April 2022 is International Caesarean Awareness month, an event organised by ICAN – The International Caesarean Awareness Network to raise awareness of caesarean birth. One in five births in the UK were via C-section in 2021, so it's no surprise that many of the new mums I photograph in my Salisbury newborn photography studio are recovering for either a planned or emergency caesarean. When a client tells me that they have just had their baby via C-section, I usually suggest that their wait until their baby is 2-3 weeks old before coming to the studio to give them a chance to heal, and feel more comfortable moving around. Having chatted with many new mums who are recovering from major surgery and caring for their baby in those first few weeks, I have put together some essential tips for those first few weeks post C-section.
1. Take it as easy as possible
It's easier said than done with a small human to care for, but taking it as easy as possible is incredibly important to aid recovery. You've just had major abdominal surgery! Accept offers of help from friends and family and don't worry about every day chores. It's the same as for any new mum - everything else can wait. Try to focus on healing your body and bonding with your baby in the first few weeks. As a rule of thumb, don't lift anything heavier than your baby - lifting heavy objects too soon could cause pain around your incision. It will be uncomfortable to move around and bend at first. It's a great idea to keep everything you need for your baby - for feeding, changing etc. within arms reach to save yourself getting up and down too often. If you don't have family or friends nearby able to help, you may be able to employ a post-natal doula or maternity nurse, to help care for you and your baby in the early days.
2. Eat well
As with anyone who has just given birth, eating well with help you to recover more quickly. Whether you are planning to have a C-section or not, batch cooking and freezing nutritious meals before your baby is born is a great idea and means that you don't need to rely on take-aways and ready meals. If friends and family offer to help, suggest that a home made meal would be wonderful!
3. Accept help
As mentioned above, if family and friends offer to help, take them up on their offer! It's a good idea to be specific about the help you need, otherwise you may end up having to entertain lots of well meaning visitors, which can be exhausting. Help with meals, holding your baby while you shower or sleep and help with shopping etc. while you are unable to drive are all brilliant ways to help in those first few weeks.
4. Take care of your C-section wound
You will usually be advised to gently clean your incision with water and dry everyday. Wearing loose, comfortable clothing is a must, and cotton underwear will help to prevent infection. It's likely to be painful when you cough, sneeze or make sudden movements that cause your tummy muscles to contract. Holding your incision when you sneeze will make it more comfortable. Keep a close eye on your wound for any signs of redness, weeping or pus as this could indicate an infection.
5. Find a comfortable position for feeding your baby
Whether you are breast for bottle feeding your baby, it's important to find a comfortable position that doesn't put pressure on your wound or your back. Pillows, and feeding cushions can be useful to support your baby in a good position or if you are breast feeding try different positions such as lying down with your baby or the rugby ball hold until you feel more comfortable.
It's common to find breastfeeding difficult at first, and mums who have had a C-section can find it more difficult to get feeding established. Don't forget to ask for breast feeding support if you are finding it difficult, it's completely normal! Salisbury is lucky to have an excellent Infant Feeding Team and wonderful in person and Facebook support groups.
6. Take painkillers when needed
Taking the recommended doses of Paracetamol or Ibuprofen regularly can make your C-section recovery more comfortable. If you are breast feeding, always check with your midwife or doctor about what pain relief you can take safely.
7. Take gentle exercise
Immediately after a caesarean, even getting out of bed will seem a challenge, but it's important to get moving to reduce the chances of DVT (deep vein thrombosis) and to aid your recovery. A great tip for getting out of bed after a C-section is to roll onto your side and put your legs over the edge of the bed before pushing yourself upright. Once you're home, try to take gentle walks as soon as you feel able as exercise will help to relieve constipation, improve your feeling of well being and speed up your recovery. Just be sure to listen to your body and don't over do it!
8. Don't ignore your mental health
All new mums can suffer from postnatal depression whether they give birth vaginally or via caesarean, however a 2019 study suggested that new mums are 15% more likely to experience mental health difficulties after an emergency or unplanned C-section. While many mothers experience the so called 'baby blues' after giving birth, these feelings of anxiety and tearfulness should start to fade after around 2 weeks. Talking about your feelings, having lots of skin to skin time and baths with your baby can help with bonding and lift your mood. If you are still experiencing difficult emotions more than a few weeks after your C-section tell your midwife or GP.
I hope you've found some helpful tips on recovering from your caesarean birth. If you have any useful advice to add, please pop it in the comments below.