Many moms don't realise that a caesarean section is actually a major abdominal surgery. Recovery will not happen overnight.
Recovering from c-section takes time. But you have a baby now, and what more of an incentive and a reward could you need to help you get better quickly? Here, we look at what you can do to speed up your recovery and how you’ll feel in the hours, days and weeks after giving birth “out of the sunroof”.
A good start
According to Johannesburg-based midwife Janine Nash, optimal nutrition and health during your pregnancy is not only vital for your growing baby but also to aid in recovering from a c-section.
“You need to be healthy when you go into the operating room and try not to exceed average weight gain guidelines during your pregnancy. Overweight women tend to struggle more with c-sections because their wounds sometimes become infected because of skin folds that prevent air from reaching the scar,” she cautions.
Exercise during pregnancy is thus beneficial during pregnancy – so long as you don’t pant for more than 30 minutes and your heart rate doesn’t exceed 140 beats per minute. Exercise is a must to ensure a healthy mom, baby and a healthy c-section. “The best exercises are walking, swimming and yoga,” she advises.
Read: Natural birth or c-section?
First and foremost, Janine insists that it’s vital that moms who deliver their babies via c-section feel and remain emotionally positive about the experience – as this plays a big role in recovery. “The moms I see that have a good, positive outlook always get better quicker than those who don’t,” says Janine.
Physically, as soon as you’re out of recovery you can start wriggling around in your bed. “By contracting your leg muscles, you increase your blood flow, and this prevents deep vein thrombosis,” she says, adding that you won’t be allowed to get up and walk after your c-section for 12 hours.
“Once you’re able (with help) you must stand up straight. Even though it will feel as if your wound is going to open up, it won’t. When you stand up, that pulling feeling goes away. If you don’t do it right away, it will be harder to do in the long run,” she stresses.
After about 24 to 48 hours, Janine encourages moms to take their postnatal vitamins, a tonic such as Blackthorn Berry Elixir, and drink lots of water to speed up recovery and prevent constipation (the bowels can be affected during abdominal surgery).
“The last thing you want is the additional discomfort of constipation, so stick to high fibre foods and fruits if you know you’re at risk,” she says.
How will I feel?
An hour or so after your c-section, your spinal block will begin to wear off and you’ll start to feel your legs again. You’ll then be in post-operative pain for 24 hours. You may also feel nauseous and/ or lightheaded from the anaesthetic (not to mention spaced out from the drugs).
After 48 hours, the pain will start to wear off and by day 10 (while still a bit tender), the magical time kicks in when everything generally starts to feel better.
Although some moms are able to stop their pain medication after three to four days, others need them for a good two weeks. It all depends on your pain threshold, and you mustn’t worry about that initial post c-section pain or discomfort in the days that follow.
Read: Pain relief drugs in labour
That’s what your painkillers are there for and why you must take them if and when you need them. “Also, you’ll have days when your wound is more sore than others (perhaps you overdid it the day before), but if your wound gets progressively worse, gets red, starts to ooze pus or your vaginal bleeding smells bad, you need to visit a doctor immediately,” warns Janine.
After approximately three weeks, your pain subsides and by six weeks, everything should be back to normal. If you’re still in pain by this stage, you need to tell your doctor. “Of course, in the first six weeks you’ll still get the odd twinge from your c-section and have numbness above your wound which (while it lessens over time), never goes away completely,” says Janine.
She explains that this as well as the slight bulge that forms over your scar is not something that new moms should get upset about. Your scars from pregnancy and birth (which gradually fade over time), are something to be proud of.
What you CAN'T do:
1. Drive for six weeks - if you need to and can drive before this, check with your insurance that you will be covered in case of an accident.
2. Exercise until your gynae has given you the all-clear at six weeks.
3. Have sex until you gynae has given you the all-clear.
4. Swim while you're still bleeding. Water may enter your uterus if your cervix is still open.
What you CAN do:
1. Get walking.
2. Breastfeed within an hour of giving birth. The idea that c-section babies can't be breastfed is a myth and you need to have skin-to-skin contact with your baby right away.
3. Bend over and change nappies.
4. Rest and ask for help, from your partner or a family member in the hospital. Somebody needs to be there to run around you, especially in the first 24 hours.