My No BS Guide to Having and Recovering from a C-Section

Since having a C-Section 17 months ago, I have had several friends ask me to guide them through what to expect with theirs. I realize that I wish I had know some of these things before going into my C-Section and so I have decided to share.

This is my absolutely no-bullshit guide to having and recovering from a C-Section. Now, mine was planned so the recovery from an emergent C-Section could be different. In fact the truth is each woman’s recovery will be slightly different. I wish I had someone tell me the truth about what to expect- I think it would have prepared me and made my experience a lot less scary and unknown at the time. Here it goes mamas!

Part One: The C-Section, before and after

  1. Belly bandit- wear it as soon as you feel you can. It’s the one single thing I can now swear by about healing and recovering from a C-section. Wear it as much as you can. I didn’t sleep in mine but otherwise I wore it as much as humanly possible!!! It shrunk my uterus down in 1 month to almost it’s normal state and supported my incision area and also my back. It just really holds everything in that otherwise after a C-Section can hurt as you’re tummy is all wobbly and wonky for a while.  This is the one I used. I started with size small and then eventually had to buy the XS because I shrunk so fast but still needed and wanted the support. I saved both as I plan to use them again if/when we get pregnant a second time.
  2. THIS:  Use these strips on your incision as soon as you’re allowed to. They are the most amazing things EVER! I wore them 24/7 (you can wash them when you shower- that’s the only time I wasn’t wearing them)….my scar looks SO good because of these PLUS they protect your scar from underwear, clothes, etc. which can feel pretty icky against it for a while (up to 2 months maybe more).
  3. Compression big panties: I wore these every single day and night and I wore them under the belly bandit. They also help with the swelling and really do help hold things in…They aren’t sexy but none of this is sexy (plus you can’t have sex anyway so just do all you can to get your body put back together and try not to care about what you or your big ass panties look like)! 
  4. Pooping: DO AN ENEMA BEFORE YOU LEAVE THE HOSPITAL! If they’ll allow you trust me this is the way to go. Have a nurse give you an enema in the hospital you will be so relieved. Take stool softeners so that you don’t get constipated with the pain meds post C-section. I had to do an enema the first poop after surgery, 3 days later…And on that- that first poop….hang on to your heart: it feels like you are ripping yourself open but you ARE NOT…just remember me telling you this- you are OK…you are not ripping yourself open and are totally okay. You have to poop and once you do it’ll only get easier to do it again. I ended up doing a few enemas post surgery until I was able to go on my own. It won’t hurt you and is the easiest way to get it done. Any pushing hurts deep inside as you’ve been sliced open and are healing.
  5. SLEEP! In order to heal fast, you have to sleep. Sleep as much as you can and let the people around you help you. The worst you can do is over-due it. You will set yourself back  not heal yourself. Tell your husband/partner this: he/she needs to be in charge of stepping up and not letting you over-due. After about 1 week the pain reduces a lot and after the 2nd week so much more  but you have to be careful not to over-due it even though you feel better because for about 6 weeks total you’re still healing and things are still fusing back together. It’s easy to push it but you have to really be on yourself not to. This is extremely tough for those of us who take care of everything and everyone but ourselves so try to use this as practice for asking for help from your support team. Remember- they WANT to help you but you may need to be specific about the kind of help you need and when you need it.
  6. Big pads- you will bleed for weeks. I wore a long heavy over-night pad 24/7. Finally switched to a regular pad at week 5 post partum. Don’t think you can just hang out after taking a shower for 15 mins- you can’t- you’ll bleed. Pad it up!
  7. Make sure to eat high protein as it helps you heal fast.
  8. You may come home swollen from the fluids they pump into you but not to fear- it will go away (you’ll pee it out) with in about 1.5-2.5 weeks or so. I think drinking lots of water/coconut water helps flush and drain it out. You need lots of water anyway to support nursing. It can be scary to see yourself looking so puffy after you get home from the hospital but I promise the swelling goes away and you’ll be able to see what you really look like post baby in about 1.5-3 weeks.
  9. NIGHT TIME HELP: This is KEY! If you can get a night time nurse or Doula (we had a Doula and it saved us) do it! If you can do it for 2 weeks at minimum but ideally would be 1 month. I can’t stress enough how much this helps. It allows you to sleep a little with out worry. Someone skilled and trained is up with your baby or up watching your sleeping baby. They will come get you out of bed to nurse when you are needed (usually every 2-3 hours in the beginning). If you do not sleep, you will not heal and also your milk supply will suffer. You have to sleep. So someone you can rest easy with should be with you at night. This isn’t your mom and it’s not your husband. This really is someone much more skilled to actually do just this. If that person is with your baby trust me you WILL sleep and you will be a better new mommy for it. The reason it’s not your mom or partner is because you still need those people’s support during the day while you heal. You can’t lift anything for a while and barely that sweet new baby so try to set this up BEFORE you have your baby (if you know you’re having a C-Section). If this isn’t an option for you financially or perhaps because you don’t live near family then you need to set a very real schedule with your partner for them to support you in being able to sleep (and then stick to it).
  10. Pain: people do NOT talk about how painful it is to recover from a C-section. I will be honest it’s SO painful. So just know this and it’ll help you not worry that something is wrong. Also, the healing itself can feel very weird. The area of the incision ends up this weird combo of numb and painful to touch. It changes and you may feel some weird tinges of pain (healing pains) on and off. Don’t let them scare you- just expect them. The body is amazing…almost 5 months postpartum my scar wasn’t even close to as wide or scary as it was at even month 2 or 3 and my tummy was back to normal. When you’re freaking about stuff- just don’t. Know that you’ll get back to feeling like yourself and instead focus all your energy on loving your baby because that will take your mind off anything uncomfortable that’s going on (and make it all worth it).

