Updated: Oct 16
C-sections are common, accounting for around 25% of births in the UK (that's around 1 in 4 pregnancies).
Whether you choose to have an elective c-section or if it is an emergency, the recovery period can differ greatly from woman to women and you may be up and about shortly after surgery or in bed for what seems an eternity. It isn't a simple healing process, your body has gone through 9 months of growing a baby, followed by major surgery and society expects you to bounce back almost immediately. We need to break this cycle, it is okay and completely normal to recuperate after an operation so don't be too hard on yourself or overexert yourself to prove something to someone else.
WHAT IS A C-SECTION LIKE?
As with all major surgeries a caesarean section takes time and isn't complete within the 10-15 minute timeframe you may have seen on the big screen. The whole operation takes roughly 40-50 minutes.
In most cases the surgery will be carried out under spinal or epidural anaesthetic. An incision will be made usually just below your bikini line (in some rare instances it may be a vertical incision), measuring about 10 to 20cm long so baby can be delivered.
You may feel some movement such as pulling or tugging from behind the screen that is put across your body but the doctors and nurses will keep you updated on what is going on.
I was moving around a lot and I asked hubby if it was because I was shaking. He said no they’re literally rummaging round in you like you're a suitcase. Ellie, two c-sections
Once the baby is delivered, you will be able to see and hold them, letting you get that skin to skin in early! You will be given the opportunity to start breastfeeding immediately too.
In some instances such as an emergency c-section the baby may be given to a paediatrician due to foetal distress.
WHAT IS RECOVERY LIKE AFTER A C-SECTION?
Recovery from a c-section usually takes slightly longer than from a vaginal delivery.
Your hospital stay post c-section is normally around 1-2 nights or 3-4 days - if you're struggling with standing/bending/lifting (especially with the catheter on the first day) don't be worried about asking the midwives to help pass the baby to you. Promise they wont mind :)
While at the hospital, you and your baby will be monitored regularly while on the ward and you'll be offered painkillers to reduce any discomfort.
Your catheter will be removed after 12 hours and you'll be encouraged to get out of bed and move around.
You can eat and drink as soon as you feel well enough.
Before you leave the hospital, the midwife will give you instructions on how to care for the wound. Wear loose fitting breathable underwear (like our Mesh Pants) to allow the wound to breath.
If you have signs of an infection contact the midwife or GP ASAP! Look out for symptoms such as a high temperature, feeling generally unwell, pain from peeing or if the wound becomes, red, swollen, painful or has a discharge.
If the wound feels sore, take painkillers such as paracetamol or ibuprofen. If you are breastfeeding avoid taking aspirin or co-codamol as these are not recommended.
It's really common to have some bruising. The amount ranges from a small amount around the scar to bruising from above the belly button to the top of the thighs. It will start to fade and turn yellow then finally disappear after four or so weeks.
If you have non-dissolvable stitches or staples, these will usually be taken out after 5-7 days by the midwife.
If you've had an emergency c-section you may have been in established labour, so don't be surprised if your bits feel a little swollen and sore down there. Mesh pants and cold packs work a dream at soothing any discomfort.
To reduce the chances of blood clots you’ll get injections that last for around 10 days (can be longer depending on risk factors). Unless you're super hardcore you'll want someone to do these for you. They'll likely be nervous on the first go, but try to encourage them to do it as quickly as possible.
You may be prescribed iron tablets to help if you're experiencing symptoms of Anaemia - caused by loss of blood during birth. Can also happen with vaginal births too. Keep an eye out for shortness of breath and dizziness. Worth noting that iron tablets come with the lovely side effect of constipation - yay!
It’a advised not to carry anything heavier than your baby.... especially in the first few weeks. This can be challenging from a practical perspective if you‘ve got other little ones about, but definitely take it easy and make the most of any spare helping hands in the house.
There are some activities you may not be able to do straight away, such as driving or strenuous exercise. This isn't to say don't exercise, it is recommended to do gentle exercise such as going for a walks (this will help with recovery and reduce the risk of blood clots) but do listen to your body as you don't want to push yourself too far. If you are still experiencing any pain, don't hesitate to speak up and let the doctor / midwife know right away.
At your postnatal check up with the doctor at 6 weeks, you should be signed off to go about your normal activities including driving. Remember to go easy on yourself as your body has gone through lots of changes over the past 9 months as well as major surgery!
HOW LONG WILL IT TAKE FOR MY C-SECTION SCAR TO HEAL?
Your scar may appear big and red but will fade over time. On darker skin, it will fade into a brown or white line.
You may not have any feeling around your wound initially, but it will likely return after a few weeks to months. Some mums continue to have some numbness around the scar too. Massage your scar as this will help with healing the area.
It is okay to hate your scar but you can grow to love it too. Remember what is has given you and what it represents. This is your mark on your birth story and that is beautiful, don't let anyone tell you otherwise.
HOW LONG WILL IT BE BEFORE I FEEL FULLY RECOVERED?
More often than not mums pay more attention to their new baby's needs than their own. Taking care of yourself is just as important so be kind and patient with your body while you recover. Make yourself a priority rather that something at the bottom of your list.
Be prepared that you may suffer from C-Section Guilt - friends have said how they feel like they need to explain why they had a c-section or that they were disappointed that their body didn't work 'properly'. Whether its a c-section or vaginal birth, NO births are textbook or ‘normal’. We all deserve a frigging medal no matter how the baby was delivered!!!
This article is not medical advice. We always recommend you take direction from your Doctors and Midwives who will provide medical advice based on your circumstances.