Recovery from Caesarean Section- Physical and Psychological: Top Tips from a Midwife Mum
by Mia Leslous, RM, HPCE, BA, Victoria, Australia
Birth by caesarean section is not for the faint hearted. It is not the “easy choice” by any means. Some women elect for a caesarean for personal reasons, which may be many and varied, while some women have the choice made for them, whether they like it or not. For example, they may have discovered that their placenta has quite inconveniently made itself comfy growing right over the cervix. It is quite literally blocking baby’s exit route. Vaginal birth under these circumstances would be catastrophic, and quite possibly fatal for mother and baby.
Some caesarean births happen in labour. These are classified as emergency caesareans, and categorised according to the urgency required, from category 1, the most urgent, where mum needs to be given a general anaesthetic and babe needs to be delivered within 5 minutes, all the way down to category 4, where there is no great rush but attempts at vaginal birth have been abandoned.
Again, the reasons may be many and varied. I will say though, it is very important to know and understand how and why your birth took this turn, if it did. For your mental health, please, seek out a debrief with your care providers if you find yourself in this category.
As a midwife, I have cared for all of these women and their beautiful babes. As a friend, too, I have witnessed the aftermath of both emergency and elective caesarean section births. I’ll say it again: Birth by caesarean section is not for the faint hearted. It is major abdominal surgery, extremely invasive, and often involves significant blood loss. Recovery can be very hard, especially when it has happened in an emergency setting.
Women have many considerations to deal with all at once, physical and emotional: post-operative pain and recovery, constipation from all the (necessary) pain medication, establishing breastfeeding (natural and normal, but a learned skill for mum and bub nonetheless), the enormous hormonal shifts that occur in the postpartum period, and just generally, the universally significant challenges of caring for a newborn, whether it be your first or fifth!
So what can make it easier for women recovering from caesarean section in the first few days? Here are my top 5 tips:
- Give yourself a break. Us women are so good at getting down on ourselves, assuming all responsibility for every struggle that befalls us. Don’t do that. You’ve given birth, AND you’re recovering from a major surgery. Be gentle on yourself.
- Keep a journal- electronic or old school pen and paper. You might find your mind racing with questions and ruminations around your birth, and what lies ahead. Write it down straight away. Otherwise, you will forget until 3am in a panic, 5 days post discharge. Don’t google. Ask the doctors when it’s fresh. Ask the midwives. Get a debrief. Seek clarification. Seek peace.
- You will feel pain, but it should be manageable. It shouldn’t be so severe that it prevents you sleeping (when you can!) or moving around to do the basics: taking yourself to the toilet, having a shower, changing your babe’s nappy, feeding your baby. Keep on top of that pain, take the meds you need, and promote healthy bowel movement with aperients, fruit, veg, pear juice, dates (whatever you enjoy) lots of fluids, and gentle mobilisation.
- Unless you thrive on social stimulation and interaction, please, consider minimising your visitors. Hospital space is small and impersonal. A curtain does not afford you privacy. You need rest. You need quiet time. You need to decide what your boundaries are and set them clearly. If you have a partner or support person, get them to do it for you if you feel uncomfortable. You and your baby are the number one priority right now. There is plenty of time to welcome visitors once you’re home.
- Accept any and all offers of help. With gratitude, and without apology. Ask for what you need. People want to help. People want to be involved. When they ask you how they can help, don’t automatically brush it off. Remind yourself you are recovering from pregnancy, birth, and surgery. You are adapting to a new way of life. This is big. You would want to help someone you love going through that, in a way that was meaningful to them. So show yourself that same compassion and kindness. For example, If you’re like me, and would happily forgo all cooking and eating if only we could live without it, consider asking for a meal or two. Maybe some help with the house? Or someone to spend time with your older children and help them feel special and tended to when you can’t do as much as you’d like. Perhaps you just need someone to be there and hold your baby while you shower, go out for a massage, or simply close your eyes and sleep knowing you can completely switch off.
Whatever it is, ask and receive with thanks, because whatever it is mama, you deserve it.
Disclaimer: All advice is general advice only and may not be suitable for your personal circumstances. Please talk to your main care provider for personalised recommendations
Mia is a midwife and mum who has lived and worked in Australia, the United Kingdom, and France. She currently calls Brisbane home. Mia is passionate about empowering women to have their best birth experience possible.