Recovering After a C-Section
When a woman gets pregnant, she often begins to devote her time and attention to new favorite activities: decorating the baby’s nursery, shopping for cute baby clothes, and, of course, planning her birth. Oftentimes, women spend a lot of time reading and researching details about the birthing process so they can prepare themselves for D-day (due day). This may even include a very detailed birth plan that she discusses beforehand with her midwife, doula, and/or physician.
Many women plan to have a natural vaginal birth with as little intervention as possible. It can be extremely shocking and upsetting to be suddenly confronted with the urgent need for a C-section on D-day.
Once she holds her newborn in her arms and has enjoyed the first blissful moments with her baby, the new mom is then faced with her own healing - and healing from a C-section is quite different and takes much longer than healing from a vaginal delivery. More often than not, women who have just had a C-section will have to stay in the hospital for 3-4 days post-birth. This is the optimal time to start the physical and emotional healing process. A woman will require a strong emotional support team around her to begin this healing, and many supportive tools and practices as well.
Before leaving the hospital- Focus on fiber. While the hospital might recommend a soft food diet, do not shy away from fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds, whole grains, and legumes. These high fiber foods will help heal post-operative constipation and gas pains.
Taking a high-quality probiotic (25-50 billion CFU), zinc supplement, and magnesium supplement will help with initial recovery. Ensure to buy an infant probiotic for your newborn as well as babies delivered by C-section do not get exposed to the beneficial vaginal bacteria from mom. Supplement your baby with 3 CFU daily for at least 6 months to improve their digestion and avoid colics.
If cesarean section is necessary, and in the case of such an emergency you must do what is best for your and your baby’s health. This does mean, however, that the baby will be delivered under sterile surgical conditions through their mother’s lower abdomen. This difference has a profound impact on gut colonization. The subsequent changes in the baby’s microbiome will put them at a higher risk for obesity, allergies, and type 1 diabetes.
To counteract the effects of a sterile birth, “vaginal swabbing” or microbiome seeding has shown promising benefits in helping to partially restore the flora of C-section babes. If the doctors predict a C-section will be absolutely necessary, the procedure for vaginal swabbing can be requested. A sterile gauze is folded into a fan shape, moistened with sterile water, and inserted into the vagina. It’s then left in there to colonize for one hour. The gauze is then removed and put into a sealed bag until the baby is born. At birth, the gauze is wiped over the baby’s face to mimic the passage through the birth canal. This process remains controversial among the medical community. While the oral and skin microbiome of the baby will be positively impacted, it has not been confirmed whether this process has long-term effects on the gut microbiome of the baby.
While critics raise valuable points, so long as the mother is tested for harmful microbes before swabbing and is confirmed negative, the process is a potentially valuable stop-gap method for when cesarean is needed.
Drink water with lemon daily. This will help assist with flushing the anesthesia and medications from your body.
Consume adequate amounts of protein. Protein helps your body tissue heal and repair and helps to build muscle; plus, the iron content is vital for restoring blood loss.
Consume foods to help reduce the need for medication use. These include cinnamon, garlic, coconut water, omega-3 fatty acids, hawthorn berry tea, hibiscus and rooibos tea, and apple cider vinegar.
Include as many anti-inflammatory foods as possible to minimize swelling, prevent infection and promote healing. This includes vegetables, fruits, nuts and seeds, whole grains, high-quality protein and healthy fats. Be sure to avoid junk food, processed foods, and packaged foods as much as possible as these are nutrient-poor and promote inflammation.
Bone broth. Packed with amino acids, consuming broth will enhance collagen production, which is great for skin healing. Broth also contains gelatin, which is beneficial for wound healing and for the skin. As a bonus, it helps digestion and can ease the digestive discomforts and constipation that sometimes happen after a cesarean birth.
Honey. A natural aid for wound healing and incisions is using cultured honey topically. Honey is antibacterial and anti-inflammatory. To use, apply it directly to your C-section wound twice daily for at least 1 month. It will help with reducing redness, discharge, and edema around the wound.
Supportive Herbs & Supplements
Continue taking your prenatal vitamin. And start if you were not taking one during pregnancy! This supplement will boost your nutritional state and help stabilize mood swings. These can be continued for 6 months postpartum.
Arnica gel or tablets. These will help to relieve muscle pain, swelling and bruising associated with C-section recovery.
Calendula tea, cream or supplement. This herb will help avoid vaginal infection that is a common side effect of C-sections.
Drink Nettle, echinacea, and yarrow tea to fight off post-surgical infection.
L-Glutamine supplement. Glutamine will help with wound closure because it is a key substrate for fast-growing and multiplying cells, including white blood cells. Glutamine stimulates the proliferation of fibroblasts. It is the major amino acid lost during any tissue injury, implying a significant role in the preservation of lean body mass. The body can make enough glutamine for its regular needs, but extreme stress increases the need for glutamine higher than it can make. Natural sources of glutamine include eggs, chicken, whole dairy products, spinach, cabbage, and parsley.
