Immediately after my first c-section, as I came to the hospital room and blinked away the fuzziness from the sedation, I remember exactly what I was thinking…
“I’m NEVER doing this again.”
Spoiler alert: I did it again 3 years later.
Anyway, at that moment, I felt awful. My legs were still numb, and I had to keep lifting the blankets to see if they were still there at all (they were!). But all that unpleasantness faded instantly when I held my eldest for the first time.
Then the weirdness I felt no longer existed, and she was my world.
A c-section is major surgery, mamas. And while some of you may choose it off the bat (I did for my youngest), others may have no choice (like I did with my eldest).
C-section Recovery Timeline
If you’re facing a c-section, or you’ve just had one, or you simply want to be informed should it wind up happening to you, I’m going through the play-by-play of your c-section recovery.
One Hour Post-C-Section
In that first hour, it will probably be one of the weirdest hours of your life. They’ll be watching you and your vital signs, and you’re likely to still feel strange from the anesthesia.
You’ll have a catheter which is probably the only great thing about it since you don’t have to worry about getting up to pee every 5 minutes. I don’t want to alarm you, but it hurts when they finally take that out! But only for a wee bit, pardon the pun.
At this point, you’ll largely be numb and wondering if you still have legs. The best part is in this first hour, you get to hold your sweet baby and breastfeed for the first time!
Day 1 Post C-Section
If there are no complications, you’ll be steadfastly working on breastfeeding while subsisting on a diet of liquids. You are lucky to be here in the US. In China, they gave me this awful soup thing.
I kept dreaming of pizza, but you won’t get any solids until you fart, which I wrote about before. Until then, it’s only liquids for you.
Expect the nurses to massage your uterus (I wrote about that too). This is not a relaxing thing either, and you’ll probably want to clobber them with your crappy hospital pillows as they do it.
In China, they make you stay in bed for the first day, but from what I’ve seen in the US, they will try to encourage it that first day, just a few quick steps.
They want you to get out of bed and slowly shuffle your painfilled way around your hospital room and, in later days, those hospital corridors. But you must, for this will help you recover.
The pain on this first day is definitely awful, as the spinal anesthesia completely wears off by this point. You’ll be given a different form of pain relief to help you recover and rest.
Day 2 Post C-Section
Ah, now the catheter comes out, and you’ll have to get up to go pee in the bathroom. Granted, you will not need to pee with the fervid frequency you did during pregnancy, but getting up and walking there is still a chore.
Keep in mind this is all a great step toward your recovery. This improves circulation and also, bowel function. And if you fart and then poop, you get a prize! The prize is the food you can chew. You’ll be ready for that pizza in no time.
In America, this is when showers are also permitted. They said I could not shower without using a special waterproof bandage in China. I am still at a loss as to why they would do this to me. All I wanted was a shower. I felt like I smelled, and I’m absolutely certain I did.
There is one thing both Eastern and Western cultures agree on post-c-section: no baths! You can ask your doctor when that will be ok, but it’s a struggle to get out of bed and sit up on day 2, so you probably do not even want to deal with that agony.
By the way, I’d like to point out that you’ll be wearing a pad that will catch all the bleeding. They’ll change that for you while you’re stuck in your bed, but on day 2, you’ll be doing that when you get up for the bathroom. This bleeding will last for several weeks. It’s called lochia, which I’ve written about before, and is a bloody mess of mucus and uterine tissues.
Also, you may have the baby blues. This is different from postpartum depression, but knowing the signs (see here) is important. We all go through this, and you should tell your doctor if your moods are troubling.
Day 3 Post C-Section
Hopefully, by now, you’ve passed gas and pooped (read my post about that!). And at this point, you should be getting to eat foods you can chew. It’s important to keep getting up and walking to help push the gas through and get your bowels moving, usually again. Expect some swelling and bloating for sure.
This day is a little easier but still challenging as you work through your pain and try to meet your baby’s needs.
Day 4 Post C-Section
At this point, you may be released from the hospital depending on the speed of your recovery and your insurance. I was in for 5 days because things are different in China.
