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The percentage of babies delivered by Cesarean in the United States has increased for each of the past 10 years. And it's a trend that shows no signs of slowing: In 2005, more than 30 percent of all babies in this country were delivered by C-section—an all-time high, according to the National Center for Health Statistics. Still, in many childbirth classes, a Cesarean delivery—and the recovery that follows—is not covered in much depth, if at all. Here’s what you need to know to cope:
The pain typically spikes 18 hours after delivery. “That’s when the pain medication you were given with your spinal anesthesia wears off,” says San Diego perinatologist Sean Daneshmand, M.D. At that point, you will be given an oral narcotic; or you may have “patient controlled analgesia,” in which pain medication is delivered through your IV. By the time you go home, you will probably only need a nonprescription antiinflammatory such as ibuprofen.
Gas pains can be excruciating! They should pass within a week, once your bowels are moving normally again (abdominal surgery causes them to “shut down” temporarily). In the meantime, taking anti-gas medication and a stool softener will help. So will walking.
You’ll feel cramping for several weeks. “Whether you delivered vaginally or by C-section, it takes six weeks for the uterus to contract to its normal size,” Daneshmand says. Resting a heating pad or hot-water bottle on your belly (but not on the incision) can help; so can ibuprofen.
Healing takes time. “Your incision will heal within about three days,” Daneshmand says. But it takes many months for inflamed nerve endings and other tissues to heal, which is why he doesn’t recommend doing abdominal exercises for three months. The area around your incision may also be numb for six months or longer.
Click here to find more expert advice and tips for recovering from a c-section delivery.
Watch A Live C-section Video
Check out our behind the scenes essay and video of Fit Pregnancy editor at the C-section delivery of her twins.