Lavender aromatherapy. Can be primarily used to manage pain in C-section recovery. Lavender essential oil has antibacterial and soothing effects because it can interact with nerve cell receptors. Babies also benefit from these soothing effects — lavender essential oil is one of the few oils that is gentle enough to use on and around children.
Move your body gently- Getting out of your bed to walk around or step outside will mainly help with your emotional health and also will speed up recovery. Be sure to listen to your body though. If it is too painful, let someone help you outside to breathe in the fresh air. Take the first steps when your body is ready.
Make sleep a priority. The power of getting adequate sleep is often underestimated. After surgery or childbirth, and especially after both, your body requires far more than usual. The body regenerates more quickly during sleep and this helps speed tissue repair. Certainly, getting sleep with a newborn is easier said than done, but asking for help from others might need to be made a priority if you can. For best sleep, it is better to stop eating at least 4 hours before bedtime, and preferably by 6pm every night. Your evening meal should include proteins, vegetables, and healthy fats. Eating enough protein at this meal will help prepare the body to enter the sleep cycle.
Self-care abdominal massage. Once the wound is healed, gently massage the abdominal area and around the scar. This will promote internal healing by encouraging blood flow, promoting lymphatic drainage and minimizing scar tissue. Use the salve recipe below for extra healing benefits. Be sure to wait until the wound has had time to heal but start before the area begins to harden.
Healing Salve To Promote Scar Healing
1 cup olive oil
½ cup jojoba oil
½ cup rosehip seed oil
¼ cup beeswax pastilles
2 tbsp dried comfrey leaf
2 tbsp dried plantain leaf
1 tbsp dried calendula flowers
1 tsp echinacea root
1 tsp yarrow flowers
1 tsp dried rosemary leaf
Infuse the herbs into the oils by combining the herbs and the oils in a jar with an airtight lid and leave 3-4 weeks, shaking daily.
Strain the herbs out of the oil by pouring them through a cheesecloth. Let all the oil drip out and then squeeze the herbs to get the remaining oil out.
Discard the herbs.
Heat the infused oil in a double boiler with the beeswax until melted and mixed.
Pour into small tins, glass jars or lip chap tubes.
Use directly on the wound and the surrounding abdominal area (do not apply to an open wound as this could cause infection. Wait until it has fully healed, but in the meantime feel free to apply to the surrounding area).
No matter your efforts to recover and heal, post-cesarean wound infection is possible. Symptoms include swelling, redness, and sensitivity in and around the area of the incision, pus and discharge, fever and abdominal pain. If you experience any of these symptoms there may be an infection or complication and it is important to act quickly and get treated. Make sure to go see your doctor if you suspect an infection. If you are prescribed antibiotics, make sure to take probiotics at the same time to keep a balanced gut flora. (50-100Billion!) Your baby will also need to take probiotics if you are breastfeeding. Flora Udo’s Choice offers a great infant-toddler probiotic.
To aid in your own healing process, you can apply turmeric or honey poultices on the infected wound. If you are breastfeeding, apply some of your breast milk to the wound. It will help disinfect the wound and prevent germs from growing on the site of injury.
Having a pregnancy that is vastly different from what was planned for months can immediately trigger a range of emotions. Some moms may feel that the surgery was necessary and justified, while others may feel disappointed, sad, angry, resentful, violated, guilty, depressed, or anxious. All of these emotions are normal and expected. It will take time to digest your birth experience.
After a C-section, you may notice that your relationships with others changes. You might feel that no one could possibly understand what you have gone through or you might worry that you cannot be an adequate parent. You might also have a hard time connecting with your baby, or even blame your baby, partner, doctor, doula or midwife for what happened. You may feel upset about your body and have a hard time returning to intimacy. All of these emotions are expected, even when a cesarean section was planned.
A newborn demands a lot of care and attention, which can make mothers feel as if they don’t have the time to process these feelings and they can linger for a long time. It is normal for a mother to appreciate the fact that her birth by cesarean resulted in a healthy baby while still feeling sad, confused, or angry about the experience itself. Friends, family, and even partners of mothers who have had an emotionally difficult cesarean often do not understand why mothers don’t just “move on".
Let yourself grieve. If you feel any emotion towards your birth, whether it is sadness, disappointment, anger or anything else, let yourself feel it. Process these emotions. Pray. Cry. Acknowledge how you are feeling, and let yourself walk through that emotion.
Don’t stay grieving. Letting yourself feel all emotions is highly important, but try not to remain in a state of grief for too long. Going over your what-if list hundreds of times will not change how things actually went. Think of it as walking through your grief/disappointment/anger/guilt without living in it. Try to avoid people who do not understand your experience and cannot truly hear you for now. Speaking to a professional to assist you with how to move on is a great option.
Join on or offline communities for support. These online networks, including ICAN (International Cesarean Awareness Network), Birth Justice Project and Improving Birth, are created specifically for women healing from a cesarean birth. If anyone is going to understand how you are feeling and what you have experienced, it is the women in these groups.
Become a birth advocate! You can teach others about VBAC, become a doula, midwife or lactation consultant. Go into nursing, or run a mom’s group for pregnant women who want to become educated about their options. When we help others, we can heal ourselves in the process. It is enormously powerful and spiritually uplifting.