Care Following a Cesarean

The days following the birth of your baby, which is called the postpartum period, is one of the most challenging times for moms and families. This time can be even more challenging for a mom who has undergone a cesarean delivery. After all deliveries, mom needs to take time to allow her body to rest and heal, which means no housework or running after other little ones. The maternal mortality rate is the highest in the postpartum period, so special attention needs to be given to taking care of mom. If you are a single mom or your partner has to return to work right away, try to set up a support team before the birth of your child for this postpartum period. This can be done with help from family, church members, new mom support groups or a postpartum doula.

Take some time to really understand the limitations and care that is needed for a new mother. Remember it is normal for a new mom to feel overwhelmed and drained. This is why open communication with your health care provider and your support team is so important. Let someone know if you are feeling discouraged or weighed down. ASK FOR HELP!!

Physical Care After a Cesarean:

Before leaving the hospital:

  • You will be encouraged to get up and try to go the bathroom within the first 24 hours after surgery. This will help start the healing process and get you used to moving around with your incision. Remember to move slowly because you may experience dizziness or shortness of breath.
  • Urinating after the catheter is removed can sometimes be painful. Ask your nurse or attendant to suggest ways that this may be easier.
  • If staples were used for your incision they will most likely be removed before you leave the hospital.
  • Talk with your health care provider about dealing with pain after the surgery. If medication is something you are interested in, get a prescription and information on the side affects for you and baby (if you are breastfeeding). If you would rather avoid medications, talk with your health care provider about alternatives to coping with pain that are safe for you and the baby.
  • Your uterus will begin the “involution” process, which is when it is shrinking down to its pre-pregnancy size. You will begin to experience heavy bleeding of bright red blood—this is called lochia and it can continue for up to 6 weeks. You will need to have extra absorbent menstrual pads. The hospital should provide you with special pads used by new moms after delivery. (Do not use tampons during this time.)
  • Gentle strolls around the hospital or rocking in a chair can help speed up recovery and help with gas that can result after abdominal surgery.

After Going Home:

  • Your activity level should be kept low until your health care provider has told you differently. This would include not lifting anything heavier than your baby and avoid housework.
  • Your lochia bleeding will change over time and can increase with activity and position changes. Use this as a gauge to make sure you are not doing too much. Lochia will change over time to pale pink or a dark red color, and then eventually to a yellowish or light color.
  • Make sure you are getting plenty of fluids to keep you hydrated and eat healthy meals to restore energy and prevent constipation.
  • Have changing stations and feeding supplies near you so that you do not have to get up too often.
  • Make sure you watch for fever or pain, which can be a sign of infection.

Things to Avoid:

  • Sexual intercourse until your health care provider says it is safe
  • The use of tampons or douche
  • Avoid taking baths until your incision is healed and you are no longer bleeding
  • Public pools and hot tubs
  • Lifting anything heavier than your baby
  • Repeatedly using stairs
  • Exercise until your health care provider says it’s safe

Emotional Care After a Cesarean:

  • Take additional time daily just to sit and bond with your baby
  • If you are having a hard time with breastfeeding after the cesarean delivery, contact a lactation consultant to help you get comfortable
  • Realize that you may need to take time to decompress emotionally after the surgery, especially if the procedure was an emergency situation
  • Ask to talk through the birth with your support person, so that you can deal with any negative feelings you may have toward your childbirth experience
  • Clarify any questions you may have about your health and future pregnancies with your health care provider. This can help eliminate any feelings of anxiousness you may have about getting pregnant again.
  • Do not be afraid to ask for help! The extra physical care required after a cesarean can sometimes leave women feeling inadequate, overwhelmed, and lonely.

Reasons to Call Your Health Care Provider Immediately:

  • Fever of over 100.4° F
  • Severe headache that begins right after birth and does not let up in intensity
  • Sudden onset of pain in the abdominal area, such as tenderness or burning
  • Foul smell from vaginal discharge
  • Sudden onset of pain in the incision area that can include a pus discharge
  • Swollen, red, painful area in the leg
  • Burning urination or blood in the urine
  • Appearance of rash or hives
  • Extremely heavy bleeding that soaks a maxi pad within an hour or the passing of large clots
  • Sore, red, painful area on the breasts that may be accompanied by flu like symptoms
  • Feeling anxious, panicky, and/or depressed
Last Updated: 09/2008

Compiled using information from the following sources:

Mayo Clinic Guide To A Healthy Pregnancy Harms, Roger W., M.D., et al, Chapter 12.

Planning Your Pregnancy and Birth Third Ed. The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, Ch. 9.

American Pregnancy Association, http://www.americanpregnancy.org

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