Recovering from a c-section can be a difficult experience for a lot of moms. This is especially true if your c-section was unexpected or unplanned.
My first pregnancy didn’t go as planned and I was induced for preeclampsia at 35 weeks after being rear-ended on my way to work. You can read more about my labor and delivery experience here.
My first pregnancy taught me to expect the unexpected.
Despite the complications, I delivered vaginally and expected to deliver vaginally the second time around.
However, during my second pregnancy, I ended up having an unexpected c-section.
I was not fully prepared to have major abdominal surgery. I couldn’t anticipate how different the recovery from a c-section would be.
If you have recently gone through an unplanned c-section or you think you may end up with an unexpected c-section, here are the best tips to help you recover.
These helpful tips are also great to prepare for recovery if you are planning on having a scheduled c-section! If you’re preparing to give birth soon, you should also check out this post on what to pack in your hospital bag.
DISCLAIMER: The information on the site is for informational and educational purposes only. Nothing on the site should be considered medical advice. Always consult your own or your child’s health care provider before acting on any information or recommendations. You can read my full Disclaimer Policy here.
1. Process Your Emotions
There are many reasons a woman may end up with an unplanned c-section. For example, labor may not be progressing as it should or the baby’s heart rate may not be tolerating labor.
For a lot of women, the decision to have a c-section could come after an already traumatic labor experience.
Know that it’s okay to grieve if your birth experience didn’t go the way you expected.
Many people find writing therapeutic. A great way to help process emotions to help you recover from an unexpected c-section is by writing out your birth story.
Even if you don’t feel upset about the turn of events, it may still be helpful to write everything down.
I knew I would want to write about my labor and delivery experience so I started taking notes on what was happening on my phone so I could remember later. I’m glad I did because a lot of the details of my c-section delivery are pretty foggy.
My husband kept our families up to date with what was going on through text messaging. Reading through his messages helped me to remember some of the details.
Another great way to process what happened is to talk to your husband or significant other who was there with you. They probably have their own version of events and can help your piece together the experience.
2. Temporarily Rearrange Your Living Space
Baby Changing Station
Set up a changing station in multiple rooms so you don’t have to get up too often, climb stairs, and search for supplies.
This is a great tip for all new moms but especially when you’re recovering from a c-section. Even getting up from the couch was painful for the first week after my c-section.
We originally set up my son’s changing table upstairs. However, soon after I got home from the hospital, we realized we needed an additional changing table to avoid going up and down the stairs frequently.
We purchased this foldable changing table for our living room, where we were spending most of our time. It’s a great height for both me and my husband and can be easily transferred from room to room if needed. I also love the mesh pockets on the side for storing diapers and wipes.
In addition to our new diaper changing station, I turned the loveseat in our living room to my breastfeeding and pumping station. I set up all my pumping supplies on the table for easy access and kept my pump plugged into the wall next to the loveseat.
I set up two pillows along the back of the loveseat for support when I sat down and kept my boppy and a bunch of burp clothes nearby for breastfeeding.
The best part of my set up was the heat pack. I kept an electric heat pad on top of the pillows and whenever I sat down to breastfeed or pump, I turned on the heat for immediate relief on my aching back.
My back hurt almost more than my incision the first week or so. Having the heat pack available was extremely helpful.
Do what you need to do in order to make things easier for you to get around your home the first few weeks while you are recovering after a c-section.
3. Support Yourself with Pillows
Pillows were my best friend after my c-section.
In the hospital, I basically slept sitting up in bed. It was painful to lower the head of my bed too much.
The first few nights at home after my c-section were difficult. I was scared to lie flat so supported myself with lots of pillows in bed.
Getting up from the cough was also an ordeal in the beginning. Placing a few pillows behind my back when I sat down provided some relief and made it easier to stand back up.
You may even find it helpful to use something like a reading pillow for your bed.
4. Accept Help
I had my c-section in March of 2020, during the pandemic so we were isolating at home. I would have LOVED to have my mom stay with us for a few days to help out.
Pregnant during the pandemic? Here’s what to expect when giving birth.
In normal times, if you are lucky enough to have family or friends willing to help you out, let them!
Maybe someone is willing to come over and watch your baby for a few hours so you can take a nap. In fact, they would probably love to do this – who can resist newborn snuggles?
If someone asks if there’s anything they can do for you, give them a suggestion! They wouldn’t be asking if they didn’t want to help (I hope).
Some ideas include:
- Help with washing/folding laundry
- Go grocery shopping for you
- Make and drop off meals
- Take your other child/children out of the house for awhile
5. Stay Hydrated
Invest in a large water bottle that you can have by your side. I kept forgetting to drink enough water the first few weeks I was home. You can forget to take care of yourself when you’re taking care of a newborn (and in my case, a toddler as well).
Staying hydrated is so important for a number of reasons. Staying well-hydrated will help reduce constipation which is common after surgery.
Dehydration can also cause fatigue so staying hydrated can help boost your energy as you recover from an unexpected (or planned) c-section.
6. Pay Attention to Your Bowel Function
While working as a nurse on a surgical unit, “When was your last bowel movement?” is a question I asked my patients every day.
Your nurses in the hospital probably asked about your bowel function at every shift change, including whether or not you were passing gas yet.