If you have staples, your doctor will remove them before your discharge from the hospital. For sutures, they dissolve naturally on their own. The nurses will check you out before your release and show you how to care for your incision. I strongly recommend you go over all that info with a fine-toothed comb to ensure you know what to do and what is and isn’t normal.
A one-week healthy c-section incision will not ooze in any way though it may be sore. You can also read my post about how a c-section incision should look to know when you should worry.
Day 5 Post C-Section
Let’s call this one your first day at home. You’re bound to feel much better than you did just days ago, but you’re still going to be sore. You should have something from your doctor for the pain though nothing heavy-duty.
It will be a struggle to sit up and bend, so my advice? Don’t. You’ll need to master the art of logrolling yourself out of bed. Don’t bend to pick things up but try to move around more and more to keep your circulation going.
As for breastfeeding, you’re going to feel like that’s all you do. I highly recommend ensuring you have someone helping you, like your husband, parents, in-laws (if you can stand them), or even a close friend.
Try to rest as much as possible with a newborn in the house. Even if you sleep when the baby sleeps, it will never feel like enough. That’s why having help will lessen the burden during this time.
Day 6 Post C-Section
This day will be more similar, but you’ll feel more at home. Remember to rest, hydrate, and keep enjoying that baby. And speaking of the baby, do not lift anything heavier than that!
Week 1 Post C-Section
Once an official week has passed, the unpleasantness of the hospital will be further away, and you’ll start to feel like a family. That said, keep on trying to rest. You do not want to overexert yourself.
Keep an eye on that incision too. You should care for it the way they showed you in the hospital. If any of the signs of infection are present (see my post about that), then contact your doctor immediately.
You’ll need to keep doing that log roll out of bed. The pain will still be there for another few weeks. It should improve each day slowly, but don’t expect a miracle here.
Pain is expected in your midsection, though any other symptoms I’ve listed in my other posts are not (like fever, wound oozing, and those sorts of things).
Numbness is also normal at the incision site. I’ve talked about the nerves here, which will take a bit longer to heal than it will for the pain to go away. If anything ever concerns you about how you feel, call the doctor.
Week 2 Post C-Section
In the states, I’m told you see your doctor and have a look at the incision. I did not have this checkup (I only had a postpartum at 6 weeks).
For this, your doctor will take a look at your incision. It shouldn’t be excessively swollen now or as red as it was when you first got it. There should be no signs of infection. Your doctor will check for these things.
By this week, you should feel better, but you will still be sore. It’s normal to have c-section pain and to cramp for the next few weeks. Your uterus will be contracting back down to its standard size. That’s why you’ll probably still look pregnant. Don’t shove yourself into your pre-pregnancy clothes yet. It takes time to get your body back.
A heating pad can help as long as you do not put it right on the incision or keep it on for a long time. You can also take ibuprofen if your doctor says so.
Week 3 Post C-Section
Now you’re feeling much better, aren’t you? You’ll still be sore, but it’s much easier to deal with now. You still shouldn’t push yourself too hard or lift more than the baby’s weight.
That said, even though you should not attempt exercises until the full all-clear from your doctor in a few more weeks, you can do some gentle things like tightening your pelvic floor muscles and practicing core breathing.
For the pelvic floor, you can do this each time you pick up your baby. Simply tighten your pelvic floor muscles and your lower tummy muscles. This can help your back, plus it will prevent urine leakage.
You inhale and feel your belly expand and gently relax for core breathing. Then exhale and, through pursed lips, gently exhale. These exercises are safe to do without harming your incision.
By the way, you should be noticing that lochia is lessening at this point. This is normal as long as it is getting lighter and not heavier.
Continue walking more each day as well. A great way to do it is to put the baby in the stroller and go for short walks. It’s good for the baby and you, though don’t overdo it. You can gradually increase the distance and time you spend walking.
Week 4 Post C-Section
A month after you’ve had the baby, you should really be healing nicely now. The pain will be mostly gone though numbness will likely remain. Lochia will be tapering off more too.
Remember to listen to your body as you increase your walking and movement. If it hurts, slow down. Rest when you need to, and take your time!
