According to the CDC, almost 31% of births are cesarean sections (woah), which are commonly done to deliver twins or if a baby is in the (feet down) breech position. Although this is a major surgery, we rarely hear much about planning ahead for c-section recovery. Actually, we don’t hear much about being prepared for the postpartum period at all, in my opinion. Red flag!
So I teamed up with Krystle Howald PT, DPT, to chat all things c-sections. Krystle is 1/2 of the equation over at Expecting and Empowered, a legendary sister duo using the unique combination of physical therapy plus personal training to provide safe pregnancy and postpartum workout guides.
They’re famous for sharing all kinds of helpful information for pregnant and postpartum women on their massively successful Instagram account. In fact, even my physical therapist told me to follow them for some great tips. So yeah, I’m kind of fan girl-ing over here. Ok?
Why give all their expert knowledge away for free, you ask?
In Krystle’s words, “Women aren’t given enough information to make informed decisions about childbirth or recovery. When we give birth, we’re just slapped in the face (LOL!) with all these hurdles to jump over. We want to give women a starting block, so they know what is about to hit them. And so we can make that transition smoother.
People are left to pick up the pieces even though it doesn’t have to be like that. If they just knew ahead of time what to expect, how to support themselves during pregnancy, and how to recover postpartum, their outcomes would be so much better. Our health system is backwards that way, where we wait to treat injuries and diseases instead of focusing on that that preventative piece.”
She said in her PT practice, she sees a lot of women who had kids 20-30 years ago and are only now getting around to treating their childbirth-related injuries. While it’s great to see all these women finally getting the help they need, it’s even easier to help women when they jump on treatment right away.
And since Krystle has had all 3 of her kiddos via c-section, you’d be guessing correctly that she’s pretty passionate about helping educate other women on what expect with their recovery as well. She says, “It takes three months for the nerves around the surgical site to heal and six months for the incision to heal. The biggest mistakes I see c-section mamas make is not giving their body the time to heal properly, which can have major implications on their long-term recovery. It can affect fertility, bowel and bladder habits, and musculoskeletal function like improper running posture. It can also create poor habits that cause low back pain, pelvic and hip pain, and more.”
Who knew? Not me, obviously.
Whether your c-section surgery is scheduled or ends up being a game time decision, here are 9 tips for c-section recovery guaranteed to help you heal faster.
1. Know that you are undergoing serious surgery, so you will need to rest and recover. Take the time to slow down and care for yourself. This can be hard, especially if you have a toddler at home. So you’ll have to find the balance between listening to your limitations, and continuing to move. It’s a good idea to get help in place as soon as possible, whether that be family or friends. If your c-section is scheduled, line things up ahead of time, so it’s one less thing to worry about later.
2. During the surgery, peripheral nerves in your skin are damaged. So scar mobilization helps desensitize and relieve discomfort in the area. It also helps the nerves regenerate. Krystle recommends creating a kit with different textures of fabric from a soft cloth to sand paper to rub around and on your scar starting while you’re in the hospital. For the first four weeks you go around the scar, then you can start to go over it.
3. Get your scar moving. Starting 3-4 weeks post c-section, move your fingers around your belly with small circles. Stay away from the ends of the scar at first. After 8-10 weeks, go over the scar with your fingers. Move your fingers away from each other while pulling the skin. It’s normal for it to be traumatic to touch your scar. This can bring up all kinds of feelings including the disconnect between how you planned for your birth experience to go versus how it went.
4. Be mindful about how you move your body for daily tasks so you can avoid unnecessary pain. Times to be especially aware of your positioning and movement are when getting in and out of bed, getting up from a chair, and getting out of a car.
5. Use ice and compression or compression garments to hold everything in so the swelling doesn’t get so bad. The ladies at Expecting and Empowered love these postpartum recovery leggings.
6. Walk every day if possible, to get the blood flowing and renew your cells.
7. Avoid lifting anything heavier than your baby and driving for at least four weeks. Again, this is where having help lined up ahead of time for things like running errands comes in handy.
8. Related to your overall postpartum recovery: Remember, women who have c-sections can also have pelvic floor issues, including loss of bladder control. Because for 9 months as your baby grows, additional pressure is being put on these muscles. So definitely have any pain or discomfort assessed by a Physical Therapist.
9. The bottom line? Don’t overload your system. If you feel soreness on your scar, it’s a good time to slow down. If you’re really sore the next day, it’s an indicator that you overdid it and need to slow down.
Wondering what else you need to know?
Remember, if you have a scheduled c-section, you have the extreme advantage of being able to prepare your home ahead of time to be more recovery friendly. Krystle recommends you do some meal prepping and set up a baby feeding & changing station with everything you need in one spot, in whatever room you’ll be most comfortable in. You can also put baby things and personal necessities in baskets on top of a table because bending down and reaching up high will probably be painful.
Krystle had one last note for us.
“Don’t try to rush back to getting your pre-baby body back. There is no such thing! Your body will never be exactly the same as it was and that is ok. Focus less on the numbers on the scale and how you look. Focus instead on healthy habits and how you feel.
Eating well and exercising (10-20 minutes a day) for your wellbeing is so much more important. Change your thoughts and habits about your postpartum body.” She also told me they never share before and after pictures on their Instagram because it’s so detrimental to women’s mental health to compare themselves to others.
That advice is easier said than done but I TOTALLY AGREE. There’s no better time than now to start being kinder to ourselves as women.
You can find so much more helpful information on c-section recovery and a million other prenatal and postpartum topics on the Expecting and Empowered blog. And exclusively for What About Mamas readers, Krystle and her partner are offering $10 off any pregnancy or postpartum workout guide when you use my special code: WAM10. My son is 7 months old, and I’m still using the postpartum guide which I love, love, love.
I hope that prepares you for a healthy and speedy c-section recovery, mama. Let me know in the comments below if you have any other tips to share.
And feel free to check out my little self care gift shop if you want to treat yourself (or pamper a friend) with something special today while supporting mama-owned businesses!
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