This is the article I wish I had before my c-section. This is the information I scoured the internet for. The one I found in bits and pieces after searching tons and tons of different sites, forums, and mother’s opinions. I spent endless hours on the computer. I sometimes I found great and sweet bloggers giving me their stories of their cesarean birth stories, tips on a gentle c-section, and tips for me. Other times I found scary stories, very medical answers, and a lot of tid-bits I had to piece together myself. I was committed to ask our amazing OB tons of questions and finding as many answers to my questions or irrational thoughts as I could.
This article is written to you. I don’t know your story. I don’t know your situation. But I know you’re reading the right article. You’re going to find a lot of answers to your questions here. Prep, surgery, and recovery. It’s here for you. And all of the tips are in the most random order. Enjoy!
Your Incision is Very Low
As much as I don’t want to admit it, I wasn’t too enthusiastic about having a major incision along my abdomen for the rest of my life. I knew it would happen, but I didn’t love it. I’m being totally honest with you. I didn’t want something messing up my body… this incision. I thought it was going to be right around my underwear line. Right where it may be seen when I wore a swimsuit. Guess what, my incision is very low. This thing will never see the light of day.
Your Incision Heals Quickly, Mostly Leave it Alone
I love assisting the body with healing and supporting how the body works. I love essential oils, herbal tinctures, and salves. I got some advice from a fellow c-section momma. She told me if the incision looks good, leave it alone. No need for any oils or salves for at least 2 weeks post cesarean. Leave it alone, let it heal. And honestly, the majority of the healing is going to happen internally, where you can’t put any kind cream.
I could feel my internal stitches. Not feel to the touch, but feel the pulling when I moved. They were above my external incision and felt it the most when I lifted my hands above my head, especially when washing my hair. It was extremely uncomfortable and I had to Google the symptom (warning, Googling medical things is usually not your friend). Your internal sutures will dissolve within 6 weeks and your tissues will be restored to their full tensile strength after 3 months. Even though you’re feeling good and get the go-ahead after 6 weeks, three months is really the time when your body is fully healed. Still take it easy 3-6 months postpartum.
Rehab your Incision 3+ months after surgery
The external incision is going to heal with a lot of scar tissue. If you’re like me, you may keloid scar, which is a thicker scar. Up until 6 months postpartum I felt some mild pulling when I’d stretch or workout. I guess that’s very normal, so don’t be worried. I don’t love feeling my incision. It’s really a mental thing, not physical. But massaging your incision should be done a few times a week. I am also starting to see an acupuncturist for cupping and acupuncture on my incision for some additional scar tissue treatment.
Here’s a great video that explains c-section scar massage
You get a Dose of Prophylactic Antibiotics Pre-Surgery
This one was a hard one for me to swallow. I don’t like antibiotics. I believe they should be used only if they are absolutely necessary. I spent many years and a lot of money healing my gut. I didn’t want any antibiotics I didn’t need messing with the microbiome of my gut. I talked to my OB and shared with her my concerns. She said our immune system is created to heal things like sinus infections, ear infections, and viruses. It was never meant to take care of a 6 inch incision open to potential bacteria. I understand that, and it is only one injection right before surgery. I took high doses of probiotics before and after the c-section. I recommend the probiotics to any pregnant woman. Especially during the third trimester.
The probiotic I recommend: UltraFlora Spectrum 2 capsules 2x/day. (You can order supplements here)
You have 4 Layers of Stitches and They Don’t Cut Your Abs
I thought my abs would be cut. I also hear that from so many people, “They cut your abs, right?”. I asked and it’s not true. They cut your skin, move your abs, cut the fascia and then cut your uterus. You can get your pre-pregnancy abdominal strength back after a c-section because your abs are still like they were.
When they stitch up your incisions they put two layers of stitches in your uterus. This is very important for healing and for a VBAC (vaginal birth after cesarean). This is a question to ask your doctor. I believe it’s more common now, but anything to encourage the most healing your your uterus to give you an opportunity for a VBAC is important.
You will Feel Postpartum and Post Surgical at Once
This hit me and hit me hard. I knew I’d be recovering from a c-section and have a baby, but I wasn’t emotionally ready for everything that came with having a newborn and essentially learning to walk again. I didn’t feel like myself. I couldn’t move well, I was trying to figure out breastfeeding, I was eyeballs deep in postpartum hormone fluctuations, I was hot and covered in milk, and I felt post surgical. I think life with a newborn is hard for everyone, but there’s something especially challenging with a c-section.
I was stained yellow from the antiseptic solution they rubbed on my skin before the surgery, I still had adhesive on me from where they stuck catheter cord on my thigh and my IV line, and had steri-strips on my incision. I felt like a hot mess. Just being honest. I don’t want to scare you. I think every postpartum mom feels like a hot mess. I just was a little shocked at looking like one. Especially because I wasn’t ready for it.
My tip, get yourself feeling like yourself the quickest you can. I waited too long thinking it would all come off or fade on it’s own. You leave the steri-strips on until they naturally fall off. But I let everything else just sit there. Doing it again I would have done that quickly and asked for Phil’s help. I took lemon essential oil to remove the adhesive (I think I also used a little nail polish remover too, because that helped). I scrubbed with a loofah on my areas of stained skin. Once my skin was back to normal, I felt so much better and so much more like myself.
Pain and Pain Meds
One thing that surprised me with the c-section was that I wasn’t in much pain. I’ve felt worse pain by stubbing my toe. That’s not to say having a cesarean was easy. I’m just trying to describe the pain. It was more of an intense pulling, tugging, and burning. And it was hard to move because my body almost wouldn’t let me. Bending over was impossible for a few days. Your body stops you because it knows you’re not able to or it will be too hard on your body.
