What to expect after having a C-section

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A recent study showed that up to a quarter of pregnant women in the UK have their babies via Caeserean section (or C-section). The surgical procedure which allows for the delivery of babies through a cut in the woman’s tummy and womb, usually comes as an emergency or as a planned procedure.

As a planned procedure, it can be selected by the woman for non-medical reasons, for example, if she is anxious about the vaginal birth process. On the other hand, there might be a number of emergency situations where an emergency C-section becomes necessary such as:

  • labour failing to progress
  • baby presenting in the breech position
  • excessive vaginal bleeding
  • baby being in distress
  • placenta praevia, or a low-lying placenta
  • pregnancy-related high blood pressure
  • infections such as genital herpes infection occurring late in pregnancy or untreated HIV

A C-section is generally safe but it carries a number of risks, so it is usually only carried out if it is the safest option for you and your baby.

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Recovery from a Caesarean Section

Childbirth is a sensational, life-changing experience, but one underplayed aspect of it is the recovery process associated with a C-section. Recovering from a C-section usually takes longer than recovering from a vaginal or natural delivery, and you might need to stay in hospital for 3 - 4 days (assuming there are no complications), compared with 1 - 2 days following a vaginal birth.

In the days immediately following the C-section, you will be encouraged to urinate within the first 24 hours of having surgery. If your catheter has just been removed, you might find urinating painful, but the pain will ease off with time. This will help kickstart the healing process and get you used to moving around with your incision. Gentle walks around the hospital or rocking in a chair can help speed the recovery and help with gas that can develop after abdominal surgery.

Your uterus will begin the process of shrinking back to its pre-pregnancy size (involution) and with this, you will experience heavy bleeding which can continue for up to 6 weeks. The bleed (known as lochia) will start off bright red, then it will slowly become less red, pink, and finally more of a yellow or white colour.

To prepare for this, ensure that you have extra-absorbent menstrual pads, as it is not advisable to use tampons as they can encourage the spread of infections to the vagina.

In this time, you will probably experience some discomfort in your tummy, but you will be offered painkillers to help you cope.

Once you have been reviewed before discharge, if you are thought to be at risk of developing a blood clot, you may be shown how to inject yourself with an anti-clotting agent. If this is the case, you will be discharged with some pen-like injections which you will have to administer every day for the next few days.

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What to expect after going home

The day following your discharge, your midwife will visit you at home and offer some advice on how to look after your wound.

She will usually advice you to:

  • keep the wound clean and dry
  • wear loose, comfortable clothes and loose underwear
  • take painkillers interchangeably for effective pain relief
  • recognise signs of infection and take action immediately

If you have non-dissolvable stitches or staples, she will remove them in 5 - 7 days.

With time, your wound will form a scar, appearing raised or swollen and a different colour from the rest of your skin. The scar may remain tender for up to 3 weeks, however it will become thinner with time and eventually blend with your normal skin colour.

To help yourself recover better at home, you can do the following:

  • Gentle exercises. Gentle exercises such as walking are useful for reducing your risk of having blood clots. While doing your exercises, however, do not overexert yourself, as this may prolong the healing process. Keep your activity levels regular but gentle at least for the first 6 weeks following the surgery. After the initial six weeks, you should be able to carry out more strenuous activities such as driving, rigorous exercise, lifting anything heavier than your baby, having sex, using the stairs repeatedly. Whenever you sneeze or cough, hold your abdomen to protect the wound.
  • Get enough rest. Looking after a baby when your body is recovering can be exhausting, so try to rest whenever your baby rests. A few power naps here and there will help you feel more refreshed.
  • Eat a balanced diet. It is easy to get so caught up in the world of “new baby” that you forget to look after yourself, and you let healthy eating habits slip. A balanced diet is essential to your recovery and when breastfeeding, most of the milk you make will come from your food intake. A healthy diet and adequate water intake will also help you restore your energy, prevent constipation and keep your body hydrated.
  • Know when something is wrong. A C-section comes with a high risk of infection, so knowing what to look out for is essential to protecting you against a life-threatening condition. Signs that you need to call your GP or midwife straightaway include severe pain, urine leakage, pain or burning when urinating, heavy vaginal bleeding, wound becoming more red, painful and swollen, a discharge of pus or foul-smelling fluid, a cough or shortness of breath, pain or swelling in the lower leg, a fever. If you notice any of these, call your midwife or GP immediately.
  • Look after your mental health. Following a C-section, some women will feel relief over finally meeting their babies. However, some women, on the other hand, may feel sad, disappointed, or even guilty about having a C-section. Many of these feelings are normal, even for women who have had a vaginal birth. Allow yourself to take time to decompress emotionally after the surgery, and if any help is offered with the baby accept it without the need to feel polite. Use the time to catch up on sleep or just doing something that you enjoy, such as catching up on a book. To help deal with any negative emotions, feel free to discuss the birth experience with your support person.
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Can you get support at home after a C-section?

If you have no support at home, plan to have in one area all the basic items you might need such as your phone, medications, drinking water, books, TV remote, etc. If you have little support and no means of cooking healthy food, get frozen dinners which need minimum preparation.

Remember to not be afraid to ask for help. The extra physical care required after a C-section can make a woman feel inadequate and overwhelmed. Let someone know if you are feeling discouraged or weighed down. You can try to plan ahead and organize a support team prior to the birth of your child to help during this time. If you are in the London area, and you feel that you might benefit from the services of a visiting carer, feel free to contact us at HP Homecare as our experienced staff are always on hand to work with you towards making a safe and quick recovery.

In the next article, we will discuss post-surgical care for yet a different body part located even lower in the body - the hip.

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