As International Caesarean Awareness Month 2021 comes to a close I thought I’d share a post I originally wrote a couple of years ago. Whether your caesarean birth is planned or an emergency there can be things that happen during the recovery that take you by surprise. Here are some of the things I’ve heard mums say after their caesarean birth that they wish they’d been told about their recovery (one or two might well be from my own personal experience too!!).
You might shake uncontrollably during or after surgery…
Sometimes women get the shakes during their caesarean birth. I remember being surprised at having chattering teeth and shaking uncontrollably during the birth of my daughter. This was so bad that I felt unable to hold her in theatre and my husband, who had never held a baby before, found himself giving our baby her first cuddles. The shaking can continue into the recovery phase too but will disappear as the anaesthetic wears off.
Top mum tip – shaking is common after a caesarean so if you don’t feel able to hold your baby or have skin to skin in theatre then your birth partner can do this until you feel able to.
You’ll have a catheter…
Ok, ok so this might be obvious to you – you’ve had surgery and can’t move for many hours and so how else is your bladder going to empty! But I confess I hadn’t given it a single thought – my emergency caesarean birth with my daughter rather took me by surprise and I hadn’t really considered in any detail what was involved with having a caesarean. Having the catheter in didn’t hurt and I couldn’t feel it, but knowing it was there was a bit strange. It is normally removed after around 12 hours and once it is out you’ll be encouraged to walk to the toilet to have a wee and make sure everything is working again. The midwives will also be interested in how much you wee so don’t be surprised if you are asked to wee into a jug to measure the volume. Which leads me to…..
Going to the toilet can be a challenge…
At some point in the first few days after your caesarean you should feel the need to empty your bowels. Many mums describe this as something they were not looking forward to at all as the thought of needing to push while the wound is still sore is not a good one. You may find it helpful to apply gentle pressure with the palm of your hand over the wound as support whilst you attempt to go.
It’s important to try to avoid constipation as that will only add to the difficulty, pain and discomfort. If you have problems with constipation, speak to your midwife.
Top mum tip – Drink lots of water, eat a fibre-rich diet and gently walk around. Don’t try and rush either – give yourself time. Trying to go when you think your baby might be waking for a feed is not a great idea!
There is an art to getting out of bed…
If you are having the feeling of being a bit of a beached whale when trying to get out of bed while pregnant as it takes so long to change position and lift yourself out of bed, then this feeling won’t be going anytime soon after your caesarean. Getting up and laying down can both be tricky.
Top mum tip – To stand up – roll on to your side, lower your legs off the edge and the bed and then push yourself up sideways on your elbow. When you are getting back in to bed slowly do this in reverse. Trying to sit up from lying and lowering yourself back is likely to be uncomfortable for a while.
Solo showering can be tricky…
You will be encouraged to shower pretty soon once you are able to walk after your caesarean. The feeling of freshening up is a lovely one but the actual practicalities of washing and changing are not so straightforward. You are really stuck if you drop something – bending down to pick up your soap or shampoo bottle that you may have knocked over is not so easy. Getting dry and dressed afterwards is also a bit of a challenge – especially bending down to put on your knickers! Have everything close to hand and take your time.
Top mum tip – put a fresh maternity pad into your knickers before you get undressed for the shower. That way once you are out and dry you can get your pad on quickly before you start leaking blood (blood loss in the early days can be quite heavy).
Nights can be tough…
Different postnatal wards have different rules and policies on partners staying overnight (and during Covid-19 lots are not allowing partners to stay). I remember the feeling of panic when my husband had to leave me on the postnatal ward after the birth of our first baby. I still couldn’t move much – I was laying in a semi-reclined position but to move from there was not that easy. How was I going to lift my baby in the middle of the night when she needed feeding? What about changing her nappy? What if she cried and needed a cuddle – how would I pick her up quickly before she woke everyone else in the ward? I was going to have to ask for help. This is not something that comes easy to me – I hate to bother people, don’t like to disturb anyone, don’t want to be seen to be demanding etc etc. This had to change pretty sharpish as the only way I was going to cope and look after my baby was if I rang the bell and asked for help. It was amazing how quickly I found my confidence with asking for help when it came to caring for her in the hospital (I remained terrible at asking for help for anything relating to me though!!).
Top mum tip – just ring the bell and ask for help!
Perhaps a lesser know side effect of caesarean birth which may occur is trapped wind pain. This is a sharp pain which is often felt in your stomach or beneath your shoulder blade and is a result of the air that has entered your abdominal cavity during the surgery. This pain will gradually disappear but gentle movement/walking may help move it along.
Top mum tip – along with walking, you can also try peppermint tea to help relieve the pain.
Laughter is not the best kind of medicine…
Laughing (along with coughing and sneezing) can be pretty uncomfortable after a caesarean. You may find it helpful to hold a pillow against your wound as support when you need to sneeze or cough. The midwife on the postnatal ward warned me about the pain with coughing and sneezing after the caesarean birth of my daughter 9 years ago. What she didn’t warn me was that a sudden fit of the giggles might cause similar discomfort! When my fit of giggles broke out I was far from my safety pillow!
My husband Matt was proudly holding our newborn daughter in our bathroom at home ‘topping and tailing’ before her first bath. He’d cleaned her bottom (tail) and had wrapped her in a towel while he was cleaning her ‘top’ (eyes, face, neck) holding her under his arm in the rugby ball hold. First baby, first bath, Matt had never held a baby let along cleaned one – this was all looking good, we were nailing this parenting lark. I was watching as still very sore from the birth but was so happy to be sharing a lovely family ‘first’ moment. Then something caught my eye – dark, sticky, thick poo was escaping from the end of towel and running down Matt’s side, into his pocket, down his leg and onto the floor. Thick meconium poo was escaping from my beautiful baby all over my husband. Rather childishly, I just could not stop laughing!! I was laughing so much that I couldn’t speak to tell him what was happening, but at the same time I was in so much pain from the laughing (and my pillow was nowhere in sight to help me!). So while laughter is normally a good thing, you might want to try and rein it in for a few days!
Everyone is different!
Try to avoid comparing your recovery to other mums who have had a caesarean. Everyone is different, and just like there are differences between women who have had a vaginal birth, there will be differences in the amount of time to recover from a caesarean birth. Make sure you don’t try and keep up with a friend who is seeming to do particularly well with her recovery. Stay at your own pace that feel right for you.
“I had a friend who seemed to recover so quickly from her caesarean yet I was a bit slower on my feet. I tried to keep up one day and paid the price! I was in so much pain later that day. Don’t rush your recovery!”
If you’d like to know more about how to cope during labour, birth, caesarean and postnatally check out our online antenatal and hypnobirthing courses. Live and interactive, and give you lots of opportunities to ask questions about what is important to you.