The Surprising Things About C-Section Recovery

19 Days Post C-Section

I never ever thought I’d have a c-section. I realize that like 1/3 of all births are via c-section but I just didn’t think that would be me. I’m a healthy person and I had a healthy pregnancy (until it kind of flew off the rails). Perhaps it was arrogance that things would go my way but I honestly skipped over the c-section information in any books or articles I read. Like I said, I never thought I’d be a part of that 1/3.

The official reason I wound up with an emergency c-section was due to “possible placental abruption and fetal bradycardia” i.e. the placenta was maybe detaching in a small spot and that was causing Ben to get less oxygen and his heart rate to drop. Full birth story here.

Just as I was pretty ignorant about my possibility of a c-section, I also had no idea what recovery would be like. I’d heard horror stories about the pain and not being able to pick up your baby and struggling to walk. My recovery wound up being nothing like anything I’d ever read. So I’m sharing it here to A. document it for myself to look back on later and B. hopefully make the possibility of a c-section less scary for others.

Some notes on my c-section experience…

I don’t feel like I get to use the expression “gave birth”. It doesn’t feel like I “gave birth” to him. I gave life to him. I prefer to say he was “ripped from my body” in a silly tone that makes some people laugh and some people uncomfortable. We both weren’t really ready to do the birth thing that day.

On this note, when people say to me “he just wanted to come out” I’m like NO HE DID NOT. For some reason this kind of annoys me, like we’re blaming him for the whole ordeal. He didn’t want to come out. My placenta did. He just wanted, you know, oxygen. How rude of him.

I’m going to say something that might surprise you (or tick you off, if you had a c-section and disagree) – I didn’t think c-section recovery was that bad. Perhaps my doctors just did a fantastic job of pain management (although once I was discharged 5 days post-op, I was in charge of my own meds and not spectacular about keeping on the med schedule). Maybe I have a high pain tolerance (unlikely, but sure, let’s throw this out there as an idea). Maybe the adrenaline from the urgency of the whole thing protected me a little. Maybe being in decent shape just really helped my body’s healing. I have no idea what factors played in to my minimal pain and quick recovery but I just thought it would be so much worse than it was. I was not in brutal agony at any point. I was never unable to walk (except when my legs were still numb) and the only thing I struggled with was getting in and out of bed but even that, the pain was manageable.

The back pain that I experienced leading up to my emergency c-section (ironically noted in my 34 week bumpdate published the morning of Ben’s birth) was worse than the c-section or recovery. I guess that says a lot about my pain level for those days before. I didn’t want to be a wimp about routine 3rd trimester back pain but now that I’ve experienced what most would consider definitely painful, I’m sure that my back pain was far beyond what is normal.

Of note, I’ve read that you recover faster if you get up and get moving. I definitely did this. I got up and walked briefly (from bed to a wheelchair) 9 hours post c-section. I wanted to go see Ben in the NICU. I then got in and out of bed every few hours consistently and started walking from my unit to the NICU by day two.

I always assumed a c-section scar would be small, low, and even. Not so. My small smiley face is actually a smirk that extends about 2 inches further on the right side than the left. You wouldn’t be able to see it in a bikini but it caught me off guard that my incision is so off-center. I assume this was due to Ben’s positioning or the urgency of the situation so I’m not complaining about it.

I am continuing to experience some pretty severe numbing on the top of the right side of my incision. I noticed right away that the right side of my incision had some heavy bruising around it that my left side didn’t have. The doctors said it was normal and that they may have needed to pull more on that side (insert shudder here). As my incision healed I noticed that I couldn’t feel when I’d touch above the incision on that side. The doctor says that this is nerve damage and is pretty common and that feeling might come back but could take a really long time. On that note, the scar on my right side is more pronounced and has clearly developed more scar tissue underneath. It bumps out on the top more.

My recovery wardrobe was not what I anticipated. While some people think the hospital gowns are pretty comfortable, I did not. They were huge on me and even when tied as tightly as I could, they still gaped open in the back. I switched to my regular clothes within about 24 hours.

