Giving birth to a baby is tough work, no matter how the little one decides to enter the world. Having had a c-section and natural births, I can say that while natural birth can be harder pre-birth, c-sections can be much harder in recovery.
At the same time, there are some things you can do before and after a c-section to help with the recovery process. These are things I wish I’d known and been able to do when I had my c-section that have helped many others since then. I’ve tried many of these things while recovering from natural birth as well, and they were really helpful.
1. Beneficial Broth
I’ve written before about the many benefits of broth and these benefits are especially helpful before or after a surgery or illness. Bone broth is packed with amino acids like proline and glycine, which are needed for collagen production and great for skin healing.
Broth also contains gelatin, which is beneficial for wound healing and for the skin.
There is a reason broth is a traditional hospital food for those recovering from illness or injury (though unfortunately, we’ve moved away traditionally made broths that contain these beneficial ingredients in favor of MSG infused broth.
Traditional broth can really help recovery from c-sections and as a bonus, it helps digestion and can ease the digestive discomforts and constipation that sometimes come after cesarean birth.
When I first heard of this, I thought it sounded more like torture than comfort, but after trying it, I’m sold!
The basic theory is that using light pressure and compression can lessen the pain and speed healing after a c-section. In fact, this can be helpful for non cesarean births as well since it helps reduce pain and helps the uterus return to normal size more quickly.
I personally used this binder after my cesarean at the recommendation of one of my postpartum nurses. If you are interested in trying this, check with your insurance since some of them cover these types of devices (for vaginal or cesarean deliveries). I liked that one because I didn’t have to take it all the way off to go to the bathroom, but there are also much less expensive wraps that just go around the abdomen that worked just as well for me in subsequent deliveries (here is a larger size one).
3. Gentle Cesarean
From being a doula for several women during their cesareans and postpartum time, it seems that the circumstances of the cesarean make a big difference on recovery.
Emergency c-sections or ones where mom loses a lot of blood obviously take longer to recover from, but it seemed like women recover more quickly when they have a peaceful surgery and get adequate bonding time with baby right away. This is an emerging movement called gentle cesarean and when possible, it seems to really help recovery.
4. Soothing Salve
A cesarean is major abdominal surgery and there is a substantial incision. I’ve found that using this belly salve during pregnancy can help avoid stretch marks and using this healing salve after delivery can help remove them and speed scar healing.
I used the healing salve multiple times per day after my c-section as soon as I got the approval from my doctor and my staples were removed. It can also be used on the perineum after a vaginal delivery.
Definitely check with your doctor on this, but I took glutamine in the weeks following surgery as there is some research that it can drastically speed recovery:
Glutamine is a key substrate for fast-growing and multiplying cells, including white blood cells. Glutamine stimulates the proliferation of fibroblasts, thereby helping in wound closure. It is the major amino acid lost during any tissue injury, implying a significant role in the preservation of lean body mass. According to researchers, glutamine possesses anabolic properties, which are effective in wound healing only when present in amounts 2 to 7 times greater than required in healthy persons. (source)
From the University of Maryland Medical Center:
Glutamine is the most abundant amino acid (building block of protein) in the body. The body can make enough glutamine for its regular needs, but extreme stress (the kind you would experience after very heavy exercise or an injury), your body may need more glutamine than it can make. Most glutamine is stored in muscles followed by the lungs, where much of the glutamine is made.
Glutamine is important for removing excess ammonia (a common waste product in the body). It also helps your immune system function and appears to be needed for normal brain function and digestion.
You can usually get enough glutamine without taking a supplement, because your body makes it and you get some in your diet. Certain medical conditions, including injuries, surgery, infections, and prolonged stress, can lower glutamine levels, however. In these cases, taking a glutamine supplement may be helpful. (source)
I shared a guest post about using glutamine for gut health before, but I also used it post c-section and it seemed to help. Definitely check with your doctor! This is the L-Glutamine I used.
6. Scar Massage
Another thing recommended by my wonderful postpartum nurse. Anytime there is a major incision, there is a potential for adhesions to form where tissue fuses where it isn’t supposed to. To help avoid this, she recommended gentle scar massage once the wound had fully closed and the scab had gone away.
