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Your Body After A Cesarean Birth

As you begin to recover, you will find that your entire body after a cesarean birth is being rebuilt.

Even those areas that were untouched during the surgery will momentarily pause and need to be restarted. Knowing how long those "pauses" should take can greatly lower your stress level.

Some side effects of your surgery are minor (itchiness and nausea) and have simple solutions (meds). Others are more complicated (constipation) and may lead to less pleasurable solutions (an enema).

Your body's journey back from a cesarean starts at the hospital, the moment the baby is delivered.

You will be measured, assessed and evaluated several times before you're discharged. The recovery at the hospital is important, yet vastly different than your recovery at home. Here are some symptoms or issues you may experience after having a c-section:


Breastfeeding after a C-Section

Once the baby is delivered, released hormones will cause your uterus to start to shrink and your breasts to produce colostrum (baby's first milk). You can breastfeed as soon as your surgery is finished.

The Football Hold

Make it easier on your incision by using this hold while breastfeeding (or bottle feeding).

Place the baby resting on your forearm, facing up, tucked under your armpit (like you're carrying a football). The baby's tummy should be wrapped around your side, providing skin-to-skin contact.

If your baby is too sleepy to eat (anesthesia can have that effect), introduce him to your touch and smell. Offer your breast every few hours and he'll start getting interested. If breastfeeding is painful or he seems to struggle with latching on, get tips here on improving your technique.

Breastfeeding is a skill that is developed over time. For more information learning to breastfeed, visit this page.


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Having Constant Urination After a C-Section

One possible side effect to your body after a cesarean is constantly having to urinate. This is usually caused by bladder trauma during surgery and will heal itself after a few months.

Stress Incontinence

body after a Cesarean 1
{Photo by Delgoff}
However, if you find yourself having urine leakages after sneezing or coughing, you may have a condition called stress incontinence.

Nerves, ligaments and muscles on your pelvis normally work together to stop your bladder and close the urethra. Overstretching or injury here can cause incontinence.

Stress incontinence is more frequent among mothers who had vaginal births, but it is not unheard of as a consequence to your body after a cesarean.

Women who smoke or are obese are 4 times as likely to struggle with this form of incontinence. Avoid embarrassment by...

  • Using sanitary pads to catch leaks.

  • If you feel an upcoming sneeze or cough, cross your legs and tighten your pelvic muscles to strengthen them.

  • Go to the restroom often to avoid getting a full bladder.

  • Practicing Kegel Exercises can also be beneficial in strengthening those muscles.

  • Limiting your caffeine intake has also been helpful in some instances.

If you feel a burning sensation or pain while urinating, call your physician. Sometimes incontinence can be caused by an easily treated urinary tract infection.

The leaking should correct itself within a few months. If you're still struggling with this problem 6 months later, speak with your doctor.

Other Bladder Problems

Other bladder injuries are not uncommon after multiple cesareans. The obstetrician may encounter scar tissue (or adhesions) that attaches the bladder to other structures. Cutting through these adhesions may further weaken the bladder walls.

If bladder problems have plagued your previous c-sections, the doctor can make an incision slightly higher on the uterus and avoid the bladder altogether.

Unfortunately, sometimes bladder trauma is inevitable. A recognized bladder injury may require using a catheter for a week or so after delivery, but is not usually a long-term side effect.


body after a cesarean 3
{Photo by Andy Wright}

Decreased Bowel Function
After a Cesarean

If you suffer from chronic constipation, speak with your nurse about limiting iron supplements. You will need to take some iron (you lost a lot of blood), but talking with her about your bowel problems in the past may serve you in the future.

Another reason your body after a cesarean may cease to defecate is due to the narcotics you've been taking to manage pain.

Walk regularly, take your stool softeners (like Dulcolax), and drink lots of water. The body after a cesarean needs time to remember how to do those normal digestive functions.

If it has been three days and you haven't had a bowel movement, call your doctor. He may ask you to come in for an enema. Of course, that won't be comfortable, but it is certainly more comfortable than a ruptured intestine.


