Since about 1 in 3 of us will give birth by cesarean, it’s worth chatting a little bit about how that recovery is different than a vaginal birth.
Cesarean births have become more and more common as each decade passes. It’s hard to believe that in 1970 the cesarean rate was 5.8%1 and is now around 30%2 . One has to wonder why all those cesareans are happening, but we’ll leave that for another blog post. For now, let’s chat about how tough it can be to recover from major abdominal surgery while simultaneously taking care of a newborn.
Have you ever known a friend, family member or colleague who’s had surgery? You know how we all worry about them, wish them well in their days (sometimes weeks) of recovery after that surgery? And yet, a third of women are giving birth surgically and being sent home 2-3 days later with a baby and a wish of “good luck”! It’s nuts! I’m here to say “hold the train”, something’s gotta change!
When women have babies they need lots of help around them. But when they give birth by cesarean, they need extra help and for longer. Now, I don’t want to make it seem like cesarean is this big bad horrible thing. It can be a great life-saving tool. Some women choose to give birth that way, and I’ve seen some recover very well and very quickly. But statistically speaking, it will take a woman longer to recover, and about half of women will have a post-operative complication3 because of their cesarean. Many of those complications are mild, such as mild infections or their stitches not healing properly, but they’re an annoyance when you’re trying to care for a newborn.
Why are cesareans harder to recover from?
- You have an incision that needs time for healing
- There is generally more pain involved in the healing process
- It takes longer to recover in general – so you’re limited for longer
- You are limited in your ability to walk up and down stairs and/or drive
- It takes longer for milk to come in which can add to breastfeeding challenges
- Post-operative complications are common and often require a visit to the hospital or doctor
Here are some important ways you can help improve your recovery:
- Get lots of help! This is a great time for your partner to take extra time off work if possible. If not, recruit your mother, mother-in-law (yes, I’m serious), friends and family. If everyone is working, ask for one day per person to get you through the first 2 weeks.
- Hire a doula. Sometimes our families live far away or we just don’t want to bother them. You can benefit immensely from hiring a postpartum doula who will help with baby, light housekeeping, making meals, doing errands and more. It’s worth every cent!
- Stay put. When your nurse and doctor say don’t walk up and down stairs, they mean it! Don’t do it. If your house is a 2 story home, set yourself up where you can access the most things. Usually this is the main floor where the kitchen is. Hopefully there’s also a bathroom on this floor. Try to limit stairs to twice per day (once to come down and once to go back at the end). Get someone to help you set up a baby change station so everything is in one easy-to-access area.
- Don’t drive. It’s really not safe to drive unless you can slam down on the brakes in the event it’s necessary. If you’re still very sore and tentative in your movements, it’s better to wait. Many doctors say about a month of no driving. That may seem long if this is your first baby and you’re used to your freedom, but the time will fly by.
- Don’t lift anything heavier than your baby. No grocery shopping (with heavy bins), or lifting older children. This is important for your recovery. It won’t be worth it if your wound comes apart from over-exertion. And no vacuuming or tub washing either!
- Stay on top of your pain. If you’re in a lot of pain, take your doctor-prescribed medications at a regular interval. It’s a known fact that if you wait until you feel a lot of pain, it will be harder for the medication to kick-in. So you’re probably not doing yourself any favours to take a “wait and see” approach. Pain can increase your stress levels, which won’t help you, your support people, baby, or your breastmilk production.
Some women think they can’t afford to put themselves as the priority during this special time, but I’m telling you, you can’t afford not to! You need to take care of yourself so that you can take care of others in time. Many cultures wait hand and foot over the mother for 40 days. That is an excellent idea! You may not get to 40, but give yourself the time you need to recover fully and everyone will benefit.
Parenthood doesn’t always start off how we thought it would, but we all need to roll with the punches. Surround yourself with positive and helpful people and you’ll be able to enjoy this special time with your new baby. It will fly by and you’ll never get it back. So enjoy!
 29% in Ontario in 2011/12 http://healthydebate.ca/2014/05/topic/quality/c-section-variation
Stefanie Antunes has been a Lamaze® Educator and doula since 2002, after the birth of her second son showed her just how valuable it is to be prepared for birth and to have good support around you. Stefanie is commonly referred to by her clients as a baby whisperer of sorts. She loves to help parents learn how to soothe and calm their babies and to parent with confidence. She is the mother of 3 and supports a team of over 30 doulas who help parents across the Greater Toronto Area.
Stefanie is a contributing author in the best-selling Power of Women United and contributor in Bearing Witness: Childbirth Stories Told by Doulas. She believes that the world can be a better place if parents can have more positive childbirth and early parenting experiences.
For more information, check out her website at www.discoverbirth.com