Around one in every four pregnant women in the UK will deliver by Caesarean Section. They can be carried out for medical reasons, such as breech presentation, or sometimes they can be chosen for non-medical reasons. Even though it is a very common operation, it is still major surgery and lots of questions can arise for new parents and first-time mums. Helen Taylor Independent midwife tackles some of the most common questions women have before a c-section operation.
How long does it take to recover?
You may be kept in hospital for only 48 hours following your c-section! Your discharge home will be assessed and planned by your doctors and midwives. Typically, you will be able to eat and drink straight away after your operation, although it is common to feel nauseated initially post c-section so a light diet and hydration is recommended. You will be encouraged to get out of bed and begin gentle mobility once the epidural has worn off and full sensation to your legs has returned.
An important thing to remember is that you have just had major surgery so your recovery time will be longer than a woman who has delivered vaginally. While it’s easier said than done, especially with a new-born baby who requires attention, try to rest as much as possible. It’s fine to be extremely careful and tentative in the days following your surgery. Most women find it helpful to support your tummy with one hand when you are moving around following your c-section. You may find going up and down stairs difficult during the first week, so it’s best to keep essential supplies close by such as nappies, wipes, water, chocolate biscuits and TV remote! Take it slowly as it can take an average of six to eight weeks for you to resume activities such as picking older children up, driving etc.
Remember to look after yourself well by eating and drinking as healthily as possible, to encourage optimal healing for your body. Plenty of fresh fruit and vegetables provides a good intake of fibre to avoid constipation (this is a common side effect of some pain killers so do ask your doctor or midwife regarding this if you are concerned at all).
Try to avoid smoking as it is well recognised that smoking delays wound healing.
What will my scar look like?
You will typically have a horizontal scar around 10-15cm long, normally just above your pubic hair or around the hairline. Most commonly a wound dressing is used for the first 24 hours and usually this is removed after your first shower. Most doctors use dissolvable stitches that are just under the skin, that you cannot visibly see! Sometimes a non-dissolvable stitch is used which your midwife will carefully remove around day 5 post C/S. The site of your scar may feel numb or itchy in the weeks following your operation and this is to be expected.
For most comfort it is best to wear high full brief underwear for a good 6-8 weeks post C/S– underwear that sits on the bikini line can dig into your c-section wound and could affect healing too.
After a shower or bath, it is important that your scar is given time to dry well. It is common to feel nervous of touching your wound. You can lie on a bed and lift your tummy gently to allow air to circulate or if you feel comfortable enough, you can even pat the wound gently with a clean towel or even a piece of clean kitchen towel. Be sure to have clean hands and clean towels to help reduce the risk of infection or inflammation.
Sometimes, Caesarean sections can cause keloid scarring, a thicker scar which extends beyond the original site of the incision. However, once your incision has healed over, there are treatments which can help improve the appearance of scarring and prevent abnormal raised scars forming. In a survey commissioned by KELO-COTE®, 82% of people were not aware that you can treat raised scars for up to 2 years after the initial wound. Silicone-based treatments can help the healing process by forming an ultra-thin protective barrier over the affected area that also softens or flattens the appearance of a raised scar.
Is it normal to bleed?
All women bleed post birth, whether this is by C/S or vaginal birth. It is called lochia. The first 48 hours post birth will be the heaviest, and it continues far longer than a normal menstrual period. It is common for bleeding to last up to 6 weeks, so do wear protection for at least 6 weeks. It is recommended that new Mums use sanitary towels and not tampons.
If you have any concerns about your blood loss post birth, do speak to your midwife or doctor.
When can I exercise again?
A good time to ask your midwife or GP about returning to normal physical activities or starting to reintroduce exercise into your routine is at your six-week post-natal check. Every woman recovers at her own pace, so always seek the advice of your midwife if you don’t know when it’s safe to do your usual activities. Start out slowly with low impact exercise, such as swimming, Pilates or yoga and low resistance gym work. Even if you were very athletic before/during your pregnancy, it is advisable to wait for around 12 weeks before returning to high impact exercises, so hold off on aerobics, running and weight training until your doctor clears you to do this.