Gas Pains After A Cesarean

Your body after a cesarean will harbor unusually high amounts of gas. This gas build-up can cause acute back pain. The pressure of the gas pushes against your spinal cord, causing pain in your lower back, shoulders, or even neck.

Prepare to lower your self-respect by having to confess to a nurse every time you "fluff" (what my 4-year-old calls it). After you've "passed out gas" (what my nephew calls it), you can start eating solid food again.

This flatulence revealed that your digestive tract has begun to move. This gas waiting game could take several days, so hot tea and jell-o may have to sustain you until the gas is passed.

body after a cesarean 3
{Photo by k1-Ga}
Sometimes the gas pains can be more uncomfortable than the incision itself. Fortunately there are a few things you can try that may ease the pain.

  • Hold your breath for 5-10 seconds every few hours

  • Go for frequent, but short walks

  • Rock in a rocking chair (my favorite)

  • Drink hot tea (avoiding carbonated drinks like soda)

If your bloating and gas pains don't seem to be lightening up, the nurse can give you some over-the-counter simethicone medicine.

This substance helps gas bubbles come together more easily, making it easier to poot. Simethicone is also safe to use while breastfeeding.


A Menstrual Period after C-Section

Even though your baby didn't enter the world vaginally, vaginal bleeding after a c-section is routine. All the post-baby waste has to go somewhere, and nature has determined that as its exit point.

Your body after a cesarean will begin to flush out what is called lochia, blood and sloughed-off tissue from the lining of your uterus. In the first three or four days it will be bright red. The nurses will provide you with a huge maxi pad to help with the heavy bleeding. Eventually the blood will turn more pinkish or brownish followed by (in several weeks) a yellowish discharge.

If your bleeding gets heavier after leaving the hospital, don't worry. That is common, but it does mean you are not resting enough. Slow down. Your body after a cesarean needs rest to heal itself. The bleeding should start easing up. If you begin soaking through a large maxi pad every hour, call your doctor.

You shouldn't put anything, even an tampon, in your vagina for at least six weeks. Douching should also be off-limits until after your 6-week checkup. Sex should be put on hold until your doctor gives his approval.

Sex isn't the only thing that should be put on the back burner for a while. Check out these other limits you need to maintain while recovering at home.

Menstrual Cramps

The body after a cesarean will naturally begin to shrink the uterus back to its normal size. You may feel the familiar twangs of menstrual cramps.

If you've had more than one baby, the pains may be particularly strong because the uterus has to work harder to get back to its original shape. If you aren't already on pain medication, you can take Ibuprofen or Tylenol to alleviate discomfort.


Cesarean Longer-Term Effects

As with any serious surgery, occasionally there are some long-term side effects associated with c-sections. In some rare cases, some women have reported that they have lost feeling around their incision or in their vagina. This can be due to several things. The nerves could have been damaged:

  • during the pregnancy
  • when the baby's head was wedged in the pelvic bone
  • during the actual c-section

If you have feeling loss in specific areas, speak with your physician. It's possible it will return to normal. If it doesn't, several tests can be run to determine appropriate treatment steps.

Another long-term effect on your body after a cesarean is an increase risk of uterine rupture in future deliveries. The uterus lining may have thinned, and split open prior to future labors.

This risk is especially high if the previous cesarean involved cutting through the thick muscular part of the uterus (a higher scar). Click here to explore the different incisions the doctor may make and possible concerns with each.

Your doctor is well-versed in these rupture risks. If he feels it is a concern, a c-section can be scheduled before labor even begins. Due to these risks, mothers are not encouraged to have more than three children by cesarean.


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Your body after a cesarean will naturally begin to adjust itself to its pre-pregnancy existence.

In just a month or two, most of your natural functions will be at 100% capacity again.

If you're wanting to jump-start the healing process, a cesarean recovery belt may be the way to go. Merry Mother subscriber Mary tried two different styles a go and shared her experience with them right here.


All the photos on this page can be found at www.flickr.com and were used
according to licensing requirements.

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