Wednesday, March 4, 2015

what i've learned: seven tips for a smooth C-section recovery

Silas and Delia were both born via C-section, after long labors and no progression. After Delia's birth, we learned that the end of my spine is tilted in such a way that prevents my labors from progressing. So, even though I sometimes grieve the fact that my babies were born surgically, and most likely any subsequent babies will be as well, I'm above and beyond grateful for modern medicine that allowed them to be born at all. It makes me incredibly sad to see the guilt and regret that sometimes comes along with C-sections birth stories, but that's a topic for a completely different post. Today, we're chatting about recovering from a C-section, whether it was planned or not.

When I wrote out Delia's birth story, I received a lot of responses asking for any advice for recovering from a C-section, so I've been brainstorming this post for awhile. This probably goes without saying, but I'm not a doctor, so these are simply personal tidbits that I found particularly helpful in the first hour to ten days after my babies' arrivals. Take and use what you want, and add your input in the comments!

In the operating room...

1. Make picture-taking as low-stress as possible. 

(Ok, this one isn't really about recovering, but I'll share it anyway...)

My experience: My mom got to be in the OR for Silas' birth (along with Chris), so I was able to explain the settings on my DSLR before they wheeled me in. During Delia's birth, I just handed my phone off to Chris and I'm pretty sure it was the anesthesiologist who used it to get some shots of Delia and the three of us together. Those first shots that we have of our freshly born little girl are precious to me, even though they are phone-quality.  The next day, we used my DSLR to get some better shots of all four of us.

There are going to be many things that will be occupying your mind before the baby comes. Try not to let the photos stress you out. Make sure to have the camera settings set, expect bright lighting and small spaces (a 50mm lens is not the best one to use in this case!) If you have a decent camera on your phone, I'd recommend using that. Almost everyone knows how to use those, and it will make it easy for one of the staff to snag it to snap a few pictures of your new family.

Recovering at the hospital...

2. Pack nursing nightshirts in your hospital bag

My experience: I was trying for a VBAC with Delia, and that's probably the reason my mind wasn't completely on C-section recovery. So I foolishly packed PJ pants and tops for my hospital stay. There's no way in heck that you want a waistband pressing on that incision area those first few days. No bueno.

Pack some nursing gowns in your hospital bag! As soon as I got home, I hopped on Amazon to order some nursing nightshirts for sleeping in. I have this pretty one, and something like this would be great for the hospital and first few weeks too!

3. Try laying the bed flat to sleep

My experience: I slept sitting up the first few nights in the hospital so that I could easily nurse Delia. But I slept pretty poorly. By the third night, I decided to just lay the bed flat while sleeping, and have Chris adjust it when I needed to nurse D. I slept much better and felt much less sore the next morning, since I wasn't scrunched up in bed and my incision didn't have any pressure on it.

This seems like a complete no-brainer, but it took me until the last night in the hospital with Delia to figure it out. Do what feels best to you, but you probably don't sleep sitting up at home, so why would you at the hospital?

4. Walk (and take the pain meds!)

The nurses will tell you that walking will help you heal faster. They're right. It sounds absurd because you'd think (well, I would think anyway) that resting would help your body heal faster. And it's going to feel like you're going to rip open your abdomen when you stand up for the first time (don't worry-you won't!) Take slow walks in the hallway with your new little fam, check out the new babies in the nursery, and read the cute names on the doors around you. Once you're home, don't try to do too much, but make sure you get a little bit of walking in each day.

 Taking your pain meds will help you be able to actually get up out of bed and start the healing process. Make sure you call in your prescription to your pharmacy as soon as possible, so you don't have to skip a dosage once you're home! By the time I was home, I was down to taking the prescription Ibuprofen, but do what works for you!

Oh, and random sidenote on pain-- I was surprised when the most painful area was the far ends of my incision. It felt like a searing pain with some movements (especially getting out of bed or standing up). This might be a bit graphic, but from my understanding (from what a doc told Chris), tears heal better than cuts, so a small incision actually gets torn into a larger opening for the baby, and the nerves at the edges of the incision are greatly affected. Again, I'm not a doc (and if you're worried about something, call yours!), but if you're wondering why the ends of your incision sting like hell, that could be why. 

Once you're home...

5. Improvise and plan ahead if you can. 

My experience: For me, the toughest part of recovering from the C-section the second time around was that I couldn't lift Silas, or even have him on my lap. At the time Delia was born, he was still eating in a high chair and sleeping in a crib, and couldn't climb into either by himself. This was fine when I had Chris and my mom around to help, but as soon as I was on my own, I had to improvise. I moved Silas to a booster seat at the table, and I also devised a step stool system for him to climb into his crib-a kitchen chair next to his crib, and a step stool on his mattress. I took both to the other side of the room once he was in.

