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How to help your C-section recovery

When you’re adjusting to life with a baby and juggling milk and nappies, it can be easy to forget you had major surgery if you had a caesarean section. Recovering from any birth can be difficult, but healing after a C-section comes with unique challenges. So what can you do to help the healing process?

Around one in four women in the UK give birth via

caesarean section

, an operation to deliver a baby through a cut made in the tummy (abdomen) and womb


. It may be a planned procedure or done in an emergency if a vaginal birth is too risky for the woman or baby.

Alanna Linkhorn, a midwife for the pregnancy charity


, says it usually takes around six weeks to fully recover from a


but this will depend on the individual.

“Some people may need more time to heal, especially if they experienced complications during the operation,” she says. “It’s really important that you speak to your GP if you feel that, at six weeks, recovery is going slowly or you’re still in pain.”

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Take it slow

Moving around after a C-section may feel daunting, but it’s important as it can help prevent

blood clots

and aid recovery.

Val Willcox, practice manager at the

National Childbirth Trust

, recommends asking a member of staff or your partner to be on hand the first few times, just in case you feel light-headed. “Some women find it helps to roll over to their side and slide their legs off the bed before sitting up,” says Willcox.

You should have your postnatal check-up with your GP six to eight weeks after your baby's birth to make sure you feel well and are recovering properly. “Gentle


such as


can help with recovery, but it’s best to avoid anything more strenuous until you have had your postnatal check-up, have no pain and you feel ready,” says Linkhorn.

“After your check-up, if you no longer feel any pain, it’s usually safe to start low-impact exercises, such as




or low-resistance gym work,” Linkhorn adds. “However, your GP will likely recommend you wait for at least 12 weeks before starting any high-impact exercises such as running.”

It’s normal for a scar to look healed externally, but it’s important to remember that the wound may not be fully healed underneath. Linkhorn says the outside skin layer of your wound often heals within the first week post-birth.

“However, the internal healing of muscle and other skin layers is ongoing for many weeks and so it is easy to forget this and start to overdo things,” she says. “Be kind to yourself and listen to your body when it needs to rest and heal.”

Get help at home

Having a queue of visitors wanting to see your baby when you get home can be overwhelming and stressful. However, having some help at home from a relative or friend can be really handy.

“It is advisable to have help at home for at least the first two weeks post-surgery if possible,” says Linkhorn. “We recommend avoiding lifting anything heavier than your


, or doing heavy housework including vacuuming, for at least six weeks.”

However, it's not always easy to ask for or accept help and not everyone has friends and family nearby. “Your health visitor or local children's centre should be able to help suggest sources of support,” says Willcox. “If you have any questions or concerns about feeding your baby, you can contact

NCT’s Support Line


Most people are fit to drive six weeks after a


. “If you feel that you are fit to drive before six weeks, you should make your insurance company is aware,” she adds.

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Get in and out of bed with care

Sitting up, or getting in and out of bed might be painful. You may also risk bursting your stitches. It can help to try rolling onto your side with your knees bent first, then dropping your legs over the side of the bed.

Be aware of infection symptoms

If you have any signs of infection, contact your midwife or GP immediately. Signs include having a

high temperature

, stomach pain, experiencing chills or feeling generally unwell. Your wound may also be red, hot, swollen or abnormally painful. If infected, the wound may also leak fluid or bleed.

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Look after your scar

“Once your doctor has confirmed your wound appears healed and you no longer have any scabbing in the area, they may advise you to start massaging your scar,” says Linkhorn. “This can help to break up the


tissue, which helps to promote healing and can help improve the look and feel of the scar.”

Look after your mental health

It also takes time to recover emotionally from


, as well as physically. “Even if all goes smoothly, having a C-section can give you emotions you weren’t prepared for,” says Linkhorn.

An emergency caesarean can be a traumatic experience which can lead to






. Speak to your midwife, health visitor or GP about how you’re feeling and they will be able to support you.

It’s also common to struggle with your

body image

after birth.


and birth bring about changes to your body - and while some people feel positive about it, others feel upset. Talking to other women who have had caesareans can help reassure you you’re not alone, however you feel. You may want to join a mother and baby group or an online support group to find others who have had a C-section.

Have sex when you feel ready

“You can resume

sexual activity

at any point that feels right for you,” says Linkhorn. “Most women tend to wait until their wound feels comfortable and their blood loss has stopped to reduce the chance of infection.

“There is no need to rush and if sex is causing you pain or discomfort following your surgery, it is best to stop. You must use contraception if you do not want to get pregnant again in quick succession as you can conceive at any time after the



Use pain relief

Talk to your midwife or doctor about

pain relief

. Your wound will feel sore and bruised for a few weeks and you’re likely to need pain relief for at least seven to ten days after your C-section.

“Some people worry about passing medications on to their baby through breastfeeding. While small amounts of any medication you take can pass to your baby, it’s unlikely to harm them if you’ve taken the correct dose,” says Linkhorn. However, it is not recommended to take anything codeine or morphine based (including tramadol) as this does cross-over in breast milk and can make the baby sleepy and cause difficulties in breast feeding - at worst it can affect their breathing, cause limpness in the baby and it can cause death.

“It’s important to take your pain relief regularly and on time, even if you don’t have pain at that moment. If you are still having pain even when taking painkillers, speak to your midwife, pharmacist or GP.”

You’ll still have some vaginal bleeding after a C-section, which mainly comes from where the placenta was attached to the womb. This can last for up to six weeks and will decrease with time. It’s best not to use regular sanitary pads, but to use thicker


pads instead and change them each time you go to the toilet. To reduce your risk of infection, avoid using tampons or a cup.

Attend your postnatal appointments

Finally, it’s important to go to your postnatal appointments. “Each hospital trust is different but you can expect a visit from a midwife soon after you return home,” says Willcox.

“You may then be offered appointments at a clinic to have stitches or staples removed, and for check-ups. Seek advice and support from your doctor or health visitor if you have any concerns about your wound or your recovery.”

Further reading

1. Tommy’s: C-sections - Everything you need to know.

Article history

The information on this page is peer reviewed by qualified clinicians.

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