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Recovering after a c-section

A caesarean is major abdominal surgery so there will be a period of rest and recovery needed, whether it was planned or unplanned. It's vital you take good care of yourself in the weeks following a c-section, allowing your scar to heal and taking things easy at home.

By Mumsnet HQ | Last updated Jun 30, 2021

Mother newborn baby hospital

How long does it take to recover from a c-section?

The average time taken to recover from a caesarean is six to eight weeks, but it's a bit of a “how long is a piece of string” question. Some women bounce back quickly, others take longer to recover.

Giving birth is pretty exhausting at the best of times (and that's before they send you home with a completely dependent nocturnal animal to care for). But if you've had a c-section, you really do need to behave as you would if you'd gone into hospital to have any other type of surgery.

Over the days and weeks following a caesarean, make sure you really look after yourself, ask for help whenever you need it and follow any advice the doctors and midwives give you.

You've just had some pretty serious surgery, so your wound will be painful for some weeks. Don't forget to take painkillers. C-section recovery varies greatly from woman to woman and there's no point suffering in silence.

The idea of putting your feet up when you have a newborn to look after might seem laughable, but the more you can take it easy the sooner you'll have the wheels back on. Your future self will thank you for it.

How will I feel straight after my c-section?

Pretty tender, it’s fair to say. Exactly how you feel will depend on the circumstances of your c-section. If it was planned, things should be fairly straightforward, but if you had an emergency caesarean, the delivery team may have tried ventouse and forceps first, which can leave you feeling a bit battered and you may even have stitches.

Having both vaginal stitches AND a caesarean scar is understandably rage-inducing. If this happens to you, know that you're not alone, but you are perfectly entitled to feel like you deserve a big fat medal and a round of applause (and lots of extra help while you recover).

"I read so many horror stories about c-sections before I had one but mine, and the recovery, was an entirely positive and pretty painless experience."

How long will I stay in hospital after a caesarean?

Newborn hospital blanket

The average hospital stay is three to four days; however, if all goes well and the medical team are happy, you may be able to go home the day after your surgery. Equally, if there are any complications from the birth itself or afterwards, or if your baby needs special care, they may want to keep you in a little longer.

Your midwifery team will be keen to get you out of bed as soon as possible (usually within the first 12 hours) even if you don't feel like it, as it's important to try to get up and walk – or stagger – around a bit. Doing so will help your circulation, speed up your general recovery and also reduce the risk of your getting a blood clot.

What pain relief will I be given after my c-section?

If you had an epidural or spinal block during your c-section (rather than a general anaesthetic), it's likely this won't be removed for a few hours or so after your baby's birth. During this time, you should be able to have “top-ups” so you'll be virtually pain-free. The only downside is you won't be able to move much, but then it's unlikely this will be high on your wish list.

Once the epidural is removed, you may be quite shocked by how hard it is to move around. And how it feels like you've been kicked in the stomach by a Shire horse.

Your midwifery team should advise you on how to get in and out of bed, but it can help to put your hand over your scar and apply mild pressure if you need to cough, laugh or do anything that will involve you tensing the area.

You'll be sent home with plenty of painkillers to see you through but if you're finding it too much to cope with – speak up. It may be that there's something which needs checking out.

What should I do once I get home after a c-section?

Back home, regardless of how well you feel, it's important to take things easy for six to eight weeks.

When it comes to recovering from a c-section, lifting heavy items (and that includes small children and shopping), doing the vacuuming or anything else that puts particular pressure on your tummy muscles (or current lack of them) is to be completely avoided: you do not want your scar to tear.

So try not to stress about housework and take steps to ensure you have extra help, particularly if you've got older children to care for. Remember, treating yourself kindly is not being lazy – it's common sense. Overdo things and your recovery could end up taking a lot longer.

"Being sent home with your first baby and told not to do anything is really difficult, but you really do need to rest. My scar still felt odd and pulled for at least six months, but I think I would have healed sooner if I had acted like I'd just had major surgery instead of trying to be supermum."

Tips for recovering after a c-section

  • Don't lift anything heavier than your baby for the first few weeks.

  • Try not to move too suddenly, particularly when standing up from a sitting or lying position.

  • Put one hand on your wound when you're sneezing, coughing or getting up – and don't let anyone tell you any good jokes. The palm of your hand helps to supports the area a bit.

  • Make sure you wear really big “Bridget Jones” style knickers – you don't want the waistband rubbing against your scar.

  • Take things easy. Definitely no vigorous exercise, but also best to give the household chores a miss for a couple of weeks, too.

  • It's also important to keep mobile as this can help prevent you getting a blood clot in the days after surgery, so try to do some VERY gentle exercise, as recommended by your doctor, and a bit of gentle walking in the days after surgery.

  • Get plenty of fluids and fibre-rich foods to prevent constipation. Surgery can slow down your digestive system and the last thing you need after abdominal surgery is to be straining on the loo.

How do you recover from a caesarean with a toddler in tow?

You accept all offers of help and ask for more if you need it. The advice after a c-section is not to lift anything heavier than your baby, and that includes toddlers.

If your partner can take a few weeks off that will be helpful, otherwise get a rota together and get friends and family to volunteer their time.

What will my c-section scar look like?

C section scar

A c-section scar is usually a horizontal line of about 8-10cm just below your bikini line. Occasionally, the cut is made vertically instead but this is unusual these days.