I assumed loose clothes would be the answer but actually, I felt most comfortable in high-waisted compression leggings. My joggers sit lower on my waist and rubbed too close to my incision. My Lululemon Align leggings felt like a freaking buttery dream and no seam or waistband hit anywhere near my incision. I also bought a pair of high-waisted compression leggings from Amazon that I wound up loving. They had the most stomach compression of any pair I own and felt so good on (I’m still obsessed with them). I kept those on rotation along with my Spanx high-waisted leggings. You get my drift, the high-waisted with compression was the way to go for me. It felt like I was always getting enough compression so I didn’t feel like I was going to burst open.

Post-surgery I immediately ordered a postpartum support belly wrap from Amazon. I kind of always thought these things were a scam and wasn’t anticipating that they’d make me thinner or anything but I did love the idea of being squeezed around the middle. I wore this pretty consistently from about 4 days postpartum until probably week 4. I never used the hip portion of it because I just didn’t think it was necessary. I found that this was a godsend on the two occasions that I went home for a few hours while Ben was still in the NICU. The stop and go of a taxi would have been unbearable without it.

What surprised me most was how quickly I feel like I looked like my normal, pre-pregnancy self. My Mom reminded me that this is probably because I didn’t get to those last five, usually largest weeks of pregnancy. I avoided stretch marks and weigh only a few pounds more than I did pre-pregnancy. It’s not at all what I expected although I didn’t really even notice this fact until about a week after we’d been home (when Ben was 3 weeks old). We were just too busy in the NICU to really notice or care about how I looked. The stress and eating less during that time probably contributed to some weight loss as well. Trust me when I say that I’d gladly gain more 10 pounds to avoid a NICU stay ever again. Fingers crossed for all full term babies from here forward. But I was pretty jazzed to pull on my regular jeans and find they fit 3 weeks postpartum.

If this sounded at all like bragging, please note that what I lack in pounds I currently make up for in acne. It’s like my chin traveled back in time and is now that of my 15-year-old self. It’s brutal. The glow of pregnancy is most certainly gone.

Overall, I didn’t feel like a c-section was a terrible way to have a baby. In fact, I sometimes wonder if I’d even bother attempting a VBAC next time or if I’ll just go ahead with scheduled c-sections from here on out. I’ll definitely need to do a little more research before making that decision, obviously.

So I guess the lesson in this is that sometimes your worst case scenario (and definitely an emergency c-section 5 weeks early felt like worse than the worst case scenario I’d imagined) turns out to not be as bad as you thought (in terms of my health and recovery).

Feel free to leave any questions below. If you’re a fellow c-section mama or are just curious, I found this article with c-section photos from other Moms oddly comforting.

C-Section Recovery - What Shocked Me and What I Wish I Had Known

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  • I had a planned c section since my daughter was breach, and I had a very similar recovery. By the next day I was in my regular clothes and walking around my hospital room. I live in Australia where it’s standard to stay in the hospital for 5 days with a c section, and by the time I left they had weaned me off everything but Tylenol and Ibuprofen (but taking them regularly). My scar was definetly longer than I expected, my dr blamed my daughter’s. it booty that got stuck (shudder) but it’s almost completely gone 16 months later. I’m having my second in may and since I had such a good experience I have already chosen to have another. Sorry for the novel, but I was just glad to read a positive experience!

    • When I was discharged I was also on tylenol and ibuprofen as well. They did give me a prescription for Percocet which I took once and did not like. It made me feel too foggy and I hated holding Ben and feeling less sharp. It made me too nervous. I’m glad I’m not the only c-section mama who might just opt for a second. I don’t know how it is in Australia but I wonder if in the US I’ll be able to opt for another by choice or if I have to try for a VBAC.

  • Just wanted to say thank you for writing this up – it helps me feel more prepared in case I end up needing a C-section! Glad recovery was as smooth as possible for you.

    • There’s a good chance you won’t need one but if you do, it may not be as bad as you’d think. I hope your birth turns out exactly as you hope it will!