I did this for several months postpartum and it seemed to help soften the scar and bring back feeling in areas that were numb. Here’s how to do it:
7. Water and Magnesium
Many people get constipated after surgery and this can be especially painful after a cesarean (or a vaginal birth!) To help avoid this, my midwife (turned doula during the c-section) told me to drink a lot of water to make sure I was hydrated and to also take some magnesium to help loosen stools and prevent constipation. I used several different forms of magnesium and I talk about them all in this post.
We often underestimate the power of sleep and after surgery or childbirth (and especially both!) you need more than normal. I was not able to sleep much after my cesarean because my little one was in the NICU and I think this slowed my recovery considerably.
The body regenerates more quickly during sleep and it helps speed tissue repair. Certainly, getting sleep with a newborn is easier said than done, but enlist help and make it a priority if you can. This article has some tips for improving sleep quality.
Have you ever had a c-section? What helped you recover? Share below!
Discussion (56 Comments)
Thank you for this. I’m getting ready to have my second baby by c section. How quickly after delivery can the girdle be used?
I highly recommend using a girdle. I used one after both of my births, one being natural and the other c-section. You can put it on immediately after which is what I did. You can just buy a strong control top panty from Wal-Mart, it doesn’t have to be an expensive one. I have used both the regular abdomen girdle and the control top panty and wore for 6 weeks. Having yourself binded not only helps you heal faster, but especially after a c-section, it holds everything in place so when you’re walking and moving, it doesn’t feel like your stomach is about to fall out. This works similar to how holding a pillow against your stomach if you have to cough. I also believe that it helped me get back to my pre-pregnancy size much faster. My family has also used what’s called a belly band for the newborn baby which they wear for 6 weeks as well. It works pretty much the same way as a girdle does and ensures the baby will have an innie belly button and helps soothe them if they happen to have any gas.
Luv your blog Katie. I would mention about the anriboitics used could create a yeast overgrowth. Its so important to do probio and eat a clean diet after. I never knew, now I got yeast overgrowth. Christa from the whole journey has the gut thrive program u can do while breastfeeding now.if u have a prob with yeast. Again Luv your blog
Wow thank you so much for shedding get some light on this subject. C-sections can be so emotionally damaging that it’s so nice to know that there are ways to try to less in the damages that come with the territory. I was blessed as I was able to hold my son after being born 5 years ago. It’s a topic that you can’t prepare for or get very much help for emotionally , mentally or physically afterwards and you feel all alone to deal with it all so it’s very appreciated that you she’d light on this subject. ! After my emergency C-section I was diagnosed with endometriosis and it’s still not the full answer to the pelvic pain that I experience daily. Children are such a joy and gladly they do not know the extent of what we do for them or endure for them.
You can also do castor oil packs with a heating pad on the scar area in addition to massage with castor oil in the shower. That’s what I’ve been doing. I did lots of bone broth, too, and beet kvass to detox/add in probiotics. Probiotics post surgery are key after the antibiotics, etc. Having someone massage me was also a lifesaver. 🙂
Nice article, I appreciate your beliefs about healing, which I also think are valuable. I had three sections, and found that my mental game was off because I had sections–I got to 10 cm each time, but my babies never descended, so I felt like something was wrong with me, and I criticized myself. Although I loved my children and certainly showed it, I lived with a lot of guilt that no one understood. So, I just want other moms who get sections to know that they can be happy, and it will speed their healing as well, if they can be calm and learn to mentally see themselves healing and feeling healthy in all ways. Another thing that helped directly was using essential oils, like frankincense, on the scar, as it prevented infection and helped heal more quickly.
Thank you so much! I know its been a couple of years since you wrote, but I just had my 3rd emergency section after being so close to VBAC, Your comment gave me such relief just to know that I’m not the only one to have gone through all these feelings that no one around me understands, this one has been the biggest struggle for me, and your words, along with this great article are great encouragement. Thank you so much! Many blessings to you!
I had the same story during my labor 2 weeks ago… Got to 10 cm and tried pushing for an hour, but my darling son refused to descend. So I ended up with a c-section, though I didn’t dream for a second that I might have anything but a natural birth… It’s really hard not to feel bad that “I didn’t make it,” though I know, deep down, that I did everything I could, and the c-section was what G-d wanted.