Take the pain meds in the hospital. If you need them, take them. Don’t try and tough it out. It was the last things my midwives told me when they left the hospital. Jane said “Meghan, take the pain meds. You have a newborn to take care of, don’t try to tough it out”. Oh, did they know me. I would have tried to tough it out without the meds. But I took them, and was thankful for them, because it made me a much better momma!
Here’s what I took for pain post surgery. I was on Percocet for 2 days. I got home and with taking care of a newborn I forgot to take it for about 12 hours. I didn’t feel any different not on the Percocet than I did on it, so I decided to quit taking it. Plus, I didn’t want that in my system for that long while nursing a baby. It was also making me a little drowsy and giving me a fuzzy mind. I didn’t like that, so I was thankful I forgot to take it.
Three days after my c-section I was on 2 Ibuprofen every 4 hours. I took them as often as I could remember. Sometimes I forgot and took them every 6 hours (you forget these things with a newborn). After a few more days (and some hours of forgetting) I cut the dose to 1 Ibuprofen every 4-6 hours. After a week I forgot to take anything for about 12 hours and realized my pulling/ pain sensation was only about 10% worse or more intense. I stopped taking any pain meds because I wanted to feel my body’s limits. I didn’t want to push myself and it was ok I felt the pulling.
Get an Abdominal Belt/ Binder
This was one of the best pieces of advice I got and read up on. Get an abdominal belt/ binder. It felt so good to have around me post c-section and just postpartum. It held everything in place and made me feel so much stronger postpartum. I didn’t feel like my incision was going to get kicked by tiny feet and was able to move more confidently.
At the hospital, ask for one. They usually have them. You’re paying for lots of things already, add that to the bill and you’ll want it right away. I didn’t have to ask for one. My first nurse grabbed one and told me to wear it, which I was thankful for. Wear it as often as you can. I wore it when I slept too which helped me get comfortable and sleep better. I had two binders. One was one of the expensive fancy brands I got before I thought I was going to have a c-section. My second was the cheap abdominal binder from the hospital was so much better than the much more expensive fancy one I ordered. Here’s one just like I had at the hospital. I had a 12″ binder and wouldn’t go higher than 12″.
Abdominal binding is also amazing for postpartum healing and is great for any type of birth. I’m definitely going to be binding for my next baby too!
Celebrate the Small Victories
You’re going to have a newborn and be recovering from surgery. Celebrate the little victories. Celebrate the fact you can scoot out of your bed easier. Celebrate going down the stairs. Celebrate taking little walk around the block. It sounds simple, but I found it easy to get discouraged and frustrated about all I couldn’t do. I also needed a reminder I was postpartum, which requires taking it easy anyway.
Don’t Lift Anything but Baby for 6 Weeks
My midwives told me this is their recommendations for any postpartum mom. Vaginal birth or cesarean get the same instructions. This recommendation wasn’t the same as I got during my post-surgical check. They said I was able to lift the baby + the carrier after 3 weeks. I had a 20 lb weight restriction (and they said over and over again not to move furniture). The reason for the weight restriction is not to cause a hernia. My midwives agreed, but said don’t lift anything heavier than your baby (around 10 pounds). It is because you want to take care of your pelvic floor postpartum. I’m glad I didn’t lift anything but Tava during that time.
Here’s a driving tip. After 3 weeks you should get the green light to drive. I had 3 more weeks until I could lift Tava in her carrier. I would lock the carrier in the car and then go get Ottava. When we got to a store I put her in the Tula or Solly Baby Wrap and wore her. It was easy and she was really comfortable. We didn’t leave a lot, but often times if we left Phil would be with (because it’s easier with Daddy), and take the carrier and Tava.
Rest, But Sleep, Sit, And Move in Any Way That’s Comfortable
In postpartum life, it’s important to rest. There’s no gold medal for pushing yourself postpartum. It can actually hinder your healing and recover time. Now with a c-section, a lot of the pressure, pulling, and tugging makes your healing not only physical, but mental too. You may not want to move that much because it’s scary. Or you think you’re going to open your incision. After a couple of days your external stitches are sealed. You can sleep, sit, and move in ways that make you feel comfortable. I can’t sleep on my back. Never have and can’t fall asleep. The first night in the hospital I asked a nurse if I could lay on my side. She said do whatever is comfortable. That was a game changer for me. I loved being able to move (very slowly) onto my side. I loved sleeping on my side and even nursed Ottava side lying in the hospital. Eventually I rested lightly on my stomach. Laying on my stomach after being pregnant for so long was amazing. I loved the feeling and also made me feel a little more like myself too!
Get Some Sun!
Depending on your geographic location and time of year of having a baby makes this recommendation customizable. What I mean is if it’s cold out, get some sun through a window. If it’s warm out, get outside (and let your baby get 5-15 minutes of sun too). Although it was a warm February and March when Ottava was a newborn, it still wasn’t nearly nice enough to go outside and sit in the sun. It was pretty chilly. We sat in Tava’s room on the guest bed with the sun coming through the window. I let her get a little sun (sun is good to prevent jaundice) and I laid on my back with my incision exposed to the sunlight. Even though we weren’t absorbing vitamin D through the window, we were enjoying the warmth and healing that only the sun brings.
Constipation is No Joke
Ah, what’s a good post about birth and postpartum without a mention or two of poop? Oh, and maybe a little TMI? I apologize for this ahead of time, but I’m going to be real here. Post surgery + pain meds = constipation. And it can be bad. One thing they failed to mention to me was to take a stool softener at home because they were giving them to me at the hospital along with my pain meds. Had I known pain meds cause constipation I would have been taking magnesium and vitamin C since her birth. I’ll save you any more details, but keep in mind keeping your bowels moving somehow!