Recovery After Cesarean Delivery
Caring for a newborn and recovering from a cesarean (C-section) birth is not an easy combo. You’re feeding the baby every few hours, adjusting to new routines, and experiencing major body changes and mood swings — all on little sleep and with a painful new incision across your belly. Remember: You just had major abdominal surgery, which is a big deal. Give yourself time to heal, physically and emotionally. Here are some tips for the first few weeks after your C-section birth.
C-section Recovery Tips
Take pain medication as needed.
Many women need some pain medication for a few days to two weeks.
Ask your doctor what’s safe to take while breastfeeding.
Follow instructions on incision care.
Keep your incision area clean by washing with mild soap and water.
Showers are usually fine but don’t soak in a bath until your doctor gives the okay.
Look for signs of infection, including:
Warmth, redness, swelling, or oozing at the incision site
Worsening or sudden abdominal pain
Ice your abdominal area as needed. Icing three to five times a day for 10-15 minutes at a time (maybe while pumping) can help.
Once your incision has healed, try scar massage and desensitization to help with recovery. Ask your Hinge Health coach for our Cesarean Delivery Scar Massage and Desensitization resource.
Use compression tools as needed.
Wear a belly brace, high-waisted leggings, or compression underwear.
Place a pillow against your stomach for extra support with everyday movements.
Activity Dos and Don’ts
You may be able to resume most of your regular activities in four to eight weeks. Keep these tips in mind and ask your doctor if you have specific questions about your situation.
Don’t lift anything more than the weight of your newborn for the first six to eight weeks.
Do avoid stairs as much as possible (climbing stairs activates your abdominal muscles).
Don’t have sexual intercourse until you’re cleared by your doctor (usually after six weeks).
Do take short walks to get some activity and fresh air.
Don’t do intense exercise or heavy house cleaning.
Do expect fatigue; try to follow the “nap when the baby naps” advice. (We know it’s hard!)
Don’t drive for the first two weeks.
Do start pelvic floor exercises once you’re cleared by your doctor.
Movement After a C-section
Getting in and out of bed
Practice log rolling, a technique that allows you to get in and out of bed without bending or twisting your spine.
Getting in bed:
Sit at the side of your bed. Using your arms for support, lean to the side so your head moves toward your pillow.
As you do this, bring your legs up onto your bed. Then you can roll from your side onto your back.
Getting out of bed:
Start on your back and bend your knees so they point toward the ceiling and your feet are flat on the bed.
Roll onto your side, keeping your shoulders, hips, and knees in a straight line.
Using the arm that’s on top, push yourself up to a seated position while swinging your legs off the side of your bed.
Getting in and out of a chair
Scoot to the edge of the chair.
Hinge forward (nose over toes) and press through your feet to stand.
Getting in and out of a car
If possible, adjust the seat so your hips are higher than your knees (this makes it easier for your abdominal muscles).
Swing both feet out of the car.
Scoot to the edge of the seat.
Use handrails on the car ceiling for support as you press through your legs and stand.
Pick flat surfaces (hills engage your core).
Laughing, coughing, sneezing
These activities activate abdominal muscles, which can cause pain or pull on your incision.
Pressing a pillow gently against your incision when you need to laugh, cough, or sneeze can help.
Stay hydrated; eat high-fiber foods to prevent constipation.
Use a step stool or squatty potty to reduce straining.
Brace your incision with a pillow when you push.
Exhale when you push.
Ask your doctor about stool softeners if needed.
When to Call the Doctor
While C-section complications are uncommon, be aware of signs of infection, as well as other postpartum or post-surgery issues. Call your doctor if you have:
Fever (greater than 100.4° F) and/or chills
Warmth, redness, swelling, or oozing at the incision
Sudden or worsening abdominal pain
Foul-smelling vaginal discharge
Pain or burning when urinating
Excessive vaginal bleeding, passage of large clots, or bleeding that comes back after slowing
Swelling, pain, or redness in your leg
Symptoms of postpartum preeclampsia, such as swelling in your hands or face, sudden weight gain, headache, or vision changes
Thoughts of harming yourself or your baby, or feelings that interfere with your ability to care for yourself or your baby
Starting Pelvic Floor Exercises
This can make a big difference in your recovery after a C-section. Pelvic floor exercises are not just Kegels. Rather, they include a variety of moves that help strengthen or relax the muscles of your pelvic floor, which support your pelvic organs (bladder, vagina, uterus, etc.). Many women can safely start doing pelvic floor exercises within a few weeks of having a baby, but it’s a good idea to check with your doctor before you begin. Ask your Hinge Health physical therapist or coach if you’re interested in adding pelvic floor exercises to your current routine.
A C-section is major abdominal surgery, and you need to take time to recover physically and emotionally.
Modifying certain everyday movements and avoiding certain activities for the first four to eight weeks after your C-section can help reduce pain
Starting pelvic floor exercises in the postpartum period can help your body recover from pregnancy, labor, and delivery.
Kiefer, A., & Howald, K. (2017). Expecting and Empowered Postpartum Guide. 2017; Expecting and Empowered.
Mount Sinai Health System. (n.d.) Going home after a C-section. Retrieved from https://www.mountsinai.org/health-library/discharge-instructions/going-home-after-a-c-section
UpToDate (2021). Patient education: C-section (cesarean delivery) (Beyond the Basics). Retrieved from https://www.uptodate.com/contents/c-section-cesarean-delivery-beyond-the-basics
Boyd-Barrett, C. (2021). C-section recovery. Retrieved from https://www.babycenter.com/baby/postpartum-health/c-section-recovery_221