Part Two: Your tummy, your healing

  1.  Tummy Time: One of the hardest things post C-Section is getting the tummy muscles to fuse back into place and start working the way they used to. This is just a game of patience but there are things you can do to help. The Belly Bandit as mentioned above is a must. On top of this I suggest trying to do all things you do being mindful of your core. After you have a baby and while you’re in recovery there’s not much time for working out (plus you aren’t allowed to do much but take walks for a while). So use the walks and even lifting the baby or doing the dishes or laundry as your work outs. Tighten and use your core muscles (which may feel very weird for a while) as your power zone. Do all movements from this power zone (not your butt or your legs). Soon you will just use your core as a habit and you won’t have to think about it all the time. Most important take walks and as you feel better and better take longer, faster walks using your core as the movement force and power zone. The weight will start to fall off. Oh and wear your belly wrap on your walk and as much as you can! Eventually you can start to get back into your normal work outs. I recommend pilates with a trained instructor for good post C-Section healing. Make sure to always tell the instructor you just had a C-Section!
  2. What you eat: In my experience the MOST important component to healing and getting your body to slim down after a baby is what you eat. In the beginning you have to make food choices to support your nursing (if you choose to do this). That means you must eat. This is one of the hardest things to do with a newborn and a C-Section recovery. It might sound nuts but it’s true. First of all, stuff happens like you could have a baby who can’t latch (like we did) and then you end up pumping 8-12x a day. Between the pain of getting in and out of bed or walking around post C-Section and then need to pump then feed the baby I swear I barely had a moment to do one more thing. This is where HELP comes in. My mom was in town to help support us after the baby came and ended up staying longer once we had some postpartum feeding issues and difficulty. She would actually feed me while I was pumping AND also trying to breast feed. If she wasn’t there spoon feeding ME I swear I wouldn’t have been able to eat much in those first couple weeks. If you’re partner is around then they can be this person (my husband wasn’t able to take time off right after the baby was born and had a crazy schedule in fellowship and being on call at the time).
  3. More on what to eat:
    1. High protein (note: eggs are the best fast food while nursing and healing), probiotic yogurt is also really good for you but use full fat if nursing.
    2. Lots of easy greens (kale, spinach, asparagus)
    3. Good fats: Avocado, coconut Milk, coconut oil, olive oil
    4. Fiber: You may be having post C-Section “issues” as I call them and will need extra fiber to help support you. Try lentils, hummus, dates, figs, prunes, apples, pears mixed into your diet to assist your needs.
    5. Good healthy carbs: Try quinoa, brown rice, chickpea flour based pasta, sweet potato or yams but try not to overdo it on the carbs.
    6. Nursing support: Try to eat your carbs in the morning in the form of oatmeal or gluten-free oatmeal. This will help your milk supply but also give you fiber and carbs for the day (add dates, figs, pears, apples here for more fiber support).
    7. Water water water! Drink water all day. If you’re not a water person then add cucumber, lemon, berries, orange slices, etc. to water in a container in the fridge and let it marinate. It’ll be tastier and also add some good things to your diet at the same time.
    8. What you eat after nursing and in order to get your body back to a good space:
      1. Greens! Greens and veggies oh my! Okay so the skinny is this: eat as many greens and veggies as you want! That’s right- you get a free pass on this one. You can fill up on greens and veggies at each meal!
      2. Small amounts of protein you don’t need as much as you think! If you make a fist the amount a protein you actually need per meal is in fact probably 1/2 of that size. So, if you’re doing a lean meat or fish try to portion it out with that in mind. If you’re having a vegetarian meal then the protein may be in the form of lentils or beans of some sort (I do this more than anything else protein wise). I say 1/2 a cup of beans is the portion size per meal depending on the size of the bean…then it may end up being 1 cup.
      3. Eat whole unprocessed foods. Instead of the low or non-fat item (which is filled with carbs and sugar and “filler” opt for something real and whole (and then eat slightly less of it). For example…choose whole organic yogurt, choose a drizzle of olive oil and a dash of sea salt on your salad instead of “fat-free dressing.” Your body will process these things so much better and you will actually be thinner for making these choices.
      4. Cook your own food. If you make your own food then you can control what’s in it. Going out or ordering in here and there is fine but if you can, try to control what REALLY goes into your mouth. I find it helps to make dishes once or twice a week that you can keep in your fridge and grab as needed such as: hummus and organic veggies to dip into it or grab and snack on, Israeli salad (or salads in general), salmon or lean meats to have and grab.
      5. Do not starve yourself. The worst thing you can do when trying to shed baby weight (or any weight) is to starve yourself. You MUST eat. Just eat less and make healthy choices.
      6. Splurging is okay. It’s important to be kind and moderate when on the long road to loosing your baby weight. The reality is you’re going to have days where you want to splurge or you’re out and you want to eat something you have been craving for ages. Eat it. Enjoy it then let it go. Start the next day back on track and don’t sweat it. The reality is that even one splurge meal or even one day a week will not derail your weight loss if you are making healthy choices (most of the time).
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Getting Your Body Ready

