Parents-to-be have lots of things to think about and plan for before the baby arrives. Naturally, you’re focused on your birth plan and your little one’s immediate care. But your postpartum care plan is equally important because there’s a one in three chance you’ll deliver your baby by Cesarean section (C-section).

Whether it’s planned or you have an emergency requiring one, recovering from a C-section usually takes longer than from a vaginal delivery. If you need a C-section, you’ll probably have questions like:

  • What’s the typical C-section recovery time?
  • How long does C-section pain last?
  • When can I start bending after a C-section?
  • How long before I can resume normal activities?
  • How does C-section recovery differ from a vaginal delivery?

Recovery after a C-section can vary somewhat among people. This information can help you learn more about the procedure and how long it might take to recover.

What Is a C-Section?

A C-section is a major abdominal surgery where your surgeon makes cuts in your belly and uterus to deliver your baby. Sometimes doctors plan a C-section if they believe it’s the safest way to deliver your baby. Other times, they may do one to get your baby out quickly if you have unexpected problems during delivery.

You might have a C-section for these reasons:

  • Your labor isn’t progressing because your cervix isn’t dilating enough.
  • Your baby’s health is in danger.
  • The baby is in the wrong position or too big to fit through the birth canal.
  • You’re carrying multiple babies.
  • There is a problem with your placenta.
  • You have a health problem that makes vaginal birth risky.

C-sections are usually common and quick surgeries. But like any major surgery, it carries risks like:

You can reduce some of these risks by following your doctor’s advice about rest and activity immediately after surgery. Even though you’re anxious to start caring for your newborn, it’s vital to take things slow and help your body recover.

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C-Section Recovery Time

A C-section puts more stress on your body than a vaginal delivery. Besides the general recovery after birth, you’ll also have an incision with stitches to heal. The full recovery process varies from person to person, but on average, it takes six to eight weeks for physical healing.

With a vaginal delivery, you’re only in the hospital for up to 48 hours. But most people stay in the hospital for two to four days after a C-section. That allows you to rest in bed as much as possible and have your health care team monitor you for any complications.

Your doctor will provide pain medicine as needed. You’ll be able to walk around (with help) within the first 24 hours after your surgery. Gentle, slow movement helps your body start the healing process.

How long does c-section pain last?

A C-section incision is the most painful for the first three or four days after your surgery. By the time you go home, you should start to feel better. But your incision site will still be tender for about three weeks.

Keeping your incision clean and dry will help it heal faster and prevent infection. Make sure you follow your health care provider’s instructions about changing the dressing as your stitches heal. Try to wear loose-fitting clothes that won’t rub against your incision site.

To help reduce pain, you can use a heating pad placed gently over your belly. Your doctor can also recommend over-the-counter pain medicine that’s safe to use if you’re breastfeeding.

Some pain is normal after surgery. But you should call your doctor if you have these symptoms, which might signal an infection or a blood clot:

  • Fever or chills.
  • Draining or leakage from your incision.
  • Heavy bleeding (from your vagina or your stitches).
  • Worsening pain.
  • Leg or chest pain.
  • Shortness of breath.

It’s not easy with a newborn, but try to sleep or rest whenever possible, especially in the first two weeks after getting home. This is no time to be a super-parent, so ask for help from your partner, family members, or friends. Let them prepare meals, clean up, and care for your baby, so you can rest and heal.

Other Postpartum Changes

Whether you deliver by C-section or vaginally, your body will still undergo the same changes as you return to your pre-pregnancy state. During this time, you’ll likely experience:

  • Mild menstrual-like cramping, especially while you’re breastfeeding. These happen because your body releases hormones to help your uterus contract and shrink.
  • Vaginal bleeding called lochia. This is the blood and tissue that lined your uterus while pregnant. It’s bright red and heavy right after delivery, but it will gradually fade and stop within about six weeks.
  • Constipation. This can happen because of pain medicine or being sedentary. Make sure you’re drinking at least eight glasses of water daily. And eat more fiber from fruits, vegetables, and whole grains like oatmeal or wheat bran to help get things moving. Your
    provider may recommend fiber or medications for constipation as well.
  • Incontinence. A growing uterus puts pressure on your pelvic floor muscles, which help control your bladder function. As a result, it’s not uncommon for new moms to leak some urine when coughing or laughing. You can ask your health care provider about Kegel exercises, special exercises that help strengthen your pelvic floor muscles, or a referral to pelvic floor physical therapy.

Returning to Normal Activities

With a little one to care for and so much to do, you might be anxious to resume your normal daily activities. But it’s important to listen to your body and not overdo physical activity. Avoid bending, stretching, or lifting — and don’t carry anything heavier than your baby for the first four to six weeks.

If you have to cough or sneeze, hold your belly to support your stomach. Some patients find that an abdominal binder is helpful. Limit using stairs if it is painful or difficult.

As much as possible, keep everything you need within reach, including your baby, diapers, snacks, and water (to stay hydrated). When cuddling your baby or breastfeeding, place a pillow on your lap to protect your incision and avoid stretching or bending over.

During the first six weeks after your C-section, you should also avoid:

  • Exercising.
  • Having sexual intercourse.
  • Using tampons.
  • Using public pools or hot tubs.

Most people can gradually return to normal activities six to eight weeks after delivery. But it may take longer if you have surgery complications or overdo it during your recovery. Your doctor will examine you at your postpartum checkup and, hopefully, give you the green light to resume normal activities.

American Pregnancy Association. Cesarean Aftercare. LINK

American College of Obstetrics and Gynecologists. Cesarean Birth. LINK

Nemours Kid's Health. Cesarean Sections (C-Sections).LINK

About UPMC Magee-Womens

Built upon our flagship, UPMC Magee-Womens Hospital in Pittsburgh, and its century-plus history of providing high-quality medical care for people at all stages of life, UPMC Magee-Womens is nationally renowned for its outstanding care for women and their families.

Our Magee-Womens network – from women’s imaging centers and specialty care to outpatient and hospital-based services – provides care throughout Pennsylvania, so the help you need is always close to home. More than 25,000 babies are born at our network hospitals each year, with 10,000 of those babies born at UPMC Magee in Pittsburgh, home to one of the largest NICUs in the country. The Department of Health and Human Services recognizes Magee in Pittsburgh as a National Center of Excellence in Women’s Health; U.S. News & World Report ranks Magee nationally in gynecology. The Magee-Womens Research Institute was the first and is the largest research institute in the U.S. devoted exclusively to women’s health and reproductive biology, with locations in Pittsburgh and Erie.