomiting

The incision will likely be held closed with dissolvable stitches that disappear in one to two weeks and won’t need to be removed.2 If you have staples holding your incision closed, these staples are usually taken out in 3-5 days. Your doctor or healthcare provider will provide you with specific instructions for care and cleaning. Don’t scrub or rub your incision, as this may cause damage and slow the healing process.2 After showering, you may pat your incision dry with a clean towel. Avoid soaking in a bathtub or hot tub until your provider tells you it is okay.4 If your doctor has elected to use traditional stitches, staples or tape, scrubbing or vigorous drying after a shower might damage the site.2

Tips for C-Section Recovery and Healing

Be gentle with yourself after a C-section. Not only did you just have major surgery, but you also now have a newborn. You’ll need to take it easy while your incision heals, which means no heavy lifting or exercise.1 If you need help with housework, cooking or shopping, reach out to family and friends rather than trying to accomplish these tasks yourself.

These tips will help you manage your recovery:

  • Physical Activity. Exercises to avoid include sit-ups, weightlifting and strenuous activities.4 Hold off on these exercises for at least six weeks, or until your doctor says it’s okay. You will also be told not to lift anything heavier than your baby during this recovery time.4 Short walks, however, are a great way to aid your recovery.4 It boosts blood flow and helps prevent pneumonia, constipation and blood clots.1 You should also refrain from sexual intercourse for at least six weeks.4
  • Bodily Support. Hold a pillow firmly to your abdomen when you stand up, move around in bed or make sudden movements like coughing or laughing.2 Some mothers may opt to wear a supportive wrap to provide additional abdominal assistance. To get up from lying down, start by rolling onto your side and then push yourself up to a seated position.2 This will help put less strain on your abdominal muscles and allow you to heal. You’ll also want to experiment with different positions that feel more comfortable for breastfeeding.2 Additionally, you can expect some vaginal bleeding that may go on for several weeks while your body heals.1 Use sanitary pads during this time instead of tampons.2
  • Diet. Unless you have other underlying issues, no foods should be off limits while you recover from your C-section. Make sure you’re staying hydrated and eating foods that are high in fibre to help prevent constipation.2

When to See a Doctor

If something doesn’t seem right while you’re recovering from a C-section, reach out to your care provider with any concerns you may have. Your healthcare provider will prescribe pain medication to help you manage while you heal, but if you are having trouble managing, you should get checked out.

Other reasons to see a doctor can include:1

  • Sudden chest pain, shortness of breath or coughing up blood
  • Severe pain in your belly
  • Bright red vaginal bleeding that soaks one or more pads in an hour, for more than two hours
  • Passing blood clots that are larger than a golf ball
  • Your incision opens
  • Your belly feels overly tender or full and hard
  • You’re experiencing signs of infection such as fever, warmth, redness or discharge at the incision
  • You have signs of a blood clot in your calf, knee, thigh or groin
  • You’re showing signs of preeclampsia
  • If you are experiencing a depressed mood or anxiety

Talk to your doctor about any concerns you may have about your pregnancy, giving birth and whether you might want or need a C-section. Make sure you understand all the options available to you before you go into labour.