Whether your caesarean birth was planned or not, you’ll need time to recover. We look at what to expect during recovery and when to seek medical advice.
After a caesarean birth, you’ll probably be in hospital for three to four days and will need to take it easy for a few weeks (NCCHCW, 2011; NHS Choices, 2016). Here’s what you can expect in those few weeks.
You, your baby and your birth partner (if you have one) will move from the operating theatre to a recovery room nearby.
A midwife will monitor you and your baby for the next few hours. You’ll have your breathing, heart rate, blood pressure and your pain levels monitored regularly during this time (NICE, 2011).
If your baby needs to be taken straight to special care, your partner might have to decide between being with you or going with the baby. If they stay with the baby, they might be able to provide skin-to-skin contact. Try to discuss in advance what you’d like to happen in this situation.
You should be offered additional support to help you start breastfeeding as soon as possible after the caesarean. Which is good if you’d like to breastfeed your baby (NCCHCW, 2011; NICE, 2011).
Women are less likely to start breastfeeding in the first few hours after birth following an operation. But once breastfeeding is established, they’re just as likely to continue breastfeeding as a woman who has had a vaginal birth (NCCHCW, 2011; NICE, 2011).
While you recover, you’ll probably be lying with the bedhead tilted up. So some people suggest a laid-back breastfeeding position with your baby lying across you, away from your wound, works well (Breastfeedo, 2018).
After a caesarean operation you’ll usually receive a painkiller that lasts for several hours. You’ll also usually get stockings to wear and/or medication to reduce the risk of getting blood clots or deep vein thrombosis (DVT) (NICE, 2011).
This medication might be in the form of daily injections, which you may need to continue at home for a few days or weeks. The treatment depends on individual risk factors (NICE, 2011).
If you had a regional anaesthetic, your team might leave the epidural in place so they can give you more pain relief later on if necessary. If you had a general anaesthetic, you might get a local anaesthetic to numb nerves in your tummy, along with a morphine injection.
A midwife might give you tablets such as diclofenac or ibuprofen, paracetamol or morphine (NCCHCW, 2011). You might also be offered pain relief that you can control yourself, such as morphine (NICE, 2011).
Recovering on the postnatal ward
After spending time in the recovery room, you’ll be moved to a postnatal ward. You’ll stay there before going home.
Some hospitals aim to remove the catheter (a tube into the bladder to collect wee) as soon as possible to speed mobility and recovery after the operation (NCCHCW, 2011). If you’re recovering well and have no complications, you can eat and drink when you’re hungry or thirsty (NCCHCW, 2011).
The average length of hospital stay after a caesarean is three to four days. This is longer than the one to two days for a vaginal birth. But if you and your baby are recovering well, you could be discharged within 24 hours, with follow-up care at home (NCCHCW, 2011).
Bleeding after caesarean birth
It’s usual to have some vaginal bleeding (lochia) for two to six weeks after you give birth. This is normal and happens after both vaginal and caesarean births (Tommy’s, 2018).
The first day of bleeding might be quite heavy and red or red-brown. The bleeding should lighten over the next few weeks and become more brown or lighter pink (NHS Choices, 2018; Tommy’s, 2018).
If you notice sudden, very heavy bleeding and large clots, contact your midwife or doctor immediately. Likewise, if the blood smells unpleasant and you have a fever and a tender tummy, also contact your midwife or doctor immediately. (NHS Choices, 2018; Tommy’s, 2018)
How do I care for the wound?
A waterproof dressing will be put over your wound to begin with. This dressing might be removed as soon as 24 hours after the birth (NCCHCW, 2011; NICE, 2011). If you’re worried about the dressing or it needs changing, ask a midwife for advice.
Once the dressing has been removed, it’s important to keep the wound clean and dry. You should bath or shower daily, and gently clean and dry the wound with freshly-laundered washcloths (NCCHCW, 2011).
