Recovery from any major surgery isn’t easy. But with C-section recovery, you’re caring for a new baby on top of postpartum issues like mood swings, cramping, and bleeding. Of course, there’s also the thrill of getting to know this tiny, incredible new being. After waiting nine not-so-easy months to welcome them to the world, you’re uniquely prepared to weather this recovery period, which typically takes six weeks.
Still, you’re going to need plenty of patience, rest, and support while you heal. Here’s an idea of what to expect as a C-section recovery timeline over the first hours, days, and weeks.
Just after delivery
After surgery, you’ll remain under close observation for a few hours. At this point, you still won’t have feeling in your lower body, and you may feel woozy or shaky because of the pain medication and the shifts in your hormones after giving birth. But, barring any complications, you’ll be able to cuddle and breastfeed your baby right away. You can have baby wrapped skin to skin with you in recovery just after getting out of the operating room. This will help baby regulate their body temperature, breathing, and heart rate, and prepare them for successful breastfeeding.
The first 24 hours after delivery
After the observation period is over, you’ll be moved to the postpartum recovery area.
In many cases, the pain medication you were given for surgery will be effective for 18-24 hours to help you stay comfortable, as the regional anesthesia numbing your lower body will wear off after a few hours. Don’t be surprised when you’re encouraged to get out of bed soon after regaining feeling in your legs. Your care team hasn’t forgotten that you’ve just had major surgery. Movement is a critical part of the healing process and helps reduce the risk of blood clots.
Soon after delivery, a nurse will usually massage your uterus to encourage it to contract to its usual size. The firm pressure stimulates contractions, which can be unpleasant. However, it’s important because it helps prevent heavy postpartum bleeding.
The day after delivery
The day after your C-section, your healthcare team will typically remove your catheter. Walking back and forth to the bathroom will now become part of your routine. Your doctors will also remove your bandages around this time and replace them with small, sticky bandages called Steri-Strips. These strips can get wet, so you’ll be able to shower. When you do, let the soapy water run over the incision area but don’t scrub. After your shower, gently pat the area dry.
Expect to wear a pad for the first several weeks (no tampons while you heal). After birth, you’ll experience a completely normal vaginal discharge called lochia — a combination of red and white blood cells and mucus. The lochia will be red and heavier for the first few days after birth. Then it will transition to red-brown and then to pink/brown of lighter bleeding over the following 2-3 weeks. Eventually, it will become a paler, white discharge for the remaining 3-4 weeks before resolving altogether.
Gas bubbles can be a real pain while you wait for your bowels to start moving normally again. All the walking you’re encouraged to do should help, as can a stool softener and anti-gas medication.
Most people will be cleared to go home around this time. If you have staples rather than dissolvable stitches, your doctor will usually remove them at this time. Don’t worry; the removal process shouldn’t be painful at all.
Before leaving, you’ll be given the full rundown on incision care, plus all the dos and don’ts during your C-section recovery. Don’t be afraid to ask any lingering questions about your healing and life with your new baby. You’ve got direct access to a team of experts right now, and be sure you know who and what number to call once your home if you need to contact a provider urgently.
The first week at home
You’re going to need a lot of support after you leave the hospital. Round up your inner circle and get specific about exactly what you need. Try to rest as much as you can and delegate tasks like errands, cooking and housework wherever possible. If it’s an option for you, you could hire a postpartum doula to come to your home occasionally to give you a break from infant care, or to do some light cleaning, or food prep for you and your family. Some doulas also provide lactation support that can be crucial in the first couple of weeks.
Don’t try to lift anything heavier than your baby for now. If you have stairs in your home, consider asking someone to help you move your essentials to the first floor so you’re climbing them as little as possible. If you were sent home with prescription pain medication, know that it is perfectly acceptable to use it as directed by your provider. You have to take care of yourself in order to be present and able to care for your baby. As you near the end of your prescription medications, you may want to transition to an over the counter pain medication. Most, like ibuprofen and acetaminophen, are safe for breastfeeding. Talk to your doctor about which is the best option for you.
A heating pad can help relieve cramping as your uterus continues to shrink. Drinking plenty of water and taking a stool softener as well as making sure you’re walking daily can help with constipation. You should also take care to nourish yourself often and well. Your body needs extra energy to heal and to produce breast milk for your baby if you are breastfeeding.
Two weeks out
Even though you still have much healing to look forward to, you can expect to feel much better at this stage. You might have a two-week incision checkup with your doctor. In the meantime, watch for signs of infection, which include warmth, redness, swelling, or oozing at the incision site, as well as fever. Call your doctor right away if you notice any of these symptoms.
Once you’re no longer taking prescription pain medication and can use the gas and brake pedals in a car without any pain, you may be cleared to get back behind the wheel. But expect that you won’t be driving for two weeks at the very least.
One month after your C-section
By now, moving around will likely feel much more comfortable. And you should find that the vaginal bleeding stops between now and the six-week mark. Other good news: you can usually take a bath by now if you like. And your doctor might give you the go-ahead for some types of light exercise, especially if you were active before and during pregnancy.
C-section recovery week 6 and beyond
Congratulations! By this point, many people feel nearly or fully recovered. Your incision will have healed, leaving a scar that will fade with time. However, you may continue to feel slight discomfort or numbness at the incision site for months to come.
At your six-week checkup, your doctor might let you know that it’s okay to have sex. Keep in mind that when you are physically ready and emotionally ready may follow different schedules. Don’t rush this step and when you do decide to go for it, take things slow and steady.
Remember, everyone has their own healing timeline. So it’s crucial to listen to your body and not rush your return to normal. You’ve made it through six weeks of recovery with your now six-week-old baby. There’s so much to look forward to as your timeline together continues.
Reviewed by the Ovia Health Clinical Team
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- “C-section.” Mayo Clinic. Mayo Clinic. June 12, 2020. https://www.mayoclinic.org/tests-procedures/c-section/about/pac-20393655
- “Pain Management for C-Sections.” Yale Medicine. Yale Medicine. https://www.yalemedicine.org/conditions/anesthesia-for-c-section
- “Cesarean Birth FAQs.” Acog.org. The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists. 2021. https://www.acog.org/womens-health/faqs/cesarean-birth