Constipation can be common after abdominal surgery. The medications you are given during surgery shut down your bowels and they have to ‘wake back up’. Your abdominal muscles also need to heal so straining at all can be very painful.
You were probably given or offered stool softeners in the hospital. You may want to continue taking stool softeners once you are home, especially if you are taking any opioid pain medication.
Opioids (like oxycodone, Percocet, Vicodin) can slow the movement of food and stool through your gastrointestinal tract.
Drinking enough water, as mentioned above, is also helpful when you are experiencing constipation.
Straining to go to the bathroom can be pretty painful at your incision site. It might be helpful to hold a small pillow (use that cough pillow!) against your incision when trying to move your bowels.
7. Monitor Your Incision
You may have either a horizontal or vertical incision.
The horizontal or “bikini line” incision is more common and is made about 1 to 2 inches above the pubic hair line.
A vertical incision is usually only done in emergent situations when quick access to the uterus is needed.
The incision is usually closed with absorbable sutures that will dissolve. Depending on your situation, you may have staples placed to close the wound. These will need to be removed after several days.
More commonly, “butterfly stitches” or steri-strips are placed over the incision. These can be removed by you at home, usually after about 7 days. You should receive instructions from your nurse or doctor before leaving the hospital about when it’s okay to remove these. The steri-strips may also fall off on their own.
You should look at your incision in the mirror daily to check for any pus-like drainage, redness, or opening of the wound. Protect the incision until it has fully healed and keep it clean and dry.
8. Treat Your Pain
Recover from a c-section is painful. Your organs and skin were cut open. It hurts! Take pain medication if you need it.
I was nervous about taking strong pain medication but it helped so much! If you are concerned about taking medication while breastfeeding, discuss this with your doctor or nurse at the hospital.
Most hospitals will give you a prescription for a small amount of pain medication such as oxycodone as well as advise you to alternate taking Tylenol and Ibuprofen at home.
You may feel like you’re walking around in a fog the first few weeks that you’re home with a newborn baby. I carried a notebook around with me so I could write down when my baby last ate, pooped and peed.
I found it also helpful to record the last time I took any pain medication and which medication I had taken.
If I didn’t write it down, I was constantly wondering if I had actually taken the Tylenol or just THOUGHT about taking it… or maybe it was Motrin I had just taken.
It was much easier to keep track when I recorded everything in my notebook.
9. Use a Cough Pillow
One way to make sure you are protecting your incision is to use a pillow when coughing or sneezing. It’s also helpful to grab a pillow and hold it against your incision when you’re laughing!
If you didn’t get a cough pillow while in the hospital, you can use a small throw pillow or make your own.
To make your own, fold up a small blanket or sheet and tape around it to hold it in place.
10. Walk Around
“Walk early” is one of the most common c-section recovery tips I have heard. For good reason!
Walking gets your bowels moving and can help ease gas pains. Standing upright and moving around can allow you take deeper breaths to open your lungs up. Walking also helps reduce the risk of blood clots, which can be a complication after surgery.
While home, try walking around inside every hour.
If it’s nice weather, make use of the new stroller you probably got at your baby shower and take a short walk outside when you feel ready.
11. Invest in Some High Waisted Underwear
I am personally a big fan of the disposable mesh underwear they give you in the hospital. If this works for you, grab a bunch to take home when you leave the hospital.
Most of my normal underwear dug right into my incision and was impossible to wear. This is when ‘granny panties’ can come in handy.
I also purchased high waisted underwear that are comfortable to wear. They pull up over the incision and help protect anything from rubbing against it.
12. Take it Easy for a Few Weeks
Sometimes it’s hard for us moms not to over do it.
I felt like I needed to be superwomen when I got home from the hospital after my c-section. I wanted to prove I could take care of a newborn, a toddler and myself after just having abdominal surgery because I felt like that’s what moms are supposed to do.
Looking back, I wish I had relaxed a little bit more those first few weeks at home and let me husband cater to me.
Don’t be afraid to take it easy as you recover from an unexpected c-section, especially in the very beginning. I started feeling like myself again about two weeks post-op and was able to do a lot more at that point without feeling like I was pushing myself too much.
Time passes too quickly with a newborn.
You’ll appreciate taking it slow those first several days after your c-section, spending time getting to know your new little baby, and helping your body to heal.
If you’re a skimmer (like me), here are the important parts:
- You might feel sad that your birth experience didn’t go as expected. That’s okay. Talk to you spouse, write about it, tell your story!
- Set up your house to suit your needs. If you have two stories, you’ll want a changing station on each level. Having a breastfeeding/pumping area is helpful too.
- Lots of pillows.
- Let people help you if they offer (help with laundry, cook you food, do your shopping, watching your other kids).
- Keep a water bottle by your side and stay hydrated; dehydration can contribute to constipation and fatigue.
- Take stool softeners if needed. Hold pressure (small pillow or something similar) at your incision when moving your bowels.
- Check your incision daily for any signs of infection.
- Take pain medication if you need it. Keep track of when/what you took.
- Hold a small pillow over your incision when coughing or laughing.
- Walk around the house. Take small, slow walks outside.
- Wear ‘granny panties’ or underwear that goes up over your incision.
- Take it easy, let your body heal, enjoy your tiny new baby.
I hope you found these tips helpful as you recover from your unexpected c-section. Please let me know in the comments if you found any of this advice valuable and spread the love by sharing this post!