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Frequently Asked Questions

What is a c-section?

A c-section (also known as a cesarean section or cesaerean section) is the procedure of delivering a baby via an abdominal incision.

How long will it take to recover?
Well, this is definitely something that depends on the person. Some women are feeling great after a few weeks. Others take two or three months to really get back to feeling ‘normal’. Are you a fast healer?

There are definitely things you can do to help speed up your healing. Get moving as soon as your doctors and nurses at the hospital say it is okay. By ‘moving’, I mean walking very slowly down the hallway at the hospital to peek in the window at the babies in the nursery – then back again to your room. I know it doesn’t sound like much – but just this little bit of moving helps get your body healing faster.

The other thing to do to help yourself heal (and I know this will sound like the opposite of what I just said) is to take it easy. This mostly applies to after you leave the hospital and are confronted with your messy living room, kitchen, newborn baby and possibly other kids who all have missed you and want your attention. Overexerting yourself in the first few weeks can really set you back – so get everyone in your household on board with treating you like a queen for a while. If you are feeling overwhelmed – consider getting a postpartum doula.

Does my c-section affect my maternity leave?

This one depends a lot on where you live and for whom you work.
I am in the United States and when I had my son I worked for a large corporation that was required by the Family and Medical Leave Act (often referred to as FMLA) to provide 12 weeks of unpaid leave. In the case of my company, their benefit plan provided 6 weeks of maternity leave – but that could then be extended to 8 weeks in the case of a c-section or other birthing complications. Because of my very slow recovery, I got a note from my doctor and was ultimately paid for the remaining 4 weeks of my time off by the company’s Short Term Disability plan. Since every company deals with this differently – definitely contact your Human Resources or Maternity Leave contact to find out if your c-section will impact your leave time.
For a list of what the rules are in every country take a look at 
the Parental Leave page on Wikipedia. It includes how many weeks of maternity (or paternity) leave is available and how much must be paid.

What can I do to get my home ready for a mom recovering from a c-section?

The new mom recovering from a c-section is recovering from major abdominal surgery. Stairs are often very challenging if not altogether ‘banned’. Create a space in the main area of your home for the mom to nest. In my house it was our lay-z-boy in the living room. A table should be nearby and sturdy enough to hold a few books, a telephone (whose ringer can be turned off), a big glass of water and a small plate of snacks. Make sure to have a few pillows of different sizes and shapes on hand – especially if she is breastfeeding. Pillows help the mom support her baby without putting pressure on her healing tummy. Do not expect her to cook and clean for the first few weeks. Recruit help from friends and family, but also remember that a mom recovering from a c-section needs peace and quiet. Now is not the time for her to feel like she must entertain. The sort of help you need is someone to deliver pre-cooked meals for you or whisk away your older children and shower them with some attention. If you don’t have anyone on hand to help – consider hiring a postpartum doula. Also see this page for ideas on how to pamper the new mom.

What is a postpartum doula?

You may have heard of doulas related to the idea of someone helping a laboring mom through her delivery. Less well known are ‘postpartum’ doulas who can be hired to come to your home and support the recovering mother. As defined in the wikipedia entry for Doula: “Postpartum doulas are trained to offer families evidence-based information and support on infant feeding, emotional and physical recovery from childbirth, infant soothing and coping skills for new parents. They may also help with light housework, fix a meal and help incorporate the older child into this new experience.” Find more information about how to find a postpartum doula here.

Is my bleeding normal? How do I know if I am bleeding too much?

Even though you did not delivery vaginally, you will still experience some significant vaginal bleeding as part of your recovery. This is called lochia. The question of how much is too much is one which plagues many recovering moms. Most women will bleed heavily for at least the first two weeks of their recovery – but if you experience so much bleeding that you must change your pads every hour or pass a clot larger than a golf ball, then you should contact your doctor immediately.

Can I still breastfeed?

Definitely, though some mom’s have more challenges when they are getting breastfeeding established. If you know you want to breastfeed, make sure you tell everyone near you in the hospital. Tell the nurses. Tell your doctor. Request a lactation consultant as soon as you can. Since you are going to be in the hospital for a few more days than the average mom, take advantage of the resources available to you. See the breastfeeding topic page for websites and books related to breastfeeding.

When can I start exercising?

This will depend on your body. Most doctors tell their recovering c-section mom’s that they can start back at their regular activities after 6 weeks (again, please check with your own doctor). See the topic page for books and DVDs related to exercise.

How soon can I go swimming?

If your lochia (vaginal bleeding) has stopped and your scar is totally closed, you can swim. Swimming is one of the best forms of exercise for those recovering from c-sections because it puts so little stress on your body.

When can I drive a car?

The answer to this one seems to vary a great deal from doctor to doctor. Women have reported everything from 2 weeks to 6 weeks, though usually with an answer somewhere in the middle. This is another issue that depends a lot on your own body and how you are feeling. I would ask myself the following questions before getting into a car to drive again after having had a c-section:
1) Can I get in and out of the car without significant pain?
2) Can I buckle my seat belt over my abdomen without flinching?
3) Do I feel that I can turn my torso comfortably so that I am able to look over my shoulder and in all directions while driving?
As always, if you have questions – please check with your own doctor.

