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C-Section Recovery: 6 Things No One Tells You

C-sections might also put you at risk for something called venous thromboembolism, which is when blood clots develop in your veins, SELF previously reported. When these blood clots happen in your arms and legs, that’s called deep vein thrombosis, and when they travel into your lungs, that’s known as a pulmonary embolism, which can be life-threatening. So if you notice swelling, pain, warmth, or redness in your limbs, or if you have trouble breathing or pain that gets worse when you cough or take a deep breath, you should definitely contact your provider.

2. Walking and drinking water can help with mild swelling and constipation.

Dr. Jones recommends getting up and walking as soon as you can after surgery and drinking water to help with swelling and constipation. Excessive swelling that is warm and painful to the touch could be a cause for concern, but it’s very normal for your feet and legs and even hands and face to swell after any type of delivery and particularly after a C-section. “Between that and all the IV fluids you received during labor and/or at the time of your C-section, that fluid has to go somewhere,” Dr. Jones says.

And, when it comes to pooping—or rather, not pooping—there are a few possible culprits behind postpartum constipation. “Pregnancy hormones tend to slow everything down digestive-wise, and things don’t just miraculously return to normal immediately after delivery,” Dr. Jones says. “So if you were having issues with constipation during pregnancy, they are not likely to resolve spontaneously once your baby is delivered.”

3. You might need to stock up on stool softener, too (after talking to your doctor).

Complicating the constipation problem? Those pain meds. Many have a side effect of constipation. Though it’s undeniably difficult to get up and move around, even a short walk around the hospital floor can help get things moving again (ask for help if you’re feeling woozy). You can also try a stool softener, like Colace ($ 9, Amazon). According to the Mayo Clinic, Colace is safe to use if you’re nursing, but you should still check with your doctor before trying any new medications during pregnancy or while postpartum.

4. If you’re nursing, consider holding your baby like a football.

“It can be difficult to situate your newborn in a position that you can maintain for upwards of 20 minutes comfortably when you have an incision on your lower abdomen,” Dr. Quimby says. “I encourage my patients to play around with different positions.” Many find the football hold, where you literally tuck your baby in along your forearm up to your breast like yup, a football, to be the most comfortable post-C-section, she says. (Confused? See if your hospital has a lactation consultant who can help.) You could also try a breastfeeding pillow like the Boppy Bare Naked Nursing Pillow and Positioner ($ 60, Amazon), or a stack of soft throw pillows of different sizes and shapes to help get the baby in a good position.

5. Adjust your expectations around getting “a good night’s sleep.”

You just had a baby and major surgery, possibly after hours of labor, so a good night’s sleep is inevitable, right? Not so, in a majority of hospitals. You’ll have your vitals checked (including blood pressure and temperature) every few hours, likely for the duration of your stay. And if you gave birth at what’s known as a “baby-friendly” hospital, your care team will likely be intent on establishing breastfeeding ASAP, which can make it even more difficult to sleep at the hospital. Not to mention that you’re taking home a newborn, which obviously comes with a whole other set of sleep difficulties for parents.

6. If you notice postpartum depression signs, try to find support.

Physical changes are only one aspect of the postpartum experience. Parenthood brings mental changes and shifts with it, too. While lack of sleep and changing routine are bound to take a toll on you (baby blues are real), there is a chance that you might be grappling with postpartum depression as well. And, if you had an emergency C-section or had planned on having a vaginal birth but needed a C-section anyway, it could have an especially severe impact on your mental health. In fact, a 2019 study published in the Journal of Health Economics found that when pregnant people had an unplanned or emergency C-section, they were 15 percent more likely to experience postpartum depression.

If for more than two weeks after your C-section you’re experiencing symptoms that make it hard to care for your baby or go about your life, like intense sadness, loss of appetite, mood swings, heightened anxiety, and a lack of joy, the Mayo Clinic suggests reaching out to your provider. If you don’t feel comfortable reaching out to your doctor, you (or someone who loves you and who you trust) can look into other modes of support, like a postpartum doula or finding a qualified therapist. You can also seek out support groups and online communities that may help you feel like you’re less alone.

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