C-Section Recovery Tips

Mother cradling newborn in hospital
Ariel Skelley / Getty Images

Recovering from a cesarean section (c-section) is different from healing after a vaginal birth. Not only did you birth a baby, but you underwent major surgery. Post-c-section recovery takes time, but there are ways to ease the process.

Take Your Medications

Many people stop taking their post-surgery pain medications too early or don't take them on the recommended schedule, which can lead to unnecessary pain. Your doctor may recommend around-the-clock pain management after your c-section, at least for the first several days, so take your pain medications as prescribed and make sure you take them before the pain becomes too bad.

Taking pain medications consistently and on time helps prevent the vicious cycle of "chasing the pain" where you never fully find relief. (If non-narcotic medications don't relieve your pain, talk to your doctor.) Once the first few days have passed, you can slowly alter your pain medication schedule to ease away from painkillers until you're medication-free.

Stool softeners are another important consideration after your c-section. Postpartum constipation is common, but it can be made even worse by a c-section delivery and narcotic pain medication, both of which can slow digestion. Stool softeners are commonly offered in the hospital post-birth and are recommended in the early postpartum recovery period at home.

Soothe Incision Itches

Itching at the incision site is common after surgery. It’s a sign your body is healing. Try your best not to scratch your incision. Ice packs applied to the incision can help reduce unpleasant sensations on and around the incision site, including itching, pain, and swelling. Research has found that ice packs reduce postoperative pain and narcotic use when used after major abdominal surgery. Dermatologists recommend using petroleum jelly on the incision to keep it moist and prevent itching.

Excessive itchiness or itching that gets worse instead of better, on the other hand, could be a sign of infection. If itching is excessive or if you have a fever, difficulty breathing, severe pain, abnormal drainage, or bleeding, contact your doctor.

Limit Stair Climbing

Doing things that require exertion too soon or too fast can lead to injury or slow down recovery. For this reason, it’s best to avoid climbing stairs as much as you can in the initial weeks following your c-section. For most people, avoiding stairs altogether isn’t possible, so if you do need to use stairs, try to limit how frequently you climb them and take them slowly.

If your home has more than one level, it can be helpful to set up a baby-care station on each level. Having everyday supplies like diapers, wipes, burp cloths, clothing, and a bassinet or play yard on each level will limit the number of times you need to walk up and down the stairs. You'll also want to keep items that you’ll need for yourself nearby, such as nursing pads, postpartum pads, medication, and spare clothes. 

Supplies to Have on Hand

  • Soft, stretchy, high-waisted underwear and pants
  • Belly support band
  • Pillows
  • Menstrual pads and nursing pads
  • OTC and prescription medications
  • Squirt (peri) bottle
  • Ice packs

Brace Yourself

Use a pillow to splint your incision when standing for the first few days. Supporting your incision can reduce pain and help you feel more stable. Some people also like to use a belly support band or binder for support.

To brace your incision with a pillow, place the pillow directly over your incision and apply firm pressure. You can use this added support when you cough, laugh, sneeze, or move from a seated to a standing position to help with discomfort. Later, the pillow can be useful to help with positioning your baby for feedings.

Move Carefully

Remember, you've just had a baby and major surgery. It’s important to rest and increase your activity level slowly over the course of the next six to eight weeks. 

Walking soon after surgery is encouraged but hold off on rigorous walks or other exercise until you get the all-clear from your doctor. Until then, don't lift, bend, reach high overhead, have sex, drive, or climb stairs. A good rule of thumb is to avoid picking up anything heavier than your baby. 

Also, remember that even though your baby was born via your abdomen, you will still bleed vaginally. If you do too much too soon, you may notice an increase in the amount of bleeding.

If you have older children, choose your words when talking about your recovery carefully. Try to avoid blaming the baby for your need to rest and inability to pick them up. Instead, blame the incision (you can call it a “cut” or “owie” or whatever term your child will understand). Shifting the blame can help your older child(ren) avoid bad feelings about their new sibling.

Stay Hydrated and Eat Nutritious Foods

After a c-section, it’s important to stay hydrated. Drinking lots of fluids and eating nutritious foods can help your body recover. In addition to helping your body heal, if you are breastfeeding, your body also needs fluids and extra calories to support milk production.

The most current guidelines suggest that you take in between 91 and 125 ounces of water every day. How much water you require depends on several factors, including your metabolism, climate, and activity level. All fluids, including juice, tea, soups, and fruit count toward your total fluid intake. While hydrating is important, there isn't sufficient evidence to indicate that lactating people require more fluids than non-lactating people, so drinking to thirst is still a good approach.

If you are breastfeeding, you will also need to consume extra calories. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommend that lactating parents get 450 to 500 extra calories every day.

Many postpartum parents find that keeping nutritious snacks and a large water bottle handy helps them stay well hydrated and nourished. Keep your water and a basket of fresh fruit, granola bars, nuts, and other snacks near the place where you feed your baby as a reminder to snack and drink often.  

Accept Help

Even if you had time to plan ahead for cesarean recovery, aspects of your recovery might still catch you off guard. Don't be afraid to ask for help and support from your healthcare provider, family, friends, and neighbors.

Sometimes a friendly face and a listening ear can go a long way towards making your recovery better. You should also ensure that you keep up with postpartum check-ups. These are scheduled to help ensure that you are healing well after surgery.

6 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.
  1. Ituk U, Habib AS. Enhanced recovery after cesarean delivery. F1000Res. 2018;7. doi:10.12688/f1000research.13895.1

  2. Watkins A, Johnson T, Shrewsberry A et al. Ice packs reduce postoperative midline incision pain and narcotic use: A randomized controlled trial. J Am Coll Surg. 2014;219(3):511-517. doi:10.1016/j.jamcollsurg.2014.03.057

  3. American Academy of Dermatology Association. Proper wound care: How to minimize a scar.

  4. Cleveland Clinic. How much water do you need daily? Health essentials from Cleveland Clinic.

  5. Nkdiom CM, Fawole B, Ilesanmi RE. Extra fluids for breastfeeding mothers for increasing milk production. Cochrane Database Syst Rev. 2014;(6):CD008758. doi: 10.1002/14651858.CD008758.pub2

  6. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Diet considerations for breastfeeding mothers.

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