J. Schatzel works in healthcare administration in rural upstate NY and has a master's degree in history.
Expectations Versus Reality
Whether your C-section is planned or unplanned, you are likely to be in for a surprise when it comes to C-section recovery. For my first baby, we expected to need a C-section due to placenta previa; however, were given the all-clear and had a successful vaginal delivery instead. For my second baby, we expected another vaginal delivery and ended up with an emergency C-section.
While I had felt prepared for another postpartum recovery, the unexpected C-section really threw me a curveball. It had been a few years since I had done the research about C-section recovery, and I felt completely unprepared once we were home from the hospital.
1. Ask for Help!
In the first few weeks (it took me about 3 weeks to feel like I could safely lift my 2-year-old), you will need help lifting older children from tub, stroller, high chair, car seat, etc. You may need help lifting your baby out of the crib/bassinet/bounce seat. Those early days pushed my patience to the ultimate test, as I’ve never been one to ask for help and wait for assistance. I found myself feeling dependent on my husband more than ever before, which was both incredibly frustrating and amazingly endearing.
I needed help feeding the baby at night (I couldn’t sit in the chair or get up from the chair while holding the baby. I needed to sit down and have the baby handed to me). I never knew how many abdominal muscles I had until I couldn’t rely on them!
2. Be Prepared for Emotional Exhaustion
In the first 3 weeks postpartum, I was in too much pain laying flat (or even getting up from laying flat), so I slept in a recliner chair. The hardest part of this for me wasn’t the physical pain; it was the emotional injury of not being able to snuggle in bed with my older son. When my 2-year-old asked for “mommy snuggles” as he adjusted to life as a big brother, I found myself trying to awkwardly sit next to him on the couch so he didn’t climb on my incision.
He had plenty of snuggles with my husband, and I know he felt loved and comforted. I, however, felt left out and disappointed. I felt like I was letting my toddler down when he needed me at night, when he was tired and feeling insecure. While it was only a few weeks before I felt able to get in and out of bed without issue and comfortably sleep in my own bed again, it felt like an eternity.
3. Wear an Abdominal Binder
I had not used one of these with my previous baby, and did not have one at home. While still in the hospital, a relative who had previously had a C-section called and told me I NEEDED to get one of these. She said her hospital sent her home with one after her C-section, she took it thinking she wouldn’t need it, but upon using it discovered it was a life-saver. While my hospital didn’t supply me with one, I was able to order one online, to be delivered the day after we arrived home.
Wearing one of these was the only way I could ride in the car without crying in pain, walk without feeling like my insides were about to spill out through my incision, and sleep without waking up nauseous from the pain. Wearing one of these, I was able to walk more and more each day as my doctor had recommended, without feeling like I was ripping in half.
Wearing the abdominal binder over my underwear, and under my clothes, allowed me to wear pants that otherwise would have rubbed on my incision. I found that I was able to wear pants and skirts I had anticipated would need a few extra weeks before I could comfortably start wearing.
They are touted online as helping your uterus to shrink faster and lose weight faster than if you don’t wear one, however I lost weight at the same rate as I did with my previous delivery (that I hadn’t worn an abdominal binder after). There are too many differing factors between my two recovery periods for me to speculate whether the abdominal binder had any effect in postpartum weightloss/uterus shrinking.
I used the UpSpring "Baby Shrinkx Belly Postpartum Belly Wrap."
4. Use Adult Diapers
I was given a box of Depends adult diapers as a baby shower gift when pregnant with my older son. I thought it was a bit overkill, but found them to be SO comfortable in those first few days postpartum, without having to layer pads. I had a box on hand at home, ready for my postpartum recovery for my second baby, and was so happy I did! The Depends brand adult diapers came up above my incision, whereas my regular underwear would have come right to my incision and been uncomfortable to wear while healing. They were less bulky/obvious under clothing than having to double up on maxi pads, and much more comfortable to wear.
5. Find a Drive-Through Pharmacy
Before leaving the hospital, I called my insurance company, to find out what my copay would be to pickup medications at a different pharmacy than the one I normally use. I found one with a drive-through pharmacy, that had copays only about $2 more than I would normally pay. This was worth it for me, to not have to carry a baby and wrestle a toddler, into a phacmacy, waddle to the back counter, and pickup my prescriptions in the first week postpartum. 5 minutes on the phone saved me so much exhaustion, and cost me only $4 more than it would have to go to my regular pharmacy.
