I recently delivered my twins via a scheduled c-section and thought it may be helpful for those if you who may be preparing for one as well. In my birth story I talk at length about the experience of the actual surgery but here I want to share more about the recovery process. A big disclaimer: this is my experience with a SCHEDULED cesarean. Mamas who go through labor and then an unplanned c-section may very well have a different experience with recovery than I did. Even another scheduled c-section mamas recovery may very well be different than mine. This is only reflective of my personal experience.
To be honest, the recovery was my biggest fear with a c-section. My first delivery two and a half years ago went really well and I didn’t need any pain relief during labor or afterward, not even an Advil! So the thought of experiencing such a physically taxing recovery, especially with a toddler around, had me quite concerned. I would say that my expectations for recovery were very low. I thought I wouldn’t be able to carry my babies for at least a week, that walking and moving at all would be incredibly difficult, and I would need help with even the simplest of tasks for days and weeks afterward. Fortunately, this turned out not to be the case for me! I think my recovery overall went about as good as it could have.
The most difficult part was definitely the first 24 hours. I couldn’t sit up by myself and had to rely on the hospital bed putting me up and down. I also had wires attached to all different parts of me, an IV, blood pressure and heart rate monitors, and the epidural line. This was not only uncomfortable but also made breastfeeding very awkward. The blood pressure and heart rate monitors were taken off in the evening after my surgery (surgery was around 2PM and monitors were removed around 10PM) and that was a huge relief. Let me give you a little timeline of the first few days post-op:
Day 0 – Day of C-Section
After the surgery, I stayed in a separate recovery room on the OR floor to be monitored for 30 minutes. After everything looked fine, they wheeled me to my actual recovery room where I had stayed the previous night and would stay for the rest of my time in the hospital. At this point, the spinal anesthesia was still active so I couldn’t move the lower part of my body and I stayed laying down on the bed. This day was a bit of a blur, but I remember they put these big leg massagers on my legs after the surgery to help prevent blood clots. I was also wearing compression socks from before the surgery as well. After about 4 hours, the spinal was wearing off and I could move to feet and legs. I still had the epidural line in but it was a “walking epidural” so I was still able to move. I was able to eat a liquid dinner around 6PM with yogurt, rice porridge, a broth soup, and milk but I couldn’t eat solid food until the next morning (day 1). I also still had a catheter in at this point as I couldn’t go to the bathroom. The nurses were in my room frequently to hand me my baby for breastfeeding and put them back in the bassinet afterward. They also did all the diaper changes. That night around 10PM I had the blood pressure and heart rate monitors removed so I had more freedom of movement and breastfeeding was easier. At about midnight (9 hours after delivery) my son was also brought to me so I had both babies in the room.
Day 1 – Day after C-section
I remember begin very very sleepy throughout the evening and night after my surgery and this continued in the morning. I’m not sure if it was a side effect of the epidural or I was just that tired, but I was even falling asleep trying to video chat with my family! In the morning I was able to eat a normal non-liquid breakfast. In the afternoon, the nurses removed the catheter as well as the epidural line so I could practice standing up and walking to the bathroom. I felt pretty shaky when I first stood up but I was happy to have the wires detached from my body. I used the bathroom and after that I noticed the nurses came in much less often as I was supposed to be doing the diaper changes and lifting my babies back and forth from the bassinet by myself. It was taxing for me to do these things but I preferred it to just sitting in that uncomfortable hospital bed. After the epidural was removed, I was exclusively on oral and suppository pain relief. Soon after, my OB came in to check on my recovery progress and approve me to go home the following day. At midnight that night I had to push both babies in a bassinet to the nursery for them to get a weigh in and a check up. I had to walk quite slowly and turning corners was difficult as I had zero abdominal strength back at this point. I also felt like it was difficult to stand up straight, almost like I was afraid to stretch the incision. The babies checked out fine and we were all approved to go home the following day.
Day 2 – Going Home Day
This is the day I went home (normally people go home on day 5 or later!). I was definitely still feeling sore and walking was difficult, but I had more help at home than in the hospital so that’s ultimately what made my decision. I remember that night was particularly hard as both babies were awake at different times and I couldn’t get my boy to sleep. I had to call the nurse in to do a magic newborn swaddle at one point because it was just getting ridiculous. Since they were both finally latching, I wanted to take advantage of it and keep them on the breast as much as possible. Needless to say, the night before going home I didn’t get much sleep! On day 2 I was able to pick up my babies, change them, and do basically everything I needed to do by myself as long as I moved slowly and carefully. We were released from the hospital after one last pediatrician check up around noon. My husband met us at the hospital and got to meet his babies for the first time!
