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Recovering From A C-Section

(Please note – this is the third in a four-part Friday series on c-sections. Read Deciding On A C-Section and Having A C-Section to catch up.)

You’ve had a c-section. The spinal anesthesia has worn off and your new best friend, the morphine drip, is happily running. You’ve been cleared to head to your new home for the next few days, your recovery room. Your OB smiles and waves bye-bye, promising to check up on you in the next day or so. Your baby is wandering around making new friends in the nursery.

Now what?

Here comes some of the icky stuff. 

 You’ll be in the hospital for around three days. It’s not required, but insurance is required to allow it if you need it. Don’t be in a rush to get home; remember, there will be no nice nurse answering your request for more drugs at three a.m. At the same time, if you feel ready you can go home before the three days are up. But first things first (and keep in mind your situation may vary):

Your baby will continue to be brought to you for nursing. If you choose to room-in, the baby will stay there with you and your spouse (remember, the baby won’t be left alone with just you!) except as needed for testing. Your spouse is welcome to go with the baby for these tests if he’s concerned about a possible kidnapping or switcheroo, but they’re pretty tight with security.

You, meanwhile, are still on drugs and still plugged in to the catheter. And as annoying as that sounded when you got to the hospital that morning, you’re pretty grateful for it right now since you couldn’t stand up if someone told you Brad Pitt was in the next room. They’re going to keep you on an IV drip to make sure you’re getting nutrients. They are also pushing pitocin through your IV; you need it to get your uterus to start contracting back down to its original size, and to start stimulating milk production.

And here’s Something They Don’t Tell You:

They won’t let you eat until you pass gas.

Apparently, there’s a worry about your intestinal function because of the location of the incision. So no food for you until your intestines start moving. They also have a rule about not letting you go home until you have a bowel movement. That’s a fun one, which they waived for me because I really really wanted to go home. And it’s a good thing, since I didn’t have one until five days after the surgery.

You’ll spend your first night being constantly interrupted by people checking your vitals, making sure the baby’s doing well, and so forth. You’ll try to sleep and your husband will try to figure out how to diaper a newborn as you watch helplessly, still tied down by your paraphernalia.

At some point the next day a few things will happen.

First comes Painful Moment Number Two (remember Number One was the dry shave!): you’ll have the big dressing over the incision removed.

You have two layers to the incision covering: the tape immediately on the incision, and a bunch of gauze and stuff on top of that. Someone will come in and, without much warning, start taking all that tape off. DO NOT encourage them to just “rip it off” to get it over with quickly. You’ll lose a good chunk of skin. My OB put down some sort of “skin prep tape” and I still had a few holes in the ole epidermis. It was incredibly painful, never mind the drugs. I spent the next few weeks having to put medication on the open sores.

Then the doctor will remove your catheter, which is surprisingly pain-free (or perhaps that was just in comparison to the dressing removal). Know what that means? You’re free to stand up now.

Which leads us to Painful Moment Number Three, the Mother of All Painful Moments: standing up for the first time.

I’d been warned this would be painful, so I knew it was coming, just not when. But listen: if a nurse comes in and starts swinging your legs over the side of the bed, chances are she’s about to make you stand up. When I realized what the nurse was up to, I frantically began pressing my morphine button and saying, “Wait! Wait!” incoherently. Alas for me, I’d stopped using it and it was pretty much out of my system. And the button only allows for one dose every fifteen minutes. If I could have spoken, I would have insisted the nurse come back in half an hour, when I’d have a couple more doses under my belt. But it happened so fast that she was dragging me to my feet, knocking the morphine button out of my hand before the protest left my lips.

I rarely cry out in pain. This ripped a scream from me, and scared Brian to death.

So take it from me: make them let you take your time, and get doped up and ready to go. You will stand up and feel like the front of your body’s being ripped off. The nurse dragged me to the bathroom and “helped” me use the bathroom and get washed up. She was brisk and pushy and I finally insisted she slow down.

The washing up is for Something Else They Don’t Tell You: even though you don’t have a vaginal birth, you’ll still have the vaginal bleeding for a good couple weeks after the delivery. Isn’t that fun?

Once you’re “mobile”, they’ll take you off the morphine drip and give you Percocet instead. Percocet is great, but it’s got a couple disadvantages. For one, it’s oral instead of intravenous, so it takes a bit longer to work. Plan accordingly. For another, you can’t self-administer. You have to page the nurse of you need more, and they may look at you as if to say, “Come on, you can’t take this? Try harder!”

But it’s nice to be off the IV. Once you’ve stood up once, the world is your oyster. I preferred nursing sitting up so I’d move to a chair every time she needed to eat. It took a while but was much more comfortable.

And this is how you spend your time in the hospital. You’ll take progressively longer and longer walks down the hospital hallway. The nursing staff will try to help you take a shower, though I beat them to it and took one myself the second morning. You’ll eventually get the joy of the lackluster hospital food. You’ll take your Percocet happily, and your doctor will visit and admire her handiwork. You’ll stare at your feet, grossly swollen to twice the size they ever were while pregnant, and be reassured it’s a by-product of the surgery. It’ll go down in a day or so.

As far as clothing goes, I know everyone talks about how much more comfortable they are in their own clothes as opposed to hospital gowns. I disagree, at least for the first day or so. Remember, you’re not up and moving. You’re wearing a maxi pad leftover from 1960 that a nurse briskly changes periodically, and you’ve still got iodine on your body. Why not stain someone else’s clothing?

I brought comfy clothing and put it on my second full day in the hospital, after I’d been standing for a while. I finally felt ready to for the shower thing and the clothing made me feel better. Wear what you want, and don’t worry about that pretty nursing gown you can’t wait to try out. Trust me, you’ll use it a ton at home.

When you’re ready, you’ll head home.

Next week we’ll discuss the long-term recovery.


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