When you visit the maternity ward of any hospital, it is easy to spot the patients that have had c-sections. They are usually the ones shuffling along slowly, slightly hunched over. That is because a caesarean is major abdominal surgery, and while you will not have pain during the actual delivery, thanks to various anaesthetics that are given to mothers who deliver this way, you will have pain afterwards.
Other than the pain from surgery, however, mothers who deliver feel much the same as any new mum. They are tired, elated, excited, and amazed by their child, and they are probably a little weepy too.
Usually, you will be required to stay in the hospital for three or four days, so that your doctors can monitor your recovery and progress. However, even after you are released, you will still be in ‘recovery’ for several weeks, so you will have to rest, and take it easy for some time after your child is born. Not doing this can result in ruptured stitches, and other complications, so it is best to follow doctor’s orders in this regard to the letter.
Anaesthetics for c-sections are usually epidurals or spinal blocks, and these can last for several hours after delivery. Your anaesthetist may also add morphine or further epidural medication to your postoperative regimen, for around 24 hours after surgery.
After this period, you will be given a milder painkiller, which may sometimes be ibuprofen. You will probably also be given a stool softener to avoid constipation, which can be painful when you are in recovery from a c-section. Usually, your pain medication will be carefully monitored, but if you are in extreme pain, you can always speak to your nurse or doctor about it.
Side effects of surgery include grogginess and nausea, both of which can last for up to 48 hours. You may also feel cold immediately after surgery, and you might also find that you feel itchy. If you are going to be breastfeeding, you can start in the recovery room, and the nurses will show you how to breastfeed if you are unsure what to do. You may find that you need to experiment with breastfeeding positions, as the pain from your abdominal wound can make it uncomfortable or difficult to position your baby correctly. You may also have an IV, and you will almost certainly have a urinary catheter, that will remain in place for at least 12 hours after your surgery.
Your incision will be slightly puffy, darker than the surrounding skin tone, and it will be sore when you cough, sneeze or laugh, so make sure you support it when you do. Your doctor will come around daily while you are in the hospital, to check on your incision, and make sure that it is healing correctly. To avoid clotting risks, you will be encouraged to get up the day after your surgery, and almost certainly on the day after that. The nurse will be there to support you, and while it may be a problem just to make it to the toilet during these first few days, it is an important part of your recovery process.
Like any woman who has just had a baby, you will notice that you have what is known as lochia – blood and uterine lining that is discharged through the vagina. This will be bright red for the first day or two, but it is perfectly normal.
By three or four days after your delivery, your doctor will remove your stitches or staples, you will be given painkillers, a stool softener and possibly an antibiotic, and you will be able to go home. Just because you are going home though, that does not mean your recovery is over.
At home, you will need to rest a lot, eat healthily, drink lots of water, and avoid any strenuous exercise. You will also need to dress, and monitor, your wound. If you notice any swelling or redness, oozing, warmth or other abnormalities at the site of the wound, or if you have a fever, you need to speak to your doctor, as these are all signs that you might have an infection. Any heavy lifting and any exercise more strenuous than a gentle walk is not a good idea during the first six weeks of your delivery, and you may even find that for the first week or so, even sitting up in bed is difficult.
The good news is that c-section scars these days are small – about four to six inches, and they are done so low down on your abdomen that they will be way below the waistband of your underwear or bikini.
As far as your emotions go, reactions to c-sections vary greatly. Some mums are relieved if they had a long, difficult labour, and were eventually given a c-section, while others feel cheated of the experience. You might also have baby blues. However, if you are worried that your depression and unhappiness are deeper than mere baby blues, then it may be that you are suffering from postpartum depression, and if that’s the case, you need to speak to your doctor sooner rather than later.