After my emergency c-section with our second daughter, I was so unprepared for c-section recovery. I never in my wildest dreams thought I’d need a c-section, especially since I already had a successful vaginal birth with our first daughter.
Needless to say, I was in for a shock. Below are 7 things I learned that helped me recover from my c-section quicker.
1. Surgery Mentality
A major mental shift for me was to realize that I just had major abdominal surgery. This may seem obvious, but with my previous birth experience, I was not prepared mentally for the longer recovery period. I wanted to get up and move around right away. And while movement is really good for healing, I was almost always on the edge of overdoing it (especially with a toddler in tow). I had to downshift my activity and majorly downgrade my expectations on myself.
2. Get Help
Plan for more help than you think you’ll need, because it’s very hard to know how you’ll feel, even 3 weeks after. One good idea is for friends/family to set up a meal train or buy gift cards for take-out so you can spend your time in your bed resting & bonding with your new baby.
If you have other children, I’d highly recommend asking for help with them. After my c-section, we sent our toddler off with her grandparents for longer than we had anticipated. It was hard for me to do that, but ultimately the best thing as she was only 21 months old and wanted to be held all the time.
It will take at least 6 weeks for you to feel recovered. The more you overdo your activity, the longer that could be. This is not the time to worry about your house being clean - and this is a great time for your husband/partner to step up and help. Just communicate your needs!
A tip to help you rest is to room in with your newborn (which I recommend regardless if you’ve had a c-section). A bassinet next to your bed or even safe co-sleeping will be much easier on your body. This will also help establish breastfeeding (which can be more of a challenge after a c-section - more on this below).
4. Breastfeeding May Be Harder
This isn’t a tip, but it’s important to know. Breastfeeding after my c-section was hard, and I’ve read that this is common. It was difficult to find a good position to breastfeed in, and my daughter had trouble with her latch. I had very few problems breastfeeding my first daughter, so this was a surprise for me. You may encounter other challenges with breastfeeding if you were separated from your baby for a long time. It's ok! It doesn’t mean that you can’t breastfeed...
Don’t. Give. Up. - GET HELP! We have an online class (Breastfeeding Made Simple) that will teach you all you need to know about successful breastfeeding. There are also amazing lactation consultants, Facebook groups and organizations who are committed to helping moms successfully breastfeed. I utilized all three of these options - I chatted, sent (non-awkward) pictures, and asked a million questions. It was a rough 8 weeks, but I persevered because I knew that after the first couple of months, breastfeeding was so easy.
At the same time, if breastfeeding isn't working, that's ok. This is me giving you permission to not feel guilty!
5. Take Gentle Walks
While rest is important, gentle movement is just as important. Walking helps circulation, which helps healing. Good circulation also prevents blood clots. If the weather is nice, this is a good opportunity for some fresh air, which aids in your mental health, too! Ask your doctor for their recommendation on the frequency/intensity of your walks.
6. Take Pain Relievers - But Be Careful
It’s important to stay on top of your pain, but be mindful. As I’m sure you’ve heard, opioid addiction is a very real issue that requires good management of pain reliever use (I'm pretty passionate about this issue as it has become the leading cause of injury-related death in the U.S.). Most medications given at the hospital are some form of opioid + Tylenol/Advil. While these medications are helpful right after your surgery, many women can manage the pain without them after a short amount of time.
I’d recommend asking your doctor for a prescription for ibuprofen & acetaminophen separate from the opioid so you can really tailor your medication to your needs. For me, I was actually able to manage my pain with ibuprofen alone. This article is a great example of the shifts that are recommended for OBs to combat the opioid crisis and gives some practical tips on how to manage your pain without opioid use.
7. It’s Okay to be Sad
My last little tip for recovering from your c-section is to recognize that birth trauma is a real thing. If you’re struggling with the outcome of your birth, it’s important to reach out and talk to someone about it. There are some amazing therapists out there who specialize in working with women who experience birth trauma - some even will meet clients online.
But even if you’re not struggling with trauma, you may still feel sad. It’s okay to feel sad. I’d recommend talking about your feelings with your husband/partner or a trusted friend. Don’t ignore your feelings or feel silly for feeling sad because "all that matters is that you and baby are healthy." Your mental health is just as important as your physical health, and birth trauma takes a while to heal from, too.
For some, it's helpful to focus on the positives in front of them: a sweet baby who was born into the world and has a destiny for its life! I know it may be hard to think of the positives, especially with all the hormones and lack of sleep. Making a gratitude list is a practical way to put those positives in front of you.
Take care of yourself and be sure to prioritize your mental health.