smooches from the elliptical getting ready for baby!

smooches from the elliptical getting ready for baby!

Getting your body ready is crucial and goes a little bit beyond the obvious ones you’ve probably heard about like; cut down on alcohol, cut down on caffeine, put down the crack pipe (okay no but seriously if you are doing anything harmful to your body stop it right now), don’t use artificial sweeteners, etc. For example, (page out of my own book here) have you had your wisdom teeth out? What’s the status of your dental health? Stop drop and make an appointment to get your teeth and gums checked out. Pregnancy lasts for a while and you do not want to need any dental work during that time so get it done now! I had to have my wisdom teeth removed which requires taking lot’s of drugs so I booked my surgery well before TTC so that I would have time to heal and the yucky drugs would be out of my system.  It’s not just the dentist you need to see but your gynecologist as well. I suggest getting a check up and blood work to check and make sure mom to be is in perfect health before TTC. If there are any issues you want time to try to address them before you TTC. Going to your gynecologist is crucial. You should have a pap smear and make sure you get a clean bill of health “down there” before you press go.

The next part of getting your body ready is to look at your eating habits, your weight and your fitness level. There’s something very important to address before we get into this part. That is, every woman is different and should only compare themselves to themselves. Don’t compare yourself to your best friend, that celebrity you’re sort of obsessed with or even your mom or me. You are unique and your journey is your own. Your body is one of a kind and you know it better than anyone else. You know how it handles foods and what exercises it prefers. So that said, it’s time to check in with you. Are you at a healthy weight? Do you eat a balanced and healthy diet? Do you drink mostly water or do you drink sodas? Do you try to eat an organic diet? Do you eat a lot of fruits and vegetables? And the big one…do you exercise and how often? What kind of cardiovascular shape are you in? I’m not going to tell you exactly how you should eat or work out or what you should weigh, only that you do need to do some self-evaluation about all of these things before TTC. If some changes need to be made then give yourself TIME to make the changes before you go for it.

What I chose to do:

I mentioned I got my wisdom teeth pulled and saw the dentist, the gynecologist and got a full blood work panel done including a full Thyroid check because I have a Thyroid issue.