Week 5 Post C-Section
A week later, it feels like eons ago since you were in the hospital. You’re feeling mostly good by now, but still, you have a week left until the doctor checks you out. Please do not change any of your activities or do anything you’re not supposed to do after a c-section (I have that list here). Patience pays, and you’ll be at your appointment next week for a hopeful all-clear to carry on with life as normal.
Or as normal as it gets for being a mama.
Week 6 Post C-Section
Hooray! You made it! Now you’ve most likely fully healed. Your doctor will give you a complete checkup to ensure everything is as it should be. If you have questions about what you can or can’t do at this point or about anything, make a list and take it to your appointment.
Even though your doctor may say everything looks good and you can get back to exercising normally (besides the walking and those pelvic and breathing exercises), you don’t want to just jump right into your old pre-pregnancy workout routine.
Always take it slow and build back up to where you were. It takes time, but it is worth it because overdoing it can cause an injury that will set you back even further.
You can counter this by eating nutritious foods most of the time. That will help create the balance until you can return to the intensity of your previous workouts.
Weeks 6+ Post C-Section
Since a c-section is major abdominal surgery, you will need to build that foundation for your healthy body again. There is no fast way to do this, and if anyone tells you that you can drop that baby weight in just weeks, they’re lying. It does help if you were fit before your pregnancy, but not everyone bounces back in a snap.
Take care of yourself by nourishing your body, resting, and working up to those exercises. In a few more weeks, you’ll be even stronger. And in the coming months, even stronger than that.
Perhaps you’re wondering about sex, and after the postpartum checkup, you should be able to have it. However, it will not feel so good the first few times. In fact, it hurts. Yes, your vagina hurts during sex, even if you did not push anything out there.
Go slow and easy on it; soon, it won’t hurt when you do it anymore.
When Should I Call My Doctor During My C-Section Recovery?
Soreness at the incision site and lochia can last as long as 6 weeks. Some of you may feel better sooner, while others may feel better later. If at any time anything concerns you, you should call your doctor.
They can put your mind at ease with the questions that may come up. And don’t ever feel embarrassed for asking them! That’s what they’re there for!
But some things are urgent during these 6 weeks that you should never hesitate to seek help for. If your incision site becomes visibly red and agitated with swelling and oozing pus, that’s an infection.
Additionally, running a fever over 100.4F is another telltale infection sign.
While lochia doesn’t smell great, a foul discharge coming from your vagina signals an infection as well. And as for lochia, it should be more or less like having your period. You can’t use tampons, but your pads should contain less blood as the days and weeks pass. If not, you need to call your doctor.
Something else I want to mention is your mood. In the first 2 weeks, I said baby blues. But when you feel like this sadness never lifts, or you have thoughts of self-harm or harming the baby, there is help. Please don’t let that go unchecked.
I have friends who went through postpartum depression, which is tough. Help is available, and treatments work. You will not have to sit there and feel like that forever.
In the first couple of weeks, feeling strange and feeling like you don’t know your life anymore is normal. Everything has just changed! Give yourself a break! Your hormones are going bonkers, and you are exhausted. It will all be ok, though.
Take it one day, one hour, or one minute at a time, or even one second at a time. You’re a fantastic person; you know that?
Final Thoughts on C-Section Recovery
Hopefully, you now have a better idea of what c-section recovery will be like. I just want to say that we all have different birthing experiences, even when we have c-sections. Some people recover faster, while others recover slower. This should all matter if your doctor is happy with your recovery. Please don’t compare yourself to others because we are all different.
It’s easy to be overwhelmed and overcome with emotions at this time. I remember panicking about changing diapers since I’d never done that before I had my eldest. In the 3rd week, I remember changing her diaper like it was something I’d done my whole life.
Believe me, it becomes familiar. You become that mom, and you just know what to do. But if you ever feel lost, don’t bottle it up. Say something and get the help you need. You’ll find your version of normal soon enough when you do.
Leslie Berry lives with her husband and two young daughters in Los Altos, California, where she loves helping other moms get comfortable with motherhood and embracing the insanity with facts peppered with laughs.
She loves eating too much sushi, exercising, and jamming out on her Fender. Read more about Leslie here.