11 Proactive C-Section Recovery Essentials You Need to Know About
I will never forget my first night in the hospital after my c-section. Our crying baby woke my husband up long enough for him to hand the baby off to me, but after I was done feeding him, I was left with a sleeping baby and no way to get him back to his bassinet.
Getting out of the hospital bed was a task that required me to use a very loud motorized bed to get myself into a reclined position, before I slowly, and painfully raised myself the rest of the way. Standing was the worst part of it all. I required a stable footing and both arms to do the extra lifting that my core could not.
Doing this was impossible while holding a baby. I had never felt more helpless in my life.
My experience is not unique. But the challenges of c-section recovery are rarely talked about.
After that first c-section and a second one, I’ve learned a few things that I wished I’d known from the beginning. Here are 11 things that you need to know about when recovering from a c-section.
11 Proactive C-Section Recovery Essentials You Need to Know About
Sleep is one of the most important c-section recovery essentials. In fact, it’s essential for recovering from any type of illness or injury. As this article on post-hospital care states:
Your body does the majority of its healing while you’re asleep. It’s important that you’re able to take a nap whenever you need to. When your body and mind feel tired, that’s a signal that your body has work to do.(Post Hospital Care, 2020)
I know that sounds like a joke for every new mom, but nap all day with your baby if you have to. Forget about the house and making meals. Forget about everything except recovering and taking care of your baby.
If you’re breastfeeding, pump and have your significant other feed your baby a bottle once at night so you can get a good stretch of sleep. Try to aim for at least 8 hours total each day (not in one stretch).
Walking will help you relieve gas pains, have a bowel movement, improve urine output, prevent blood clots, and begin retraining your abdominal muscles to support your body.Kumar, 2021
Do short walks multiple times a day and build up to more. I felt a strong tugging feeling in one hip pretty regularly if I did too much. It was normal, but it was also a good gauge for me to know if I was doing too much. Pay attention to these signals and walk as long as it feels ok.
I found it helpful to have a baby carrier (this is the one I used and loved*) to take these walks with my baby. He would sleep as long as I was moving, so I didn’t have to worry about him while I walked. (Make sure you wear an abdominal binder when you walk to help with posture and back pain–more on those in a minute.)
3. Eat nutritious meals
This can be hard, but don’t overthink it. Get frozen meals if you have to (I like the Healthy Choice Power Bowls and the EVOL meals). It may not be up to your previous standards of nutrition, but that’s ok. Focus on eating regularly and including protein and vegetables in your meals.
Your body cannot heal if it is depleted of calories and nutrition.
4. Don’t Neglect Your Pain Medication
You just had major surgery. Take the pain medication that is offered to you while you are in the hospital and continue taking it until your pain is at a reasonable level. Don’t discontinue use because you feel like you should be better.
After my c-section, I didn’t feel pain immediately so I passed on the pain meds. Big mistake. I woke up in the middle of the night feeling like my middle had been cut out. Quickly, I called the nurse and asked for pain medication, but it took a few doses before the pain was bearable and I ended up being miserable for most of that day.
I continued to take what was prescribed to me for a week or so and then switched to over-the-counter pain meds when I was feeling a little better.
5. Get help for the first two weeks
This is my suggestion for all new moms, but it’s one of the essentials for recovery after a c-section. The first two weeks are when you’re going to be in the most pain. You’re also going to have doctor’s appointments for yourself and your baby. Plus, you have a lifting limit (about 10 pounds) and normally aren’t allowed to drive.
Talk to your husband, your mom, or someone else you’re close to about being around all day every day for those first two weeks. That way they can block off that time to be available to you without any other obligations.
This will help you get the care you need during your most vulnerable time. And also assure you don’t overdo it out of desperation.
6. Wear an abdominal wrap
Abdominal wraps help support your core and back. Our posture gets out of wack during pregnancy when our center of gravity shifts forward to accommodate a growing belly.
Then we proceed to pull ourselves forward even more by caring for a baby. Holding a baby, feeding a baby, reaching down to pick up a baby. These are all things that bring us forward.
Now add on a c-section, which tends to pull us forward because of weak abdominal muscles and tight tissue in our incisions. Pay attention to your first walk after a c-section. You will find it hard to straighten up fully.
These wraps help support your core and encourage your body to retrain your abdominal muscles to stay in. They help with back pain that comes from the misalignment of your spine due to all of these shifts forward.
7. Use a nursing pillow
If you’re breastfeeding (or if bottle feeding is difficult), use a nursing pillow (I loved this nursing pillow) to keep pressure off your incision while you’re feeding your baby. You don’t want to aggravate that area any more than you have to.
