My (very positive!) caesarean recovery

Photo by Anna Shvets on Pexels.com

It’s taken me a while to get to writing this because 1) I didn’t want to speak too soon; and 2) newborns are all-consuming!

Apologies for the dodgy writing, I’m typing one handed with a sleeping baby on my lap and have no time to edit this post so it’s a bit rough and ready!

I wanted to write this post though because my recovery honestly has been amazing, and everyone tells you how awful it will be so it made me very nervous about c-sections when actually it was a really positive birth for me (and the right thing – I wish I hadn’t tried to accept induction to be honest), and my recovery was so smooth (and touch wood continues to be!)

I’m 7.5 weeks post partum at the time of writing. 🙂 I feel fully recovered which is tricky as I still technically need to let my insides heal even though they’ve been pain free for weeks now, but I was blown away by how good my recovery has been after such a major operation and after all the negativity you hear about it!

A few things to say though –

  • a c-section is major surgery and we all recover differently; my experience may be very different from yours!
  • my c-section was elective. Recoveries from electives tend to be much smoother than recovery from emergencies
  • I had a healthy, uncomplicated pregnancy (until the reduced movement that kick started our labour) and ate really well paying lots of attention to nutrition, and remained active throughout
  • I was in good health prior to my section
  • None of this is medical advice, it is just my experience. ALWAYS consult your medical practitioner about anything to do with your recovery and don’t use/copy people on the internet – we are all unique!

Ultimately we can’t control how our bodies respond to surgery and healing, but I did want to spread the message that it doesn’t have to be something you’re afraid of! I’m going to have a c-section again if I have another child one day, rather than a VBAC.

I’ve heard a lot of super pro-natural birthers (which is fab, nothing wrong with that, I’d hoped for a minimally medicated water birth as a first preference too) reaaaally lay into c-sections so I wanted to counter that. Its major surgery so not something to have lightly. But equally I had reduced movements at 41 weeks, was advised the safest thing on balance was to get baby out, and for personal historical reasons I knew induction would be traumatic for me and yet I persevered because of this fear mongering about c-section recovery when actually a section was best for me and my mental health, and my baby at that point. I had a wonderful experience and don’t want anyone else

My birth experience is in this post here if you want to know more about the actual birth.

Recoverypainkillers and 24 hour discharge

So throughout pregnancy I read about sections just incase I ended up needing one (especially as I had low lying placenta for a while so it looked like I might not have an option) so I’d seen the tips on staying up to date with meds and made sure I did this. I’d advise anyone else the same!

I had a combined epidural-spinal block for the procedure (no idea how its different from an epidural or spinal alone!). I accepted one suppository in surgery when they asked me, and was ok with this as the epidural meant I couldn’t feel it but said I only wanted oral medication thereafter.

After the procedure a midwife gave me one epidural top up.

I then was given rounds of paracetamol, ibuprofen and Dihydrocodeine which hospital assured me I could take and still breastfeed, although I wasn’t happy with the dihydrocodeine.

I accepted the meds every time they offered them. I’d reeeeally suggest listening to this tip! Everyone I’d read about and watched videos about their experience said it is much better this way rather than letting the pain kick in and having to work to catch up to get on top of it.

My baby had been born shortly before 4pm, and the next morning I stood up for the first time. I dreaded it as people said how hard it was but it was fine! I didn’t feel pain, I just felt a bit weak and slow moving. Walking took time, steps were small, I was a bit hunched… but I was ok!

As I’d been alone overnight due to COVID, and couldn’t twist to pick up my baby but I didn’t want her to cry and have to wait for midwife help, I’d kept her on me all night so I hadn’t slept due to safety. My phone battery had died and I’d struggled to reach water and snacks let alone a charger and was embarrassed to ask the midwives. I knocked out my cannula, got covered in blood (and baby!), baby projectile vomited and it was a ‘mare of a night and I was exhausted. I was determined to go home asap.

In the morning they mentioned you could be discharged in 24 hours if you passed urine twice in a cardboard thing and showed the midwives; walked around; passed wind so they knew your bowel was starting to work again and showered and removed your wound dressing.

I was a woman on a mission! I got up, I walked around LOADS while baby was with her dad once visiting hours started to be deliberately seen by all the midwives so they knew I was ok and were more likely to let me go. I drank a tonne of peppermint tea and ate lots of fruit and veg my husband brought in to get my bowel working again and release some trapped wind.

I was SO SCARED about having the catheter out. It stung a fraction, barely anything, but was ok. I drank soooo much water so that I’d need to wee, and managed to do the two to fill the card things and show the midwives (some blood comes out too but this is normal!)

I removed my dressing and showered (neither hurt the scar!) My stitches were dissolvable so I didn’t need to worry about their removal later.

A midwife mentioned my discharge the next day and I looked devastated and said they’d told me earlier I could go in 24 hours. She said that’s fine she just assumed I’d want more feeding support. I probably did but we were doing okay, I’d seen the infant specialist feeding team and asked loads of midwives about my latch and figured we’d get a lactation consultant later in case of any issues. I just wanted to go home for my mental health, for my husband to see baby and not just be a visitor, and for him to help me with her after our difficult first night as at that point I’d been in hospital for 2 nights before the section with barely any sleep, and 1 night post section with no sleep.

And so I got discharged in under 24 hours after my op!

Painkillers at home

They sent me home with paracetamol, ibuprofen and Dihydrocodeine to be taken 4 times a day (and one was only 3 I think, I forget which). I took them on days 1 and 2 but on day 3 I forgot one or two, on day 4 I thought I’d try tapering as I hadn’t felt any pain forgetting them, and by day 5 I ditched them altogether as I wasn’t in pain.

