Recovery after caesarean: first six weeks

Recovery after caesarean: first six weeks

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Going home after caesarean birth

After your caesarean, you'll stay in hospital for about 3-5 days. This can vary between hospitals. Sometimes it depends on how long your caesarean recovery takes.

In some hospitals you can choose to go home early (in the first 72 hours) and have your follow-up care at home. Ask the nurse or midwife about what your hospital offers.

A caesarean is major surgery, so it's important to focus on caring for your baby and giving your body the rest it needs to recover.

Some communities have a tradition of the mother staying at home in the first six weeks after birth, and others don't. Whatever your situation, taking it easy as much as you can and being kind to yourself are really important in these weeks.

Your feelings after caesarean birth

Some women feel fine about having a caesarean, whereas others feel disappointed or sad that they weren't able to give birth vaginally.

For women who have an unplanned (emergency) caesarean, the change in plan can sometimes be a shock. Whatever your feelings, they're OK. But it can really help to talk through those feelings with someone you trust.

You can also call the Pregnancy Birth and Baby Helpline on 1800 882 436 for advice and free counselling, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.

Bleeding after caesarean

Even though you've had a caesarean, you'll still have bleeding from your vagina after birth. This is normal bleeding from where the placenta was attached to your uterus.

To deal with the bleeding, you'll need to have plenty of maternity sanitary pads handy, both in hospital and when you come home. You shouldn't use tampons in the first six weeks after birth.

The bleeding might be quite heavy in the first week, like a heavy period. It might also be heavy after exercise, when you first get up in the morning and after breastfeeding. You might see some small blood clots on your pad. If you're soaking through a pad in one hour or seeing lots of blood clots, tell your GP, midwife or child and family health nurse.

After the first week, your bleeding should gradually get lighter and change from red to dark-red to brown to yellowish-white. You'll probably be able to use regular sanitary pads around this time. You might have some bleeding for up to six weeks.

Check with your doctor, nurse or midwife if the bleeding gets heavier rather than lighter, you have a sudden heavy blood loss or large clots after the first few days, the blood smells bad, your uterus feels tender or sore, or you're still bleeding after six weeks.

Pain relief after caesarean

In the early days, it's OK to take pain relievers. Talk with your doctor or midwife about which pain relievers will be best for you, especially if you're breastfeeding.

Some women find that basic things like coughing, laughing and showering can hurt in the first weeks after a caesarean.

Our article on healthy lifestyle choices for new mums and dads has information on medication and breastfeeding.

Caesarean wound care

Your caesarean wound will usually be along or just below your bikini line. Very rarely it might be straight up and down your tummy. It will usually have dissolvable stitches or staples.

Keeping your wound clean and dry helps to prevent infection.

The wound will be covered by a waterproof dressing for several days, and you can usually shower with this on.

Once the dressing has been removed, you can gently wash your wound with water and dry around it with a towel. It's best to leave it uncovered to 'air dry'. Be especially careful if your wound is under a tummy fold because this will make it harder to keep dry.

Some bruising around the wound is common. Numbness or itching around the wound is common too. This can last a long time in some women.

Wear loose cotton clothing that doesn't press on your wound.

It'll take 6-10 weeks for your wound to heal completely.

If you see any signs of infection around your wound, see your doctor or midwife straight away. Signs of infection include pain, redness, swelling, smelly discharge or the wound coming apart.

Practical help after caesarean

It's OK to ask for help at any time, especially in these first six weeks after caesarean. And family, friends and other people will probably appreciate you telling them exactly what you need.

For example, you could say, 'Could you pick up some bread and milk on your way to visit today?' Or 'Thanks for offering to pick up some groceries, but I really just need someone to hang out the washing today'.

Check whether your hospital offers any home services to help with these jobs for a few weeks.

If you feel you need other support at home - for example, with breastfeeding - talk with your doctor, midwife or child and family health nurse.

Lifting, stretching and bending
You'll definitely need some help with any jobs that involve stretching upwards, lifting or bending, because of the strain these activities put on your caesarean wound. This means you'll need someone to hang washing on the line, do the vacuuming and help with any other strenuous household jobs.

Don't lift any weight that's heavier than your baby or anything that causes you pain - for example, a full basket of wet washing or your toddler.

If your toddler is used to being picked up, there are other ways for the two of you to be close. For example, she could sit next to you on the couch while you put your arm around her and read a story.

Doctors usually recommend that you avoid driving a car until your caesarean wound has healed and you can brake suddenly without feeling sharp pain. This is usually around 4-6 weeks. It's best to talk with your doctor or midwife about when it's safe to start driving again.

Check the policy of your car insurance company because some companies won't cover you if your doctor hasn't cleared you to drive.

Exercise, food and sleep after caesarean

A gentle walk each day can help your body and your mind feel better - for example, you could start with five minutes walking around your home. You might like to ask a physiotherapist at the hospital to give you some other good exercise ideas as you start to recover.

Healthy eating and drinking can help you feel better too. And foods that are high in fibre are good for avoiding constipation - these foods include cereals, fruits and vegetables. Drinking water will also help and is especially important if you're breastfeeding.

Getting as much rest and sleep as you can is another top tip. Try to rest or sleep when your baby sleeps, and don't feel guilty if the housework isn't done - you and your baby are more important.

Relationships and friendships after birth

Your emotional and sexual relationship with your partner might feel different in the early weeks after your baby arrives. For example, it's quite normal to take weeks, even months, before you feel like having sex again. It's OK to wait to have sex until you feel ready.

New friendships can open up after you have a baby. For example, many women join a mothers group in the first couple of months.

It can be comforting and reassuring to talk in person or online with other mums who've had a similar experience to you.

Our article on services and support has a list of options for help and support after your baby arrives.

Breastfeeding after caesarean

You can try different positions for breastfeeding to find what's most comfortable for you. Ask the midwives to show you different positions while you're in hospital. You can organise a visit with a lactation consultant if you'd like extra support, or you can call the National Breastfeeding Helpline on 1800 686 268.

Positions you might find useful for breastfeeding after caesarean birth are:

  • sitting with a pillow on your lap to support your baby and protect your wound
  • lying down on your side
  • holding baby underarm with baby's feet towards your back - the 'football' position.

Check out our illustrated guide to breastfeeding positions to learn more about each of these positions.

Your six-week check

Your health and your baby's health will be reviewed at a six-week check-up with your doctor, midwife or child and family health nurse.

This is a good time to ask any questions you still have - for example, why you had a caesarean or what your birth options are if you have another baby. After any birth, it's good to leave time for your body to heal between births.

Your doctor, midwife or nurse can also give you information on topics like family planning and baby development.