The most important one that you wrote about is the scar massage. I am 58 years old and of course no one told me about that when I had an emergency c-section 23 years ago. Shortly after birth I came down with Interstitial Cystitis, and about a year ago I started having extreme pelvic and vaginal pain. It wasn’t until I found this wonderful PT last May that has helped me so much. She explained how when you have adhesions in your abdomen that it then leads to multiple problems in your pelvic region. Thankfully through PT and changing my diet and exercises that are for this, I have become almost pain free. I want to thank you Wellnessmama for being an inspiration to many women. I am on the journey to changing my life and you have helped me through your blog. It is never too late to change..
Do you have to have someone do the massage or can you do this yourself. My daughter had an emergency c-section at 26 weeks and gave birth to a micro-preemie 6 years ago. She has had problems since with a knot at the incision almost from the beginning. Since her daughter was in the NICU for 79 days, a knot under the scar was way down on the priority list. They are military and moved shortly after Lexi became wire-free. In the last few years it hurts a lot especially during her periods. Thanks for your help…
Katie - Wellness Mama
It is actually better to do it yourself. The video explains more, but I found it really helpful.
I had an emergency c-section 4 years ago due to pre-eclampsia. I would highly recommend that your daughter get acupuncture around her incision scar and/or look for a licensed massage therapist that practices the John F. Barnes Method of Myofascial Release Therapy or JFB-MFR to help with the scar tissue adhesions that are likely causing her pelvic pain. There are therapists all over the country but they can be hard to find. Start here https://www.myofascialrelease.com and look in the directory for a therapist near her.
I also suggest using this product called Whole Skin made by Chi Health on the scar itself. http://chi-health.com/products/whole-skin
The combination of the Whole Skin and the acupuncture has helped soften and lighten my scar to the point where I can barely see it.
The MFR work has helped me process the emotional trauma of my c-section and has helped me keep my body in motion after the surgery because I was very weak in the abdominals before I had my children. I had a vaginal birth two years before the c-section.
I hope this helps.
What is PT? Had c section 17 months ago and me pelvic area hurts, feels bloated and now after 4 months getting my period regularly it stopped again now 2 months without it. I am still BF though…
Thank you SO much for this post and the links, especially the binder! I’ve had 2 c-sections and am pregnant with my 3rd and these tips will really help, thanks!
I was so grateful to see this post! Lord-willing, I will have my third c-section in May and have been planning to make it as ‘natural’ as possible. Our first c-section was an emergency with lots of blood loss, a NICU stay, and a secondary infection for me. The second one was just ‘getting through it’ – we had a great doctor and it went REALLY well. But this time I’d already thought about bone broth, splinting, etc. Really grateful for the other tips here.
I am also planning on getting my placenta encapsulated. With healing from surgery, trying to establish milk (I was able to breastfeed my second but not my first), scar tissue, hormones and all the medication, I’m really interested to see how that makes this experience different!
With my second c-section I had my husband bring homemade bone broth to the hospital and I drank that every few hours and then daily before discharge. Eating LOTS of veggies post surgery helped me maintain motility and I didn’t have too much constipation the second time around.
As painful as it is- it was also important to get up and walk to regain mobility. Light movement helped the recovery.
(On the other hand both times I was discharged I still had a kid in the NICU and getting to and from hospital everyday was a little too much movement!!)
I was the biggest natural birth advocate during my first pregnancy but when placental abruption sent me into labor at 30 weeks a section saved my sons life. It was a very invasive surgery (inverted T on my uterus) so a VBAC is not an option for me. But even when circumstances aren’t ideal there are many ways to optimize health.
Thanks for posting this, Katie! I had three c-sections back 24 to 19 years ago. Everything you wrote about in your article were things that I wish I’d known back then. Most women that haven’t had a c-section don’t realize how difficult the recovery can be, especially since your trying to take care of a newborn and sometimes other small children as well. I haven’t seen a lot about this issue since I started my natural journey this past summer. I’m sure this post will help a lot of women out there. And btw, I LOVE your blog! 🙂