When to Call Your Doctor After a Cesarean Section

However small, there is always the risk of complications following birth. Some may be related to pre-existing conditions, while others occur at the time of delivery.

Women who have undergone a cesarean section are faced with additional risks associated with the surgical procedure. Despite the fact that cesareans are considered relatively safe, it is still important to recognize the warning signs should the unexpected occur.

Here are five red flags you should know if you have undergone or are scheduled to have a cesarean section.

Serious cesarean complications
Illustration by Brianna Gilmartin, Verywell

High or Persistent Fever

While it is not unusual to run a slight fever following a cesarean, you should contact your doctor immediately if you either have a temperature over 100 degrees Fahrenheit or a low-grade fever that lasts for more than 24 hours. A high or persistent fever is often the first sign of an infection (most commonly a bacterial infection at the incision site).

Certain women may be at higher risk of infection than others. These include women who are obese, have diabetes, or take long-term steroid medications. Prolonged labor and/or excessive blood loss during the delivery can also contribute to the infection risk.

Abnormal Wound Drainage

While a cesarean section is a relatively common surgery, it is anything but minor. While some drainage at the incision site can be expected, any excessive or discolored discharge should be reported to your doctor immediately.

Wound infections often don’t appear until well after your return home. When infection sets in, the incision will typically be red, swollen, and tender to the touch. Pus-filled abscesses can quickly form around the wound site and lead to the spread of infection to the uterus, ovaries, and nearby tissue and organs.

Internal Pain After C-Section

Pain and surgery go hand in hand but can usually be treated with the appropriate painkiller. However, if the pain is severe, fails to improve, or worsens when you return home, you may need to call your healthcare provider. Keep in mind that severe pain is never considered normal. This not only includes abdominal or pelvic pain but postpartum cramps that fail to get better after the third or fourth day.

Even if there are no other signs of illness, severe, persistent pain can often be a sign of an internal infection or complication that requires urgent attention.

Typically speaking, you will spend around three days in the hospital following a cesarean, during which time there may be some pain at the wound site and buildup of gas in the abdomen. These are normal. Equally normal is the fact that pain can sometimes linger for months, albeit it at relatively manageable levels.

Breathing Difficulty

After surgery, it is not uncommon to feel a little discomfort when inhaling or exhaling. However, breathing problems that persist or worsen is never a good thing. This sort of problem can sometimes occur in women who had been given general anesthesia as part of the cesarean procedure. Anesthesia is known to hamper normal breathing and can often lead to the buildup of mucus in the lungs.

Occasionally, this can lead to a condition known as atelectasis in which part of the lung collapses or stops inflating. When this occurs, you may develop shortness of breath, rapid breathing and heart rate, and a blue-ish tinge to your skin and lips due to decreased oxygen intake.

While atelectasis is most common after surgery, it has been known to develop well after a person has returned home from the hospital.

Excessive Vaginal Bleeding

Bleeding is as common after a cesarean section as it is following vaginal birth. This is due to the normal shedding of the placenta following delivery. In most cases, the bleeding will gradually taper off and subside.

If vaginal bleeding continues or worsens, it may be the sign of a medical emergency. Heavy bleeding can often result when the placenta grows deeper into the uterine wall than normal and may sometimes require surgery to help stave the bleeding.

Call 911 or go to your nearest emergency room if you experience any of the following:

  • Bleeding that soaks through a pad in 15 minutes.
  • Bleeding that soaks through more than one pad per hour for two consecutive hours.

Alternately, if there is no bleeding at all, it may be also be a cause of concern, particularly if you are experiencing pain and fever. The same goes if you have blood in your urine. It’s best to have these checked out even if you’re not entirely sure what you’re experiencing.

9 Sources
Verywell Family uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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Additional Reading

By Robin Elise Weiss, PhD, MPH
Robin Elise Weiss, PhD, MPH is a professor, author, childbirth and postpartum educator, certified doula, and lactation counselor.