Caring for Yourself After a Cesarean Birth
Caring for yourself after a cesarean birth begins before you ever birth your baby. Whether you know you’ll have a cesarean, or you have a cesarean birth due to complications or an emergency, you can begin planning for after care, now! Not sure you belong here? You do! Even if you never have a cesarean, statistics say you know someone who does and who will. This blog is a longer one, buckle up and let’s jump right in!
Wound Care & Pain Management
You’ll be advised by your doctors on how to care for your incision. Follow those instructions. Signs that there may be an infection include redness and swelling of the incision, increased abdominal pain, any foul-smelling discharge puss, or fluid, a fever of 100.5 or higher, any flu-like symptoms like chills, body aches, and excessive fatigue. Any of those signs alone are enough to warrant a call to your doctor. Bleeding at the wound site should also be reported right away.
Pain after birth is a given no matter how you give birth, but with a cesarean there is typically more pain associated after birth. You will be prescribed pain medication by your providers, stay ahead of the pain by taking your pain medications as on time as described (even if you don’t like to take them). It’s easier to stay ahead of the pain than it is to chase it down and eliminate/reduce it once it’s begun. They will likely also provide you with a stool softener since pain meds can cause constipation. Keep that in mind when considering comfort. Set reminders on your phone for meds, some baby apps offer this reminder.
A few other tips for pain management & wound care:
- Learning how to cough gently upon exhale, reduces the force and can decrease the pain in your incision.
- Use a pillow to hold against your tummy as needed for counter pressure when moving around and bring that pillow with you for the ride home, you’ll thank me later.
- Using a belly binder when and as described by your provider can help reduce pain and help with healing of your incision.
- a post-operative cesarean belt for targeted hot and cold therapy (Frida Mom makes one)
- Getting in and out of bed will be tough in those earliest days. You may want to sleep reclined, but not flat, have help getting up and down, and learn different ways to get in and out of bed after a cesarean.
Internal healing should be considered paramount!
When caring for yourself after a cesarean birth it’s easy to focus on the outside of our bodies, our babies, and the “things” around us. Your internal healing should be paramount in recovery. I like to tell clients to think about healing from a cesarean like an iceberg, what we see on the outside is only a small fraction of what is actually under the surface. From the wound you see on the outside, to the way we view our bodies, all the way down to the emotions we show (and don’t), internal recovery is paramount to quality of life as a new mother.
The wound on the outside is visible to the naked eye, while the wound in our uterus is hidden from view, we are the only ones that feel and experience it. Your body needs a needs a full 6 weeks of recovery, minimum. Your skin, facia, and uterus were cut, your muscles were stretched, pulled, and in some cases torn, your organs were shifted aside or removed from your body and replaced, and you were put back together again!
Not only did you give birth to a baby(s), you also had a major surgery!
It takes your uterus a full 6 weeks (minimum) of involution to get back to pre-pregnancy size and your cervix needs just as long to recover from changes it has undergone throughout pregnancy. Then and only then are you safe from postpartum hemorrhaging. This fact alone warrants rest, self-care, and support.
The first step to caring for yourself after a cesarean begins with a postpartum plan!
A postpartum plan, just like a birth plan helps you prepare for an important event taking place. In this case, postpartum plan=recovering from a cesarean! Unlike a birth plan that is really about the process of learning your options and a single day, maybe two-day event, a postpartum plan is more about the execution of the plan over the first six weeks so you can recover properly.
What should you consider when creating a postpartum plan?
In short, there are three components to caring for yourself after a cesarean birth: physical recovery, emotional regulation, and mental wellness. If you are also the newborn’s parent add a fourth component, bonding with your baby. Those are your “goals” after birth and in the early weeks postpartum.
Bonding with your baby(s), in my opinion is a part of caring for yourself after a cesarean birth because the mother and baby are functioning as one unti for those first couple of weeks as your baby(s) adjusts to life outside the womb and you, the mother, adjusts to the transformation that has and is still taking place (even with a second time mom) within yourself.
Each of the following fall under one or more of the three components I mentioned in the last paragraph: meals and snacks, sibling care, rest/sleep, relationship, infant feeding, pets, cleaning/chores, errands, self-care, me-time, communication, boundaries, and your squad. If you considering these things when creating a postpartum plan, you will already be ahead of the game when it comes to caring for yourself after a cesarean birth.
The next step is to create a nest or nests for you and your baby bird!
A nest is the way I like to describe a cozy place for moms to take care of their babies while maximizing their rest because they NEED it. You need it! Rest is critical to healing after a cesarean birth. Tips for creating your nests:
Create a nest on each level or in living and resting spaces of your home. So more than one nest. Going up and down the stairs is a BIG no-no after a cesarean. Likewise walking from one room to another and back again multiple times a day is NOT maximizing rest.
Think of everything you need in your nests to maximize rest:
- Newborn Care: diapers & wipes, changing pad, change of clothes/onesies, diaper cream, small bag to tie up dirty diapers, 2 burp cloths, and diaper/feeding log (apps work fine, but some prefer paper), bottles (pre-made or easy to make in the nest), Haaka for milk collection, breast pump, a couple milk storage bags/syringes, small cooler bag with a gallon Ziploc bag (for pump parts, milk storage bags stored inside gallon bag), ice packs and refrigerated snacks & drinks for you as you care for your newborn
- Mother Care: nipple cream, phone & charger, high fiber & yummy snacks that don’t need refrigeration (bananas, oranges, apples, nuts, muffins, granola, pretzels & single serve nut butter), warm soups or broth can be made and put into an insulated thermos and drank/ate over a 12-hour period, busy work for your hands (like crochet) if you get stir crazy and are rested enough, also download some audiobooks, also snap photos of discharge instructions and care for both you and your newborn for easy reference because you’ll lose those papers all over the house!
And, lastly, while preparing, begin with the end in mind, seek support! Caring for yourself after a cesarean birth doesn’t mean you must do it all!
I can’t stress this last one enough. You were never meant to do this alone. None of us were. You were not meant to keep care of a home, pets, older siblings, a newborn, yourself, and carry the emotional or mental load of the entire home by yourself. Mothers, grandmothers, sisters, aunts, and other women use to come together to help each other through birth, healing, and breastfeeding. Moms and dads use to child rear alongside one another. The village use to show up. Times have changed and now we find with full-time careers, going to college, we find ourselves without family close by or with family members who can’t take off six weeks or more to be there around the clock. That is our current reality.
Employ the help of everyone you know in one way or another: meals, mail pick up, lawn care, trash collection, dog walking, sibling play dates, laundry, running a dishwasher, grocery ordering and put away, all-of-it!
There are people like me and the other ladies on The Jacksonville Baby Company team who are passionate about this work. We know the twists and turns of this very rollercoaster you’re on, we understand your needs, the emotions you’re working through, the thoughts you’re having, and we want to help support you through all of this. Don’t wait, contact us early, and asking for a gift certificate as a shower gift should not be overlooked.
Let’s recap, shall we?
First create a postpartum plan, then build nests in your home, lastly seek support, that’s it! You are well on your way to caring for yourself after a cesarean birth and taking control of your fourth trimester! The hardest part for some people in this process is envisioning what life will look like with a new baby. Let us help you plan, we know the ins and outs of life with a newborn.
*Disclaimer: When caring for yourself after a cesarean birth you should always follow the aftercare instructions your healthcare providers give you upon discharge you from the hospital. This blog or the tips or suggestions of others should never replace the advice of your doctors, only compliment their care. If anything is contradictory to what they tell you always check with your care provider first or follow their instructions and skip the advice of others.
Happy Birth and Parenting,