At first it will look quite red and sore but within a few days it will look much less angry, eventually fading to a silvery line.

How do I look after my caesarean wound?

Your wound will have a dressing on it for the first day. After that you'll need to very carefully wash and dry the area to keep it super clean. If you use a flannel for this make sure it's fresh out of the wash each time so it definitely isn't harbouring any germs.

You also need to inspect the wound every day to check for any signs of infection, such as redness or swelling. If you can't see it properly, get your partner to look for you. If you spot it getting redder, more swollen or oozing any pus, tell your midwives or GP straight away as this can be a sign of infection and needs treating quickly.

Do you still bleed after a c-section?

Yes, though the bleeding may be a bit lighter than if you'd had a vaginal birth. This post-birth bleeding is known as “lochia”. It can go on for up to six weeks but is much less heavy after the first couple of weeks. As with a vaginal birth you'll need to use sanitary pads rather than tampons during this time to guard against infection.

Is it harder to breastfeed after a caesarean?

While you're less likely to start breastfeeding in the first few hours of your baby's life, there is nothing to stop you breastfeeding as soon as you feel up to it. In fact, mums who have had a c-section have exactly the same chances as those who had a vaginal birth of getting breastfeeding going successfully.

If you decide to go for it right after the birth, you might want to ask for help to breastfeed. Your partner or a midwife can help you hold your baby to the breast and position her.

Sometimes it's harder to get breastfeeding started after a c-section because your milk is slower to come in. If that's the case, you can try feeding your baby some colostrum using a syringe in the early days. Skin-to-skin contact also helps get breastfeeding going.

While you're still in recovery in hospital you may want to feed lying down, but once home you can try lots of other positions that make things less tricky with a c-section scar. Lying on your side is often helpful.

Some mums swear by a position called “the rugby ball” where you kind of grab your baby under your arm so they aren't lying on your scar. A nursing cushion can also help to take the pressure off your tummy area.

If you're breastfeeding twins, there are yet more positions you might find useful.

When can I drive after a caesarean?

A common misconception is that you have to wait six weeks before you can drive again, but actually there's no law to say you can't drive yourself home from hospital – although you'd be a numpty to try, and your insurers might have something to say about it.

You need to be fully in control of your vehicle – and able to do an emergency stop – without any hesitation that pain or fear of pain might bring.

There's no point rushing things, but if you do make a timely recovery there's no reason why you shouldn't drive earlier than six weeks – just make sure your motoring insurance isn't affected. In most cases it won't be, but you might be asked to provide written confirmation from your doctor that you are fit to drive.

How long does it take to get back to your pre-baby shape after a caesarean?

It can take several months for your stomach muscles to knit back together – and even then you may feel numb around the scar area for years to come. Despite what the gossip mags would have you believe, it's perfectly normal to not instantly ping back to your pre-birth shape. Try not to get dispirited if things don't look how they used to.

Time – and then exercise – will help strengthen your tummy muscles, but don't hit the gym before you're ready as you can end up doing more harm than good. A gentle walk and a few pelvic floor exercises will suffice until you're fighting fit again.

Are there any long-term side-effects of having a caesarean?

Women who have a caesarean are more likely to have one again with future pregnancies, although nobody is really sure why, as there's not enough evidence to go on.

If you had the original caesarean for a medical reason, that may persist into subsequent pregnancies, but the majority of women will be able to have a vaginal birth next time, if they want one. This is known as a VBAC (vaginal birth after caesarean).

Sometimes a mum is left with a scar that causes considerable discomfort or that she feels unhappy with. In these cases, it's possible to undergo a caesarean scar revision to improve upon the original. In many cases this can be performed under local anaesthetic. Depending on the reason for the revision, it may be possible to get this operation done on the NHS – however, if the cause is purely cosmetic you should be prepared to have to pay to go privately.

Alternatively, if you have to have an elective caesarean with a subsequent pregnancy, you should flag up any problems with your old scar as your consultant can try to address them during the delivery.

How will I feel emotionally after a c-section?

If your caesarean was planned and all went as hoped you'll probably feel absolutely fine, though it can be hard to get enough rest with a newborn to care for. Being overtired and overwrought never left anyone feeling well-balanced.

Women who have undergone emergency c-sections, though, can feel quite traumatised by the experience. This is perfectly normal and you shouldn't feel ashamed if this is how you feel. It might be that the birth was problematic or traumatic, which is what led to the c-section, or it could just be that you felt a loss of control once things went down the assisted delivery route.

Whatever the reason, it can help to talk through what happened with your midwife and obstetrician – and this can usually be arranged very simply by contacting your hospital.

Some women, particularly if they hadn't planned a caesarean, feel disappointed or that they didn't “get birth right”. It’s a very common way to feel but try not to let these thoughts take over. If you're holding a baby in your arms, you can count the birth a huge success, no matter which exit she took to get here.

And trust us, it might seem important right now, when all your antenatal group friends are comparing stories and scoring points, but by the time she heads off to school with her too-big uniform on, no one will remember how she arrived on the planet – it's possible even you'll struggle to recall the finer details!

"I had an emergency c-section two years ago. It was a traumatic experience but when I was ready I talked through my notes with a midwife and was able to ask lots of questions. I even spoke to a very nice consultant about some things the midwife couldn't answer. I think this helped a lot."