While the wound heals, you might find you feel more comfortable in loose clothing that sits high on the waist. Cotton underwear might also help (NCCHCW, 2011).
What about the pain when I get home?
A caesarean birth is a major operation. So walking and lifting can cause pain for several weeks.
You’ll be given painkillers that are safe to take while breastfeeding, but how long you’ll need them for varies (NICE, 2011).
You can lift and hold your baby as much as you feel able to during recovery. But don’t lift heavy objects, drive, exercise or have sex until you feel able to do so without pain (NICE, 2011). This might take up to six weeks (NHS Choices, 2016).
If you aren’t sure about anything, ask your midwife, health visitor or doctor (NHS Choices, 2016).
Will I have a scar?
Over time the wound will heal and eventually form a scar. Most often this will be a horizontal scar just below your bikini line (NHS Choices, 2016). Rarely, women will have a vertical caesarean scar under their belly button (NHS Choices, 2016).
After a year or two the scar will probably fade to a feint line and become almost invisible (NHS Choices, 2016). Some women find that their tummy is flat after a caesarean but it’s also common to have some overhang around the scar.
Some women lose sensation around the scar but this may return over time (Tommy’s, 2018).
When can I go out and about with my baby?
In hospital, you’ll be encouraged to move around as soon as you can (NCCHCW, 2011). Being mobile is a good way of preventing DVT as is wearing the special stockings provided (NCCHCW, 2011). You’ll need to keep moving at home too.
As you recover more, you can go out walking, though you might want to have someone with you at first because you will need help with any lifting (Tommy’s, 2018).
You shouldn’t lift anything heavier than your baby for the first few weeks. That means you will need help with lifting a pram or buggy up or down steps, or lifting your baby in a car seat (Tommy’s, 2018).
When can I start driving again?
It’s best to start with gentle activities like a daily walk. That way you can see how you feel (Tommy’s, 2018). It might take six weeks or so before you feel comfortable enough to drive (NHS Choices, 2016). Only start driving again when you have fully recovered from the pain and feel comfortable (NICE, 2011; NHS Choices, 2016).
If you aren’t sure about any aspect of your recovery, you can discuss this with your doctor.
Different car insurance companies have different time limits on their policies, so it’s worth checking your insurance policy (Tommy’s, 2018).
Constipation can be uncomfortable and also lead to discomfort and pain around the wound.
Avoid constipation by drinking plenty of fluid (water is ideal) and eating a high-fibre diet (NHS Choices, 2018). Being well rested and regular walking may also help (Healthline, 2017; NHS Choices, 2018; WebMD, 2018).
How will I manage at home?
You’ll find managing easier if you have support. If friends or family live close by, ask for help with cleaning, shopping, laundry and preparing meals.
Ask visitors to bring shopping (or do it online), meals or snacks, or let them make you both a cup of tea when they arrive.
If you don’t have anyone nearby, and if you have enough money, you might want to consider hiring a postnatal doula. They’re trained to support you after birth and can often help provide breastfeeding support if you want it.
When to seek medical advice
You should contact your midwife, health visitor or GP, or call 111 straight away if you develop any of the following symptoms (NHS Choices, 2018):
- a cough or shortness of breath
- swelling or pain in your legs. (NICE, 2011)
They’ll make sure these symptoms are not caused by a blood clot.
Itching around the site of the wound is a normal sign of healing. But contact your midwife, health visitor or GP straight away for advice if you get the following as they can be a sign of infection:
- increasing soreness.(NICE, 2011)
Contact your doctor or call 111 if you have heavy vaginal bleeding, a high temperature or you’re concerned about any symptoms you’re having.
This page was last reviewed in June 2018
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Find out more about recovering from a caesarean from NHS Choices.
Read the DVLA’s guidance about driving after an operation.
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WebMD. (2018) Constipation after surgery: tips for relief. Available from: https://www.webmd.com/digestive-disorders/constipation-after-surgery#1 [Last accessed 25 September 2018].