According to CDC data, 32% of women delivering a baby did so via C-section in 2015 (2016 results are not yet available). Although this is a reduction in the national average since 2009, it still means that almost 1 out of 3 births will occur as the result of a C-section. Some of these are elective (planned) & others unplanned or emergent. If you are one of the 32%, what can you expect following a C-section?
First and foremost, don't think of a C-section as just childbirth, it is major abdominal surgery. Recovery will be longer than it is for women who have experienced a vaginal birth. Some general recommendations are the same regardless of mode of delivery such as to:
- rest when possible to promote healing,
- drink plenty of non-caffeinated fluids (this helps after a C-section in particular with constipation and after childbirth in general with breastfeeding and overall recovery from the birth process).
- Once you leave the hospital, set up your environment at home so that things you need are close by and utilize support from your spouse, family members, or a doula.
In addition to these basic recommendations, here are some more specific things to consider in your C-section recovery:
- Pain management: as with any other surgery, it is important to control post-operative pain levels. This can be done with pain medication recommended by your healthcare provider that is safe for breast feeding. It also includes moving in ways that reduce stress to your body & your incision like "log rolling" to get in and out of bed [http://www.upmc.com/patients-visitors/education/rehab/Pages/bed-transfer-log-roll-method.aspx] (you will be shown this at the hospital). You may also find it helpful to support your incision during movement by holding gentle pressure over the area with a folded towel or by using an abdominal binder. Use of abdominal binders can be helpful in the early post - operative period to support the abdomen and provide relief of abdominal pain, gas, and bloating. Bracing the incision is particularly helpful after surgery prior to coughing, sneezing and other similar things that impact intra-abdominal pressure. In addition to these habits, localized application of an ice pack for 15 minutes at a time can also be used to manage incisional pain.
- Caring for your incision: initially this focuses on prevention of infection by keeping the area clean & dry. (Red flags for infection include fever, increased incisional pain, redness and/or drainage from the incision.) Performing gentle massage 3-6" away from the incision can help promote healing by stimulating blood flow to the area. Once your incision is fully closed & healed, scar massage can begin. Creating a scar that is mobile is important for return to normal & pain-free function. Your physical therapist can help instruct you on how to perform scar massage & mobilization at home.
- Activity: initially you should generally take it easy & rest to help your body recover. Although rest is important, don't be afraid to move around a little bit with some gentle walking. Avoid lifting anything heavier than your baby. Make an effort to sit, stand and walk fully upright and avoid slouching. A few exercises you can generally do within the first 24 hours of birth include gentle abdominal and pelvic floor muscle activation (clear this first with your provider in the hospital as some medical issues may prohibit this). This helps to re-establish awareness & control of these areas. Slow walking can be gradually progressed as you move along in your recovery. It will likely take 6 weeks before you really feel ready to do too much. Be careful not to over-exert yourself with activity & continue drinking lots of fluids particularly if you are nursing.
Help is available at Jade!
Here at Jade Integrated Health, we have Physical Therapists that are trained in prenatal and post partum care. Physical therapy offers many benefits for the post partum mom. Treatment typically includes scar management (which can include desensitization), safe return to activity, treatment of diastasis recti if present (a tear of the abdominal muscles commonly seen after pregnancy), assessment & treatment of pain related conditions that may have developed during or after your pregnancy, and assessment & treatment of pelvic floor dysfunction.
If you are unsure about starting Physical Therapy or have questions for us, feel free to give us a call or schedule a free 30-minute consult. We look forward to meeting you and helping you along your path to recovery!