Beyond The 'C'

Expert advice on recovering from a Cesarean section.

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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 are four tips to help you prepare in case you deliver by C-section.

1. Plan to get up and about. "We suggest that patients get out of bed and start moving within 24 hours of a C-section because movement decreases the risk of blood clots and gets your digestive system functioning again," says Alison Edelman, M.D., M.P.H., an assistant professor of obstetrics and gynecology at Oregon Health & Sciences University in Portland. You'll need to start slowly—walking to and from the bathroom, for instance—and with help from your nurse, as you may be a bit dizzy when you first get up. Soon enough you'll be able to take a stroll around your hospital floor.

You also can shower within a day of your surgery; doing so helps reduce the risk of infection. "Don't scrub your incision, but let the soapy water run over it," Edelman says. (Your bandages will likely be removed about 24 hours after surgery and replaced with small sticky bandages called Steri-Strips; it's fine if these get wet.) Dry the area by gently patting it or using a blow-dryer set on cool. It's safe to take a bath when the incision has healed, generally seven to 10 days after surgery.

The need to get back on your feet is one reason you should take the pain medicine your doctor prescribes. "If you're in pain, you won't move," says Edelman.

2. Expect unexpected pain. Most women realize that they'll have pain after a C-section—it's major surgery, after all! But many are surprised by the intestinal spasms—OK, gas—they experience; this is a result of air becoming trapped in the abdomen during surgery.

"My nurses practically forced me to get out of bed and move in order to relieve the gas pains I had following my first C-section," says Maureen Connolly, a mother of three in Montclair, N.J. Your physician might also recommend taking simethicone tablets (Gas-X), which help alleviate gas and bloating. Also move your legs around while in bed—any bit of activity helps. "Even though my incision hurt, moving around brought the most relief," Connolly recalls.

For her second C-section, which was scheduled, Connolly was able to minimize post-op gas pains by following a pre-surgery diet recommended by her OB. "I started a semiliquid diet 48 hours before surgery," she says. "I found out that foods like yogurt and pasta soup are much easier for the intestines to digest than most others." Her doctor explained that these foods would help reduce the amount of air in her abdomen and intestines—and, hence, her post-surgery gas.

3. Prepare to take it easy at home. "Don't drive for at least one week after delivery, limit stair climbing, and avoid heavy housework," says Henry Lerner, M.D., an OB-GYN in Newton, Mass., and a clinical instructor at Harvard Medical School. Remember:You had major surgery, and you need to take it easy!

The age-old advice—don't lift anything heavier than your baby for two weeks—still stands. The staples that are commonly used to close the incision will probably be removed within three to seven days of delivery, but even then, it's important to avoid any strenuous activity for the first two weeks. Also pay attention to the following symptoms of infection; if you have any of them, call your doctor immediately:

  • Fever above 100.4 °F
  • Heavy vaginal bleeding
  • Pain at the incision site that gets worse instead of better
  • Blood or other fluid draining from your incision
  • Reddened edges around your incision

4. Embrace your baby's birth. For women who planned and hoped for a vaginal delivery, having a C-section can be emotionally devastating and bring about feelings of failure. "You may be overjoyed at the birth of your child but still feel like you failed or your body failed you, and you may have trouble reconciling those feelings," Edelman says. If you just can't come to terms with your C-section, visit Postpartum Support International at They'll guide you to support groups and even counselors who specialize in this area.