They said I didn’t need blood thinners as I was so low risk, so no injections to administer at home (yay!) and even though I lost more blood than normal in surgery, things corrected themselves and I didn’t even need iron supplements. I was also given a laxative solution to help stimulate the bowel so that I could go to the loo. They gave me a week deadline I think where that needed to be back in action (and I managed by day 4 or 5!)

Mobility came back surprisingly quickly. It was in the first two weeks I think I could do gentle pram walks and wear baby in a carrier. Yes, the first few days I didn’t do nappy changes as I couldn’t get up and down from the floor easily, and my husband had propped up the mattress so I could sleep semi-sat up. There was a lot of manoeuvring myself using my arms so I was thankful for having kept strong and my previous primal bodyweight classes so I was used to moving my body in weird ways.

By 2-3 weeks I felt absolutely normal again, but I was aware that just because I didn’t feel pain didn’t mean my insides weren’t still healing so I continued to be careful and not lift heavier than my baby and all that advice!

My uterus shrank back down really quickly too, probably thanks to breastfeeding which apparently speeds it up, and the night sweats (my god I hadn’t really believed they’d be that strong!) took care of releasing all that pregnancy water retention.

Antibiotics

I had a blister by my scar that burst and looked a bit questionable so my GP put me on a 7 day course of antibiotics and gave me a cream. It was all fine though, I don’t think it got infected. I was a bit unhappy about taking them and breastfeeding even though I was assured they were breastfeeding safe, but ultimately I wanted to make sure there weren’t any complications and to avoid hospital re-admission.

Baby blues?

The adrenaline of it all wore off a bit by day 3, and on day 4 when my milk came in I was super emotional in that sense of baby blues, not the post natal depression sense. The emotional element continued for a few weeks really, and I got quite post natally anxious due to my little one suffering with colic, trapped wind and reflux very badly.

Breastfeeding after a section?

I had immediate skin to skin with my baby and latched her within the first hour, and fed throughout my hospital stay. This continued with cluster feeding at home.

I’d also expressed colostrum antenatally which I fed her in hospital as at points she was too distressed to latch.

My milk came in on day 4 and she fed lots, I had a lot of supply and none of the issues around this that people say can happen after a section.

I didn’t have to pump for supply AT ALL. I only pumped at week 4 to try to introduce one expressed bottle so I could get more sleep and my husband could feed Cub.

I’m not sure if it’s a bit luck and a bit biology here that I didn’t struggle with supply post-section, but I can say:

  • potentially having harvested colostrum prior to birth helped me; at the very least if it didn’t impact supply, it gave me confidence that I had enough to feed my baby
  • I fed responsively. No schedules. Feeding on demand, every single time baby cues, even if its for hours, even if its for the first few weeks, even if cluster feeds continue… this is good for supply and while its tough, you just have to ride it out!
  • If you want to exclusively breastfeed, don’t give formula top ups (this will reduce your supply). Cluster feeding is normal and baby’s way of establishing supply, it doesn’t mean they’re not getting enough. Lack of supply is actually rare. If baby does the right number of wet and dirty nappies, and is gaining weight as anticipated, it is so unlikely you need formula top ups unless you want them.
  • The above isn’t to say there’s ANYTHING wrong with combi or formula feeding – do whatever works for your family! I’m just saying that IF you want to breastfeed only, don’t be pushed into giving formula top ups, or scared into it, as it can impact your supply negatively.

Exercise

I was cleared to start gradually building back up at week 6 but told to avoid anything putting strain on the abdomen until 12 weeks (so no abs, no sprinting obviously!) I started gentle upper body stretches, bodyweight legs, and of course I’d been walking a lot wearing my Cub for weeks by this point. The GP cleared me for light jogging but professional physios advised me to get a check first for diastisis recti etc. so that’s on my list for after Xmas. I must admit I did a 5 minute jog at 7 weeks post party just for my mental health as I had a difficult few days of bad sleep and poor little one suffering with reflux and I didn’t feel any pain at all, it was fine.

However much I want to return to running properly, even though the GP said yes to ‘light jogging’, I know I should see a women’s health physio first so I’m forcing myself to wait as just because I feel really good and my scar has healed amazingly (I’m 7.5 weeks post partum right now!) my insides are still obviously recovering and I don’t want to set myself back, risk any injuries or any damage to my interior tissues which can impact future pregnancies.

Don’t do something just because I did, or someone else who blogged did when it comes to exercise, medication, or anything in this vein really.

*Always consult a medical professional before returning to exercise. I believe the usual advice post section is wait 8-12 weeks. Even if your GP clears you, consider seeing a women’s health physio as GPs do not specialise in post natal exercise!*

A final note

So this isn’t the polished and detailed post I’d like it to be, I’d really wanted to be able to take more time over this, but you know… new parent life!

I can’t speak highly enough of my birth experience though (our birth story is here) and my recovery has been brilliant. A second caesarean will be my plan over a VBAC if or when there’s a baby number 2 in 5+ years time (definitely not for a while anyway!)

I’m not pushing this type of birth by the way – I’d hoped for a water birth in our hospital’s midwife led unit – but the safest and smoothest birth for me and my baby turned out to be a section and I wouldn’t change it, and so I want to take the fear out for other mamas who may have been scared by the media circus, or movements which suggest a home birth with candles is the only valid way. It isn’t. All birth is valid ❤

And recovery can be great. I’m living proof 🙂 It might be harder than mine, remember as above my surgery was technically elective and I was in good health… but it need not be the nightmare you might be expecting. ❤

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