      • I have my 36 wk appointment next Monday, at which they’ll confirm if the baby’s head down. If he’s breech, they’re going to schedule a C (in case he doesn’t turn over the following two weeks). Honestly, I wouldn’t be heartbroken if this were the case.

  • Great post! My first was a csection and I too completely ignored that part of reading. Since then, I have done LOTS of reading and enjoy every story because they are all so different. I was always skeptical of the postpartum belly wraps, but they have helped so much. I’m glad you’re csection recovery has gone so well and if you ever need to chat VBAC you let me know :D.

    • I’ve definitely read more about c-sections now that I’ve had one, kind of to try and figure out how normal my experience was. I had not read many positive c-section experiences though so I thought I’d put it out there that I didn’t think it was all that bad. I don’t know if I’d opt for a VBAC but if I do, I’ll definitely reach out.

  • Jessica Carfora Salvucci

    Thank you for all of your post pregnancy posts!!!!! I am due with my first in March and even though your delivery post kind of freaked me out I also feel like it helped me to prepare for scenarios that I maybe wasn’t thinking about. I’m not sure if this would be too personal or not for you but if you would be willing to share your breastfeeding experience thus far I would love to read that. I’m not sure why, but breastfeeding is what is making me the most nervous about the first few weeks after having baby. Thank you again for sharing – it may be therapeutic for you but it’s also really informative and helpful for a lot of other people.

    • Thank you so much Jessica! I’m sorry my delivery post freaked you out. I promise if anything happens that quickly with your delivery that there isn’t any time to freak out in the moment. I was super calm and now it just feels like a crazy story I get to tell. I’m staring at my sleeping boy right now and it was so worth it and doesn’t feel like a major trauma or anything.

      Regarding breastfeeding, I may post about it if I ever feel like I’ve figured it out. Breastfeeding a preemie is different because I started off exclusively pumping and still had to pump to supplement his feeds until about two weeks ago. Right now I’m worried about my production being low (I have no idea if it is or not but this whole thing is trial and error) so I ordered some herbal supplements and am pumping more. My only advice so far would be to see a lactation consultant before you leave the hospital. Mine was so incredibly helpful, especially given our additional hurdles.

  • I didn’t have a c-section, but many of my friends did. From what I’ve heard, being fit definitely helps. And walking/moving around even when you don’t feel like it.

    • That definitely could have been what helped me. Regarding walking/moving, the biggest motivating factor was not having my baby in my room. I had to walk to see him so I was up and about right away.

  • That’s the thing I dislike most about reading and trying to research and learn about things before they happen to you…you read all the horror stories and the risks and all the bad stuff…and then it’s your turn and SO much easier than you thought (and worried about) it would be. For example, I’m really overweight and was told by my OBGYN and regular doctor that it was highly likely that I would have trouble getting pregnant because of my weight and when/if I did, the risks would be a lot higher too. Well, let me just say that I guess I defied all the odds because I got pregnant within 2 months of not using any protection, had no morning sickness/nausea, had no BP or sugar problems, and only gained 15 lbs. My OBGYN encouraged us to induce 5 days early because of the baby’s size and me being overweight increased the chances of having a really big baby. We decided to go through with the induction, which I had also heard horror stories about, and about 9 hours later delivered a healthy 8 lb 12 ounce baby girl with no problems whatsoever. Recovery was super easy too. I had a 3rd degree tear I think it was, but I was pain free in about a week or so. Sorry for the novel, but I’m glad other people have non horror stories to share about their experiences. I know I worried way too much about everything because of what I had been told and had read for myself. Just knowing that there ARE good stories about worst case scenarios is comforting.

  • I’m so glad recovery was kind to you after such a scary labor experience!

  • Anna Whitmore

    This is like my exact same experience of my c section. I was planning an unmedicated birth and for some reason the only thing I assumed might happen was that I might get an epidural. I seriously never even considered that I would have a c section. And then my baby had to be on oxygen so he was in the nursery and not with me so I was up and moving just like you were. I agree it wasn’t as bad as everyone made it sound but I have heard that the recovery from the second c section is way worse than the first

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