" Recovery after a Caesarean
Recovery after a Caesarean

Following Surgery

Immediately after surgery you’ll be taken to the recovery room for observation while the anaesthetic wears off. You might have cramps and feel nauseated and your legs will feel numb for a few hours.

A nurse will monitor your blood pressure, heart rate and temperature and the firmness of the uterus, vaginal bleeding and the incision will also be checked. The skin around the incision will often be bruised but pain relief will be available if you need it – make sure you tell your midwife or doctor if you do.

You’ll usually be encouraged to walk without assistance about four to eight hours after surgery. You may also receive an injection to prevent blood clots as well as antibiotics to prevent infection.

Your catheter will stay in until the anaesthetic has worn off and you have normal sensation in your legs to walk safely to the toilet. This may not be until the following day.

Bowel movements might be difficult, so drink plenty of water and eat high-fibre food once you’re able to.

Absorbable stitches are used for any incisions made beneath the skin and are often used on your outer abdomen as well. However if non-absorbable stitches are used, they’ll need to be removed around seven days following surgery.

When your dressing is taken off, you’ll need to keep the wound clean and dry – this will help it heal more quickly as well as reduce the risk of infection.

You’ll most likely stay in hospital for up to six days following your caesarean and you’ll be prescribed pain relief to take home with you.

Breastfeeding your baby

Although there may sometimes be short-term effects (eg a slight delay in your milk coming in), the way your baby comes into the world generally doesn’t impact on breastfeeding success.

Positioning of your baby on the breast is very important to help establish breastfeeding and prevent nipple soreness. Whatever hold you use, make sure your baby’s body is close to you, chest to chest, chin to breast and nose away from the breast. For information about positioning and attachment, see the Australian Breastfeeding Association website Attachment to the breast. Positions you may find useful after a caesarean birth are sitting with a pillow on your lap to support your baby and protect your wound; lying down on your side; or with your baby in the underarm (or ‘twin’) position, with his feet towards your back.

No matter how your baby is delivered, night feeds are important for him to receive your colostrum and to begin learning to breastfeed. Night feeds help to prevent breast engorgement and to establish your milk supply.

  • Breastfeeding might be a little more difficult following a caesarean but it’s most definitely encouraged.
  • The earlier you start, the easier it is likely to be, for both you and your baby.
  • In some hospitals you’ll be encouraged to breastfeed while you’re in recovery if there’s a midwife available to help.
  • The most important thing to remember is to ask for as much support as you need during your recovery in hospital and beyond.

When breastfeeding must wait

While it’s ideal for a mother and baby to be in skin-to-skin contact straight after birth and for a baby to breastfeed within an hour of birth, not every caesarean mother can start breastfeeding immediately. You may have needed or asked for a general anaesthetic or your baby may need to be put in a humidicrib for a while to stabilise his condition.

While early breastfeeding is helpful for baby and mother, there is one important thing you can do while waiting and that is to express your colostrum. Colostrum is like ‘super’ breastmilk and contains more concentrated protein and immunity factors than mature breastmilk. It acts as a natural laxative for the meconium, your baby’s first bowel movement.

Recovering at home

  • Full recovery following a caesarean usually takes between four and six weeks, sometimes longer. It’s important to arrange help from family or friends if you can to allow you to get as much rest as possible.
  • Avoid lifting anything heavier than your baby, including other children and don’t lift anything that causes you pain. If you think you’re going to need extra support at home, talk with your doctor or midwife prior to leaving the hospital.
  • You’ll need to refrain from any vigorous exercise following surgery and the hospital physiotherapists will provide ideas for you to ease back into activity as you recover. However it is advised to keep moving, taking a gentle walk each day is a great way to keep your physical and mental health in check.
  • Take regularly pain relievers to prevent pain, but if you’re breastfeeding be sure to ensure your medication is safe for your baby.
  • Numbness and itching around the scar is normal and can last for quite a while. Using warmth, such as a wheat bag or hot water bottle, can help.
  • When it comes to sex, let comfort be your guide. It can take weeks or even months for some women to feel comfortable having sex so make sure you do what feels right.
  • You’ll also need to avoid driving for six weeks post-surgery.

Emotions

For many women, having a caesarean is a positive experience, however some might feel sad or disappointed and it’s important to talk through these feelings.

Looking after a new baby is difficult for all new mums, but it can be even harder when you’re recovering a caesar, which is major surgery.

Take the time you need to recover, seek and accept help and remember to talk to family, friends, doctors or midwives if you are feeling low.

Alternatively, you can call PANDA (Post and Antenatal Depression Association) National Perinatal Depression Helpline on 1300 726 306.

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