When can I resume sexual intercourse?

The short answer is when you feel ready. Most doctors seem to lean towards 6 weeks. Some women are recovered enough after 2 weeks, others take 3 months before they would even think about it. On the physical side you need to consider how much pain you are experiencing in your abdomen. Is your scar healing well? Are you experiencing any sensation of pulling from your scar?
Another thing to keep in mind is that there is more to this than just your physical recovery. For many women who have just had a child, sex is the last thing on their mind – and their partners need to understand that between sleep deprivation and hormones, a woman’s body is a bit of a war zone for a while after delivering a baby. Each couple must work through this particular issue in relation to the physical and emotional state of the new mother.
Remember that even if you are breastfeeding or your cycle seems not to have returned yet – you can still get pregnant again if you do not use some form of birth control.
As always, if you have questions – please check with your own doctor.

Will I ever get feeling back around my scar?

Probably. It will take time. Everyone experiences some numbness and tingling in their abdomen after the surgery. There may be patches which never regain feeling. Some women report that the skin around their scar feels extra sensitive after the scar completely heals.

Is there physical therapy that can help me heal?

Six or more weeks after your c-section, there is a technique called soft tissue mobilization or scar mobilization which may help you. I speak from personal experience – it helped me a great deal. As my incision healed, I developed fibrous tissue which connected my scar to other parts of my abdomen called adhesions. A manual massage technique was used to literally move my scar and ‘break up’ this tissue from the outside. These techniques can be taught to a mom in a few sessions by a trained physical therapist. Ask your doctor for a referral to a physical therapist if you are healing very slowly or are feeling pulling in your abdomen when you move. I received treatment from in the DC area and highly recommend them. I recently found my way to the website for Clear Passage Therapies which claims to have plans to expand throughout the United States.

How soon is it safe to get pregnant again?

Standard recommended pregnancy spacing (stated by this article to be at least 18 months but less than 60 months) should still apply for how long you wait after your c-section. That said – you should make sure you feel totally back to yourself.. and check with your doctor before you start trying to make sure that they agree.
I tried to find some research on the impact of pregnancy spacing on VBAC attempts – but I haven’t found what I am looking for yet. I will post it here if and when I do.

Will I have to have another c-section if I have another child?

This is a great question – and in the United States there are two major camps right now with very different answers. On one side are proponents of Vaginal Birth After Cesarean (usually abbreviated VBAC and pronounced vee-back). On the other are those who feel that the risks are too high and that an elective or scheduled c-section is the best option for a mother who had already undergone the procedure in the past. The risk to which they refer is uterine rupture.
Both sides have studies. Both sides have strong opinions. Add to the mix that some doctors and hospitals across the United States have instituted ‘VBAC bans’. The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) published updated guidelines on VBACs in 2010
If you don’t want another c-section – a good first stop is the International Cesarean Awareness Network (ICAN). I especially like their paper: My hospital is not allowing VBACs.

What is a VBAC?

VBAC stands for Vaginal Birth After Cesarean. It is usually pronounced vee-back. See more details in the answer to ‘Will I have to have another c-section if I have another child?’ above.

What is an 'elective c-section'?

An elective c-section is a cesarean which is performed at the request of the mother without any medical need. Usually scheduled to precede the mother going into labor, a date is selected and an operating room reserved for the cesarean delivery of a child. While many women with specific health issues or prior cesarean sections have long scheduled c-sections, elective c-sections have become more common in recent years. Theories about decreased risk of pelvic floor injuries and incontinence are often behind the choice. For a interesting balance of these issues see this article.

Is it normal to feel 'cheated' out of a natural delivery?

The short answer is yes. The long answer is that delivery of a child is a very personal experience. While many women may speak openly about their visions of their wedding – it is not so common for women to share their vision of birthing their child. If you are someone for whom the experience of delivering your child naturally was very important – then you certainly may feel that you were cheated — robbed of an experience which you had imagined in a very particular way. It doesn’t help if the people around you keep insisting that you have a healthy baby and that is all that counts. Some people just don’t understand what you mean when you say that the c-section destroyed a dream for you. Maybe you feel you can’t tell them the truth because they are so focused on the joy of your new child?

So where to go from here? Find other women who understand. Find a local chapter of the International Cesarean Awareness Network (ICAN). Join one of their e-mail support lists.

Do you feel as if you have been depressed about this for a long time? C-section increases your risk of postpartum depression. See the emotional recovery and postpartum depression topic page to find resources to help you.

All of this seem like too much? Well, take a simple first step. Admit to yourself you are disappointed and write it down. Get it out of your head and on paper (or into a word processor). Just that first step alone can help you feel more in control of your own experience. If you only go to one other website while reading about this, go to Emotional Recovery From a Cesarean.

I feel so depressed - is there help for me?

Yes. There are support groups, phone lines, therapists and books. See the emotional recovery and postpartum depression topic page to find resources to help you. Go here to find postpartum depression books. There are people who have been where you are. There are people who can help you. If you are in need of immediate help, please contact 1-800-SUICIDE right now! The world is a better place with you in it.

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