What to Expect After a C-Section

Whether it’s planned or unplanned, it’s important for first-time parents to familiarize themselves with what happens during a caesarean birth. Even if you’re planning on a vaginal delivery, giving birth can lead to unexpected emergency c-section complications arising when you least expect it. Understanding what happens during a caesarean section, and how to recover after, can offer a lot of peace of mind.

In this article, we’ll walk you through what a caesarean section is, and tips for recovery after a caesarean birth.

What Is A Caesarean Section?

Before we discuss recovery from a c-section, we need to fully understand what a c-section is, and what happens during a caesarean birth.

A caesarean section, also called a c-section, is an abdominal surgery used to deliver a baby. This procedure can be planned or unplanned, and typically takes place when a healthcare provider determines that vaginal birth would be harmful to the mother or baby.

During this procedure, doctors will hook you up to an IV for fluids and pain relief medicine and provide an epidural, to numb your lower body while allowing you to be awake for the procedure. (However, in some emergency scenarios, you may need a general anesthetic.) You will also be hooked up to a catheter, to ensure your bladder is empty during surgery. Doctors will then prepare your abdomen, blocking off the surgical area with drapes, and sterilizing the skin.

Doctors will then make a c-section incision across your abdomen above the pubic area. Then, doctors will make an incision across the uterus, and use a device to remove the amniotic fluid. Then, doctors will pull out your baby.

After your baby is out, doctors will cut the cord, remove your placenta, and stitch your uterus and abdomen. Then, you will begin recovery along with your newborn baby.

What Happens After Your C-Section?

Once you are stitched up, it’s time for recovery. While many women go through c-sections, it’s important to remember that this is a major abdominal surgery that needs careful recovery.

Dealing With Pain

Immediately after the procedure, you will need to stay on bed rest as you wait for the effects of any pain medication or anesthesia to wear off. You will also need to avoid heavy lifting and need assistance leaving the bed and when holding or lifting your new baby.

During the healing process, you can expect the site of the c-section incision to be sore. You can take over-the-counter pain relief medication like ibuprofen, or you can talk to your healthcare provider for something different if needed.

Caring for the Incision

Your incision site will be covered in a dressing after surgery and will need to be checked and changed during the first 24 hours post-surgery.  Your incision will likely be closed with stitches or clips, which will need to be removed by a nurse 5-7 days following your surgery.

It’s important to keep the wound clean, washing it with plain water daily. Do not use any irritating soaps or oils, and always pat the area dry. Ensure you wear loose, comfortable clothing to avoid putting pressure on the wound.

Tips For Recovery

Here are some things you will find yourself facing during c section recovery, with tips on how to get through it, or learn more about c-section recovery with Sydney Pelvic Clinic here.

Avoiding Blood Clots

As with other major surgeries, it’s important to take steps to avoid blood clots, especially when on bed rest. The easiest way to do this is to ensure you start moving around after surgery.

Once you bypass the first 24 hours, try to get up at least once a day to walk around. You can also try some gentle stretching or yoga to encourage scar tissue recovery and good blood flow.

You should also make sure you drink a lot of fluids. Your nurse may also suggest compression garments, depending on your recovery, to avoid blood clots.

Vaginal Bleeding and Cramping

You may think because a c section happens across the abdomen, this means you’ll avoid the bleeding that comes with vaginal birth. However, because of the incision made on your uterus, and the removal of the placenta during birth, you will still have to deal with the bleeding that comes after pregnancy.

You can expect to experience vaginal bleeding for 2-6 weeks after your c-section. This bleeding will be heavy and you can expect to clot but it should lighten up as the weeks pass. It is also normal to experience heavier bleeding and cramping while breastfeeding, due to the release of hormones that happens when you do it.

You can wear overnight or maternity pads during recovery as you deal with the bleeding. However, you should reach out to a healthcare professional if your bleeding becomes excessive, becomes heavier suddenly, or you continue to pass large clots after the first 24 hours post-surgery.


C-section surgery can majorly disrupt your bowels and cause regular bowel movements to stop. Some women experience feelings of constipation and trapped wind. This is often a side effect of pain medications prescribed after surgery.

We recommend natural aids to encourage digestion, including mint tea, peppermint, prune juice, or even minty gum. You should also eat fiber-rich foods, drink plenty of water a day, and have regular movement.

Hormonal Changes

The huge rush of hormones that happens during birth can cause some hormonal changes in your body. The signs of this happening include breast swelling and changes, soreness, cramping, and changes to your hair and skin.

It’s normal after a c-section to experience breast swelling and tenderness after delivery as they fill with milk for the first time. Regular breastfeeding and pumping can help to ease the pain. Cold towels and washcloths over the breasts can also soothe swelling and tenderness.

You can also expect your hair to thin after pregnancy, which should get better with time.

Massaging Your Scar

To get the best outcome for your c-section scar, it’s important to take care of it as it heals (first 6 weeks). At 6 weeks post c-section, you can start to massage and touch the scar to improve both scar mobility and reduce its sensitivity. For more rigid, prominent and sensitive scars, our pelvic physiotherapists recommend Focused Shockwave Therapy. Focused Shockwave Therapy can improve the feel and appearance of the scar (minimum 12 weeks post c-section to start this therapy).

For further help, book a post-natal assessment today.

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