Note on Thyroid: If you are like me and have a thyroid issue make SURE to get your levels checked before you TTC and do not TTC until you get your numbers in a good range. When you are TTC you run the risk of not being able to get pregnant or if you do get pregnant, not being able to keep the pregnancy going if you are Hyper or Hypo Thyroid. Once you are pregnant, the OB will monitor your Thyroid levels very carefully as they can shift a lot due to the surge of hormones. It is possible that your Thyroid medication may need to be tweaked here or there during pregnancy for the safety of the baby.
Once I did my self-evaluation of health, I started to sloooooowly making some changes. Slow is key ladies; if you ease into changes, they won’t be such a big deal. For example, I love coffee. My body seems to feel like it “needs” coffee to get going in the morning. So, I took this one slow. I cut down from 3 to 2 cups then 2 to 1 cup over the period of about 4 months. My body never went into shock and it didn’t feel like I was depriving it of something it loves.

As far as eating goes, I’m an extremely healthy, organic, balanced eater and cook as is. I have always loved eating healthy and constantly finding new and fun ways to cook and enjoy healthy food. I eat a ton of fruit and veggies (lot’s of good greens on that list) and choose to drink water (sometimes with lemon) all day long vs. anything else. (Although I did like iced tea and that had to go along with my coffee). On this front I just chose to continue eating as I do but one major change I made was to allow myself to cheat a little more and not stress about it. Now you might be thinking…Sarah, seriously? That’s your big food change? I know it sounds silly and even annoying, but the truth is; in preparing to be pregnant you need to start to re-wire your brain. When you are pregnant you will not be trying to stay slim or loose weight or be obsessing over eating perfectly to stay at a certain weight or in those favorite skinny jeans of yours. Nope that whole neurotic mess we put ourselves through daily (come on we all do it) will need to go out the window for 9-10 months plus however long you choose to breastfeed (if you choose to). So…yep! I decided to chill the f-out on myself and if I felt like some ice cream or popcorn or indulging in a piece of bread dipped in olive oil before dinner, I would! Other than that…chef Sarah kept it about the same.

My fitness level was in pretty good standing but I made a deal with myself when we moved to Seattle in July (and I started on this process). The deal was that I was going to work hard to get my body as strong as I could (with in reason, ladies you can’t get pregnant with zero body fat) to hopefully house a growing human the best I could! Important areas I chose to try to work on were back and core strength (to carry all that extra weight around in front of me one day I was going to need it)! So I signed up at this amazing Pilates studio I discovered (LAB5 Fitness) on Broadway in Seattle owned by this sweet couple). The studio is a few blocks walking from my apt and they have amazing reformer classes with awesome instructors. Also, my hubby and I invested in our family health by purchasing an elliptical machine for our home. This way no matter what the weather is outside or what time it is (not limited by a gym) we could get our cardio in. So, I decided to get my tush moving and in just a couple of months I was shocked at the transformation. My body was more “ripped” than it’d been in years plus I was in a great place with my stamina on my cardio (this is VERY important while pregnant).

Like with all new habits sometimes we get a little extreme. I will note that my husband did pull me aside one day and ask me to chill out my working out just a bit because he was concerned I was over-doing it and we wouldn’t be able to conceive because of it. (He’s a physician and was speaking from a knowledgeable place and also a loving one). I listened and I chilled out a bit, which didn’t even show on my body at all, but I knew he was right. It’s not about killing yourself it’s about preparing your body for something truly special.

Folic Acid/Prenatal Vitamins:

Taking Folic Acid is one of the most important things you can do before TTC. Ideally you’ll give yourself about 3 month on it before you TTC. You can also start taking prenatal vitamins (which should contain folic acid) if you want to but you don’t have to. Just so long as you get your folic acid in.

The skinny on Folic Acid is this:  (Note: Check with your doctor before taking anything, always).
Folic acid is a pregnancy superhero! Taking a prenatal vitamin with the recommended 800 (mcg) of folic acid before and during pregnancy can help prevent birth defects of your baby’s brain and spinal cord. Folic acid, which is also called folate, is a B vitamin. Folic acid plays an important role in the production of red blood cells and helps your baby’s neural tube develop into his/her brain and spinal cord. Birth defects occur within the first 3-4 weeks of pregnancy. So it’s important to have folic acid in your system during those early stages when your baby’s brain and spinal cord are developing.