How to Take Care of a C-Section Scar

Mother holding baby with C-section scar

Getty Images / Tatiana Dyuvbanova

While a new baby is always the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow that is pregnancy, most collect a few other souvenirs—such as stretch marks and sagging skin—along the way. For the one in three Americans who have Cesarian deliveries, there's an additional vestige of the journey to parenthood: a C-section scar.

A C-section is the surgical procedure performed by an obstetrician to deliver a baby through the mother's abdomen. It requires a sizable incision in the area as doctors must reconnect the muscle, fascia, and skin with sutures, and occasionally staples. As the wound heals, a small scar will form in its place, eventually fading to a pale, thin line, although it can vary from person to person.

Even as C-sections account for a considerable portion of all births, and modern advances in medicine have made these scars increasingly less noticeable, many report struggling with the appearance or a lengthy healing time.

Beyond the aesthetics, C-section scars can carry certain health risks if not properly cared for. If you're looking to ensure that your scar heals effectively and without any complication in the six or so weeks after labor, there are certain steps you can take to attend to it—and they may even help make it more cosmetically appealing.

What Is a C-Section Scar?

A C-section may be performed for a variety of reasons, including abnormal positioning of the baby, fetal distress, and pre-existing health conditions of the mother. The procedure involves making an incision in the abdomen, which is closed using sutures and sometimes staples after delivery.

Although it is generally considered safe and carries a lower chance of depriving the baby of oxygen or putting it in a traumatic position, the surgery does have more risks than vaginal delivery; and it results in a scar where the incision was made.

"There are many layers to close when repairing a patient after a C-section scar, from deep down to the uterus muscle, into the peritoneum, then the abdominal wall, then the rectus sheath, followed by fat and skin," explains Fatima Fahs, M.D., a board-certified dermatologist in Canton, Mich. "All of these layers require stitching and careful closure."

The type of incision made will determine the type of scar you are left with following a C-section. Most commonly, this is a horizontal or "bikini incision," which is made about two inches beneath the belly button, along the bikini line. Vertical incisions are much rarer, but when they are used (often in extreme circumstances), they run from just above or at the belly button to the bikini line.

"Typically, it should heal as a linear horizontal scar across the lower abdomen, the pelvic area beneath the bikini line," says Mara Weinstein-Velez, M.D., a board-certified dermatologist in Rochester, New York.

But a C-section scar is different the scars you may have from burning your arm on the oven or falling off of your bike as a kid. "This scar is also particularly unique because it's one with meaning and significance," she adds. "And it's very identifiable, in that, many women have the exact same scar as s sign of what they went through, traumatic or not, in order to safely and hopefully successfully deliver their child (or children)."

Why Is It Important to Take Care of a C-Section Scar?

Caring for your body after pregnancy is a good idea regardless of what kind of delivery you've had, but if you underwent a C-section, it's particularly important. Before a scar even begins to form, you should pay special attention to the area of the incision.

"It is important that shortly after birth, one takes care of their scar to avoid it opening back up or delaying wound healing and to decrease the risk of infection," Dr. Fahs notes. "Infected scars can lead to hospitalizations and future pregnancy complications."

Although it may be tough to find a spare moment with a newborn now in the house, it's wise to give your body time and rest to ensure it heals well. "While it may sound trivial, a C-section is not a trivial procedure," Dr. Weinstein says. "It involves cutting through skin and an extensive amount of muscle in order to access the placenta and ultimately the baby, and there are vital organs that get disrupted or even present as risk factors during the procedure, so rest is very important to allow things to settle back into place."

Taking care of the area early on can also give your scar the best chance to heal in an aesthetically pleasing manner. "Tension on a scar can potentially lead to widening, discoloration, and even thickening, which may look like a hypertrophic scar (a thick, raised scar) or keloid (a lumpy, ridged scar that can be larger than the original incision)," Dr. Weinstein explains. "So, on the surface of the skin, the less tension you place on the scar, the better chance it has to heal nicely so that over time, it's barely visible."

What Treatments Are Available to Treat C-Section Scars?

It's crucial that anyone with a C-section scar rest as long as your doctor advises, keep the area clean, covered, and moist for the first few weeks, and avoid direct sun exposure. But if you're not satisfied with the way your scar looks after this period or you're hoping to get ahead of things and keep the scar as minimal, flat, and light as possible, you have some options.

What Products and Ingredients are Proven to Help C-Section Scars?

Whether or not you should use any products on your C-section scar is largely dependent on the type of closure material used and what your doctor recommends, as it's sometimes best to keep the area completely clean and dry. Once you do get your surgeon's okay, however, it may be helpful to use certain hydrating agents.

"Using a moisturizing ointment like Aquaphor Healing Ointment can be helpful, as it’s formulated with ProVitamin B5 and glycerin to moisturize, nourish, and protect the skin to enhance healing," Dr. Fahs says.

Once your stitches are removed or dissolve, you can transition to a silicone scar dressing, like Biocorneum or ScarAway, and use it two to three times a day to improve the overall appearance of the scar.

What In-Office Treatments Can Treat C-Section Scars?

If you are unhappy with the appearance of your scar after it's fully healed, there are a number of in-office treatments you can consider. "If the scar becomes hypertrophic or keloidal, then monthly injections with a cocktail of steroids can help to flatten the scar and improve the appearance and/or symptoms," Dr. Weinstein advises. "And if it is very red, which is indicative of blood vessel growth surrounding the scar, it can be treated with vascular lasers to reduce the cutaneous vessels."

For those looking to reduce the appearance of the scar altogether, you can opt for scar remodeling procedures, like microneedling or fractionated and ablative lasers that make tiny holes in the skin's tissue and stimulate collagen formation.

Microneedling is a minimally invasive treatment done by a healthcare professional that uses small needles to gently prick the skin. It encourages collagen production, which will help replace the scar with new skin. While this procedure is offered by many estheticians and medspas, it's best to do it with your board-certified dermatologist, who can help determine how many sessions you may need.

A fractionated or ablative laser achieves the same effect by delivering microbeams of energy to the lower layers of skin. These treatments are performed by a board-certified dermatologist or plastic surgeon and typically require three to five sessions spaced a few weeks apart. It can come with side effects, such as swelling and redness for about a week.

Lastly—and most extreme—is scar revision surgery, which takes place under sedation or local anesthesia and opens up the scar (but not the muscle underneath it) and re-closes it. This procedure is performed by a plastic surgeon and includes about two weeks of initial recovery time and about 12 weeks to see full results.

A Word From Verywell

Scarring from a C-section is common and should be expected, but there are measures you can take if you are looking to ensure the best healing—both medically and cosmetically. Before applying any products or undergoing any treatments on the area, though, be sure to consult your dermatologist and obstetrician.

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