I remember once I got home being worried that my toddler would want to climb all over me and I was still feeling unsteady. I was able to hug him and do most normal things but I wasn’t able to sit on the floor and stand up etc. I pretty much spent the entire afternoon and evening sitting on the couch nursing a baby (or two). When I put my son to bed, I felt a bit wary of sitting down on his floor bed to sing to him because I didn’t know if I could get back up!
I gradually got more and more mobility as the days went on. On day 5 postpartum, the midwife from our clinic visited us at home to do a wellness check on the babies and assess my recovery. She removed the bandage over my incision and made sure it was healing. This was the first time I saw my incision. By the end of the first week, we were able to go on our first walk as a family of 5! It wasn’t far, maybe 5 minutes walk, but I definitely felt more sturdy walking than when I had come home from the hospital.
Overall the recovery went much quicker than I expected. I had envisioned not being able to lift my babies from their bassinets for days after the surgery, but in reality I was able to lift them as soon as I could stand (the day after surgery).
A few other things to note
Even though you do not deliver vaginally, you still bleed after a c-section. However, my bleeding was no where near as much as with my vaginal delivery. With that, I bled fairly heavily for about 6 weeks after delivery. I had lots of blood clots and much more lochia. I had to wear large pads for the first three weeks or so. After this c-section, I only ever had to wear medium size pads and I almost never bled through them. I only had to wear a pad for about 4 weeks and after that I bled very very lightly on and off for about two weeks before it stopped completely.
I had some pretty intense swelling in my feet and ankles even though I wore compression socks in the hospital. Water retention is common after being on an IV drip and taking medication so I wasn’t surprised. However, it did surprise me how long it stayed around, about two weeks.
I was surprised at how physically capable I was after my c-section. Of course, I wasn’t doing any heavy lifting or working out for quite some time but I felt I could do basic tasks, such as lift a baby, earlier than I anticipated. I could pick up my baby from the day after surgery and also could stand. I went on my first walk outdoors at one week postpartum while pushing the double stroller. After that I went for a walk every day, slowly increasing my speed and distance. One of the things that helped me feel stronger and more supported was a belly band. I bought mine on Amazon and I liked it besides that it was quite tight in the bum region giving me some odd lines under pants. It worked though! By about 3 weeks postpartum I was power walking while pushing the stroller daily and at my one month check up I was cleared for light exercise. At that point I started doing yoga about 4 times a week. Everyone is different but for me I felt better being physically active as soon as possible. Stroller walks were also an easy way to get my babies to take a nap at the same time!
My midwife approved me to babywear at 5 days postpartum but I didn’t attempt it until a week or so later. My core was not very strong at that point after having such a big pregnant belly, but I didn’t find babywearing uncomfortable even with a structured carrier with a waistband. Starting at 1 month pp I could wear one baby for over an hour without feeling uncomfortable.
I had a horizontal incision secured by dissolvable stitches. After surgery, they placed a bandage over it which was removed at my midwife check at 5 days postpartum. After that, I was told to leave it open until my one month check and after that I could use a bandage once again to keep it from getting irritated. However, I felt like the bandage irritated it more so I ended up just leaving it uncovered. I never had much pain with my incision luckily but around 2-3 weeks postpartum I did feel some twinges of pain internally which was most likely due to the internal incision. Luckily this went away quickly though. To keep it clean as it healed, I simply washed it daily with a gentle soap in the shower and then made sure it was completely dry. I had some folds of skin that could easily trap moisture so it was important to dry around those.
It is safe to say that after this pregnancy, by body is NOT “bouncing back” like it did with my first. Carrying twins is an incredible feat for your body to accomplish, so I’m not mad about it! I do feel I need to work a bit harder to regain my physical strength this time around. My belly is still quite distended as of now (7 weeks postpartum) and I have diastasis recti (separation of the abdominal muscles) to rectify. I also have a LOT of stretch marks and loose skin this time which I didn’t have before. These are very normal occurrences after pregnancy. The one thing I didn’t expect was to gain a small pocket of fat under my belly, just above my bikini line. This made an appearance in the last weeks of pregnancy and stayed postpartum as well. It was emphasized greatly by the sagging skin of my now empty uterus as well as the c-section incision placement. You can sort of see it in the 10 day pp photo below. However, as time has gone one it is getting smaller as my uterus also shrinks down. I’m glad because it was a bit unnerving to see not one but two bumps on my tummy!
For my stretch marks, I still use a stretch mark cream to try to help my skin regain some of it’s elasticity. However, if it never does that’s also okay. As I mentioned above, I also do yoga about four times per week to help gently train my core once again. I know my body will change a lot in the next year so I am not too concerned with all of this. With my firstborn, I dropped a lot of weight around 6 months pp due to breastfeeding nonstop and constant night waking, so I wonder if the same will happen this time. Again, if not, that’s okay! I am focusing on being happy and healthy and that’s it right now.
If you’ve had a c-section, how did your recovery compare? I would love to know!