Start with some simple stretches and then build up to more.
You can try gentle exercises a few days after the C-section:
Deep breathing: Take 2 or 3 slow, deep breaths every half-hour. This can help prevent lung congestion from sitting in bed so much.
Shoulder circles: Sit upright and roll your shoulders 20 times in both directions every hour to help with stiffness.
Gentle stretching : Stand against a wall and raise both arms slowly above your head until you feel the muscles in your belly stretch. Hold for 5 seconds, and then relax. You can do this up to 10 times a day to boost flexibility around your stitches.(Pathak, 2020)
As you get stronger, you can start a regular stretching regimen with more complex stretches. (See the video below.)
After Your 6-8 Week Clearance
9. Sit on a Yoga Ball
Sitting on a yoga ball is a gentle way to work your abs. It engages the abs and forces your spine to align correctly. This will build abdominal strength over time and help correct your posture, which will go a long way to helping you feel fully recovered.
10. Do exercises that are for c-section recovery
Here are a few of the videos that I found helpful after my c-sections.
11. Go to physical therapy
Keep in mind that it does take some time to recover your abdominal strength (and they may never get back to where they were prepregnancy), but if you’ve tried all of the tips above and still have significant pain, it’s time to see your doctor. Ask your doctor to refer you to a physical therapist.
A physical therapist can evaluate you and work with you specifically on recovering in the area of your injury.
I went to see a physical therapist about 9 months after my first c-section when I still had a high level of lower back pain regularly.
Timeline for Recovery
Forget the 6-8 weeks. It does not take 6-8 weeks to recover from a c-section.
When I hit 8 weeks and it still hurt to stand or sit up, I thought there was something wrong with me. Nope. Your incisions may all be healed by this point, but you’re still going to have some pain for months.
So what can you expect?
At 2 weeks, you should start to feel less pain (you may be able to go off regular pain medicine at this point).
Everyone is different, but with my first, I remember 6 months postpartum being when I realized I no longer had constant pain (not intense, but dull pain) in my lower belly.
Right around 1 year postpartum, I started feeling normal again. By that I mean, I had zero pain (most of the time), could work out at the level I had prepregnancy, and felt strong again.
Some things do not completely go away and it’s important to know that these are normal.
There will probably always be an area on your lower abdomen that will be numb and tender if someone puts pressure on it.
I am currently 1 year postpartum after my second c-section and I still have a patch of skin on one side near my scar that is numb and hurts if I press down on it.
A Note on Subsequent C-Sections
If you’re dreading future c-sections, the good news is that recovery gets easier. After my second c-section, I was able to move around really well as soon as the nurses let me get up. I also had little trouble getting in and out of bed, even with my baby. My husband even marveled at how well I was doing compared to the first time.
I was off the pain medication in a few days so I could drive myself around (I’m not a fan of being helpless). And I was lifting my almost 2-year-old regularly after those first two weeks.
So if you’ve had one and you’re afraid of having another (I was), realize that it will probably be easier the second time. I’ve heard this from other c-section moms as well–the first is the hardest.
If you follow these tips consistently, you will get mostly back to normal. Don’t make the mistake of thinking things will automatically get better over time. Of course, your incision will heal and you won’t be in as much pain, but your posture is not going to fix itself and your abdominal strength will not return on its own.
Just like it takes time and intention to recover after an injury. It takes time and intention to recover well after pregnancy and a c-section.
Between all of the suggestions above, I was able to finally start feeling like I was on the road to recovery. And you can too. With these c-section recovery essentials, you will get back to normal faster. Use this free monthly plan to remind you of what to do each month during recovery.
If you haven’t had your c-section yet and are trying to prepare, see my c-section essentials for your hospital bag and c-section postpartum essentials for what to stock at home. Already in recovery? What to wear after a c-section can help you find clothing that will keep you comfortable.
If you found this article helpful, don’t forget to share it with any mom whose had a c-section or plans to have one in the future.
The importance of rest after surgery. Cavendish Homecare. (2020, September 24). Retrieved October 12, 2022, from https://cavendishhomecare.com/articles-advice/the-importance-of-rest-after-surgery/
Karthik Kumar, M. B. B. S. (2021, December 16). Does walking help C-section recovery? 10 tips, exercises. MedicineNet. Retrieved October 12, 2022, from https://www.medicinenet.com/does_walking_help_c-section_recovery/article.htm
Pathak, N. (2020, September 21). C-section recovery – what to expect: Walking, blood clots, & pain. WebMD. Retrieved August 18, 2022, from https://www.webmd.com/baby/recovery-after-c-section#3