Going home after a C-section
Cesarean - going home
You are going home after a C-section. You should expect to need help caring for yourself and your newborn. Talk to your partner, parents, in-laws, or friends.
When it's not possible or safe for a woman to deliver a baby naturally through her vagina, she will need to have her baby delivered surgically, a procedure referred to as cesarean section, or C-section. I know this is a controversial topic recently, sometimes people talk C-sections being done too often. That may be true, but when it is necessary, it can be life saving for mother or baby. A C-section is the delivery of a baby through a surgical opening in the mother's lower belly area, usually around the bikini line. The procedure is most often done while the woman is awake. The body is numbed from the chest to the feet using epidural, or spinal, anesthesia. The surgeon usually makes a cut or incision across the belly just above the pubic area. The surgeon opens the womb, or uterus, and the amniotic sac, then delivers the baby. A woman may have a C-section if there are problems with the baby, such as an abnormal heart rate, abnormal positions of the baby in the womb, developmental problems in the baby, a multiple pregnancy like triplets, or when there are problems with the placenta or umbilical cord. A C-section may be necessary if the mother has medical problems, such as an active genital herpes infection, large uterine fibroids near the cervix, or if she is too weak to deliver due to severe illness. Sometimes a delivery that takes too long, caused by problems like getting the baby's head through the birth canal, or in the instance of a very large baby may make a C-section necessary. Having a C-section is a safe procedure. The rate of complications is very low. However, there are some risks, including infection of the bladder or uterus, injury to the urinary tract, and injury to the baby. A C-section may also cause problems in future pregnancies. The average hospital stay after a C-section is 2 to 4 days, and keep in mind recovery often takes longer than it would from a vaginal birth. Walking after the C-section is important to speed recovery and pain medication may be supplied too as recovery takes place. Most mothers and infants do well after a C-section, and often, a woman who has a C-section may have a vaginal delivery if she gets pregnant again.
What to Expect at Home
You may have bleeding from your vagina for up to 6 weeks. It will slowly become less red, then pink, and then will have more of a yellow or white color. Bleeding and discharge after delivery is called lochia.
At first, your cut (incision) will be raised slightly and pinker than the rest of your skin. It will likely appear somewhat puffy.
- Any pain should decrease after 2 or 3 days, but your cut will remain tender for up to 3 weeks or more.
- Most women need pain medicine for the first few days to 2 weeks. Ask your provider what is safe to take while breastfeeding.
- Over time, your scar will become thinner and flatter and will turn either white or the color of your skin.
You will need a checkup with your health care provider in 4 to 6 weeks.
If you go home with a dressing (bandage), change the dressing over your cut once a day, or sooner if it gets dirty or wet.
- Your provider will tell you when to stop keeping your wound covered.
- Keep the wound area clean by washing it with mild soap and water. You don't need to scrub it. Often, just letting the water run over your wound in the shower is enough.
- You may remove your wound dressing and take showers if stitches, staples, or glue were used to close your skin.
- Do not soak in a bathtub or hot tub, or go swimming, until your provider tells you it is OK. In most cases, this is not until 3 weeks after surgery.
If strips (Steri-Strips) were used to close your incision:
- Do not try to wash off the Steri-Strips or glue. It is OK to shower and pat your incision dry with a clean towel.
- They should fall off in about a week. If they are still there after 10 days, you can remove them, unless your provider tells you not to.
Getting up and walking around once you are home will help you heal faster and can help prevent blood clots.
You should be able to do most of your regular activities in 4 to 8 weeks. Before then:
- Do not lift anything heavier than your baby for the first 6 to 8 weeks.
- Short walks are an excellent way to increase strength and stamina. Light housework is OK. Slowly increase how much you do.
- Expect to tire easily. Listen to your body, and don't be active to the point of exhaustion.
- Avoid heavy housecleaning, jogging, most exercises, and any activities that make you breathe hard or strain your muscles. Do not do sit-ups.
Don't drive a car for at least 2 weeks. It is OK to ride in a car, but make sure you wear your seat belt. Don't drive if you are taking narcotic pain medicine or if you feel weak or unsafe driving.
Try eating smaller meals than normal and have healthy snacks in between. Eat plenty of fruits and vegetables, and drink 8 cups (2 liters) of water a day to keep from getting constipated.
Any hemorrhoids you develop should slowly decrease in size. Some may go away. Methods that may help the symptoms include:
- Warm tub baths (shallow enough to keep your incision above the water level).
- Cold compresses over the area.
- Over-the-counter pain relievers.
- Over-the-counter hemorrhoid ointments or suppositories.
- Bulk laxatives to prevent constipation. If necessary, ask your provider for recommendations.
Sex can begin any time after 6 weeks. Also, be sure to talk with your provider about contraception after pregnancy. This decision should be made before you leave the hospital.
After C-sections that follow a difficult labor, some moms feel relieved. But others feel sad, disappointed, or even guilty about needing a C-section.
- Many of these feelings are normal, even for women who had a vaginal birth.
- Try talking with your partner, family, or friends about your feelings.
- Seek help from your provider if these feelings do not go away or become worse.
When to Call the Doctor
Call your provider if you have vaginal bleeding that:
- Is still very heavy (like your menstrual period flow) after more than 4 days
- Is light but lasts beyond 4 weeks
- Involves the passing of large clots
Also call your provider if you have:
- Swelling in one of your legs (it will be red and warmer than the other leg)
- Pain in your calf
- Redness, warmth, swelling, or drainage from your incision site, or your incision breaks open
- Fever more than 100°F (37.8°C) that persists (swollen breasts may cause a mild elevation of temperature)
- Increased pain in your belly
- Discharge from your vagina that becomes heavier or develops a foul odor
- Become very sad, depressed, or withdrawn, are having feelings of harming yourself or your baby, or are having trouble caring for yourself or your baby
- A tender, reddened, or warm area on one breast (this may be a sign of infection)
Postpartum preeclampsia, while rare, can occur after delivery, even if you did not have preeclampsia during your pregnancy. Call your provider right away if you:
- Have swelling in your hands, face, or eyes (edema)
- Suddenly gain weight over 1 or 2 days, or you gain more than 2 pounds (1 kilogram) in a week
- Have a headache that does not go away or becomes worse
- Have vision changes, such as you cannot see for a short time, see flashing lights or spots, are sensitive to light, or have blurry vision
- Body pain and achiness (similar to body pain with a high fever)
American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists; Task Force on Hypertension in Pregnancy. Hypertension in pregnancy. Report of the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists' Task Force on Hypertension in Pregnancy. Obstet Gynecol. 2013;122(5):1122-1131. PMID: 24150027
Beghella V, Mackeen AD, Jaunaiux ERM. Cesarean delivery. In: Landon MB, Galan HL, Jauniaux ERM, et al, eds. Gabbe's Obstetrics: Normal and Problem Pregnancies. 8th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier; 2021:chap 24.
Isley MM Postpartum care and long-term health considerations. In: Landon MB, Galan HL, Jauniaux ERM, et al, eds. Gabbe's Obstetrics: Normal and Problem Pregnancies. 8th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier; 2021:chap 24.
Last reviewed on: 10/5/2020
Reviewed by: John D. Jacobson, MD, Professor of Obstetrics and Gynecology, Loma Linda University School of Medicine, Loma Linda Center for Fertility, Loma Linda, CA. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, Brenda Conaway, Editorial Director, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team.