6. Prepare for Pain While Breastfeeding (And Use a Nursing Pillow)
While I had breastfed my first baby, I was unprepared for the pain level breastfeeding would cause with my postpartum experience this time around. While I had heard that after-pains can be stronger after subsequent babies than they were after your first, I was surprised by how strong the pain was.
The uterine cramps I had in those first 2 days while breastfeeding were excruciating. Makes sense, as your uterus was just sliced open and stitched back together; however, it had not occurred to me that breastfeeding might be any more painful this time around! I wanted to be feeding my baby, snuggling with them in my arms. I found myself instead wincing in pain, breathing through the pain, and blurrily watching him eat through my tears.
A nursing pillow is helpful for any breastfed baby, but I found my Boppy pillow to be crucial this time around. It prevented my son from laying across my incision while feeding, and prevented my having to rely on abdominal muscles I didn’t have use of, in getting him into feeding position.
7. Try Lactation Chews
If you had planned on drinking a lot of mother’s milk tea to promote lactation, you might want to consider lactation chews, like Traditional Medicinals Lactation Chews. When getting up and down is difficult after a C-section, I found it much easier to eat a couple of the lactation chews and drink water than to brew some tea. I could keep them in the caddy next to my chair with the burp cloths and lanolin cream, and I didn't have to worry about heating water or waiting for tea to steep.
I was given a bag of chews as a baby gift, and I put them in my hospital bag. I don’t know if it was due to these or to other factors, but I was surprised by how fast my milk came in this time around. Even after having a C-section, my milk supply came in much faster than it did with my previous baby, and it has stayed much higher this time around. The chews were expensive to buy as a 14-pack in stores, but I found them much cheaper online in bulk.
8. Buy Some Nursing Nightgowns
Nursing nightgowns come in a variety of cute styles and comfortable materials. I lived in mine while at home for the first month postpartum. They offer easy access for breastfeeding, and they're more comfortable to wear over a C-section incision than pants. I brought 2 to the hospital to wear postpartum, rather than the one-size-fits-all gowns they provide.
With my first baby, I thought “I’m not going to take pajamas to wear postpartum, then I’ll just come home with extra laundry to wash.” However, this time around, I felt so much more comfortable in my own nightgowns than in the hospital gowns. I felt much less exposed when we had visitors, and 2 nightgowns in the laundry is not the end of the world. The cinched-waist nursing gowns I wore made it feel like I was wearing a fashionable dress instead of a nightgown, and for small-breasted me, they didn’t require wearing a bra underneath. I just used reusable nursing pads, and I was good to go!
9. Apply Scar Cream
I started using the generic version of Mederma scar cream at 3 weeks post-op, and by 8 weeks post op my scar looked much less noticeable. When the tube ran out, I did not purchase any additional cream. I kept the area clean and dry while healing, and only applied the scar cream once a day, after showering. I rubbed the cream in while the skin was still wet from the shower, and felt like it spread much more easily and absorbed better than applying it to dry skin.
A friend recommended silicone strips that are applied over the incision, however I never tried it. She raved about how well they worked for her, but I think I was in a bit of sticker shock. I’m happy with the outcome I saw with a $5 tube of ointment!
10. Plan Ahead for Crock-Pot and Freezer Meals
I had planned ahead, preparing a few freezer meals that I could pop in the oven for easy dinners after we brought home baby number two. I had also stocked up on a few ingredients that could easily be tossed in the crock-pot for easy meals. Little did I realize at the time how handy that would be!
After the C-section, the first few days at home would have been difficult if my hubby (who NEVER cooks!) wasn’t able to prepare meals. I could easily talk him through “turn the oven on to 350, and when it beeps that it is up to temperature, put the pan in for 1 hour” for stuffed cabbage rolls. I could tell him to “dump the contents of the freezer bag into the crockpot, pour in 1 bottle of gingerale, sprinkle with pepper, and set the timer for 8 hours on low.” Voila! Apple & ginger pork tenderloin with potato and onion.
11. Remember to Take Your Medications as Directed!
I would realize I had forgotten to take Tylenol or Motrin on the recommended schedule when I would start to feel too sore to move or find urination excruciating. I found it helpful to set a recurring reminder in my phone, to vibrate at the set intervals and remind me to take my meds and drink a bottle of water. I kept the reminders as a “vibrate” instead of a ring so that it wouldn’t bother me if I was sleeping, and it wouldn’t wake a sleeping baby if I was awake!
I found the Tasks app invaluable, as I juggled relaying a grocery list to my husband (who normally does not do the shopping!), to-do list, medications list, doctors appointments/visitors schedule, etc in the first weeks postpartum.