If you can plan ahead and he/she is ready, it might be helpful to switch your toddler over to a toddler bed or to a booster seat a month or two before the baby arrives. That way they have time to transition and learn the ropes. Otherwise, plan on improvising. Help your toddler learn to do some things on their own. Be patient-- simple things will probably take a little longer for awhile. It's going to be a learning and growing process for all of you, but it can also be a really sweet time of seeing the way your older baby grows and learns.

6. Accept help

My experience: We kept both Silas and Delia in a pack'n'play bassinet in our bedroom for the first week or so. They were loud grunty sleepers, so they got booted to their own rooms real quickly. But whether they were in our room or in their own nurseries, it was so helpful for Chris to get up to change their diapers and bring them to me in bed. The most painful part of the recovery (for me) was getting into and out of bed, so while he changed their diaper, I was able to slowly shift into a good nursing position.

We were also really fortunate to have my mom stay with us for about two weeks after each kiddo's birth. She's amazing, and the help she provided was absolutely priceless. If you are able to have someone that you love and trust come to help for the first little while after the birth, take it! I know many people like to remain in their private bubble for the first few weeks-- but I don't think you'll regret it if it's possible to have someone truly helpful (no stress, no drama!) stay with you for a little while.

7. Let yourself emote, but don't beat yourself up.

There are so many ways that your labor could have ended up as a C-section. Maybe it was a last-minute emergency, maybe you planned ahead and had months to plan for it. Either way, there are so many complicated emotions that come along with C-sections, and I would never tell anyone to 'just get over it'. I only began to really feel the regret and dismay after Delia's birth. Realizing that I'll never even have the chance to experience birthing my babies naturally saddens me a little bit. Some natural childbirth books and articles will have you believe that a C-section is the worst thing that could happen to your child, but I call phooey on that one. I'm thankful for the doctors, nurses and staff that had the skills and tools to bring my babies into the world safely and quickly, and ultimately, that's all that really matters, right?

I'd love to keep the advice rolling in the comments below. What's your #1 tip for recovering smoothly from a C-section? The more practical, the better!

PS. To read Silas' birth story, here's part one and here's part two. Read Delia's birth story here.

Click here to see my post titled "Three Reasons I love my C-sections.".


  1. Thank you so much for sharing this. This is my first baby and even though I'm confident the team will know what to do, the c-section is still scaring me a little. Your post really helps feeling a little more prepared. :)

  2. I was one of the lucky ones to deliver all 3 vaginally... I can understand your let down as to not having a chance to experience a non C section... My grandmother told me 'as long as the baby is healthy, that is what is important'.. and I am sure u have heard it echoed dozens of times... and yes- kudos to modern medical technology.... The beautiful babies u have had outweigh the means of how they arrived.

  3. Great post! Since I will be having a second c-section these are great tips. I didn't think about these before but I'm glad you posted these. And I understand how you feel about the emotions, it's so true. I hate when people make people who had c-sections feel bad. But I was still sad about it to. You totally took the words right out of my mouth! Great post!

  4. Thank you for this post and Delia's birthstory. I had an emergency csection with 1st, vbac with 2nd and now with 3rd Im at a hospital that does not allow vbacs so I'm having a planned csection. It feels so backwards and that guilt is there. Im really hoping for a lot better experience with this csection since it is planned. Love all your tips:).

  5. Great tips! I had a cesarean with my daughter, and planning a VBAC with this baby, but it's always good to be reminded what to do.

  6. This morning we were watching Sea Rescue and talking baby names (not pregnant!) and Mark suggested the names Koa and Kai, so of course I hopped on your blog to re-read your post about Si's name. And got distracted by this post. Both my boys were via c-section at Georgetown, a teaching hospital. The only allow "educational" pictures during procedures or surgeries. Both times we brought our Cannon ELPH since it is easy to use and discrete and found kind nurses or residents that took "teaching pictures" on our personal camera. Do I wish I had DSLR? Of course, but this was a great way to still have precious photos. My doc actually paused during surgery to hold Hudson up to "document his exit position" aka she knew how much I wanted photos! Having a great surgical team and being gracious a it what they/we could and couldn't do certainly helped us get these precious memories.

  7. Wearing an after surgery girdle helped my recovery. I'm planning on buying a better one this time around.

  8. If you are taking Percocet at home after a csection, donmt forget to take a stool softener! Constipation from pain Meds is the WORST after a csection...prevent it. I'm a nurse and still forgot this after my first csection.


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