Jennifer Heller, M.D., Medical Director of The Wound Center at GBMC HealthCare, knows it can be challenging for a mother to care for herself in addition to a newborn. However, ensuring the incision heals properly is important to the health of both mother and child. Here are five ways to help your C-section recovery go as smoothly as possible.
1. Stay healthy during your pregnancy.Obesity and excessive prenatal weight gain not only increase your chances of having a C-section but it can also make it harder for the body to recover from a major trauma like surgery.
Dr. Heller explains, "People who are obese have a higher chance of developing a seroma, or collection of fluid under the skin, and if a collection of blood forms under the c-section wound, that can increase the chance that the wound will open up."
Smoking and diabetes can also affect how the wound heals. Pregnant women should continue to stay active, consume whole foods, and follow any directions given by their OB/GYN to maintain their health when they're expecting.
2. Keep an eye on the incision.The area around the incision will be sore for a few weeks following surgery, but with the help of prescribed or over-the-counter pain relievers, the discomfort should be manageable. Numbness and itchiness are normal, but there are several other signs that indicate the wound may not be healing correctly.
Dr. Heller shares, "If you notice fluid draining out of a small site, red streaks on your belly, or the area around the wound is warm or tender to the touch, these can be signs of infection."
She adds that a fever, shakes or chills, and a general unwell feeling could also be indicators that the wound isn't healing properly, and you should call your doctor.
3. Take it easy.This may be easier said than done with a new baby, but mothers really need to give themselves a break during the healing process. Avoid stairs, keep baby supplies close at hand, and accept any help that friends and family offer. Slow, gentle walks can help prevent constipation and blood clots, but strenuous exercise should be avoided until the doctor gives the green light. A perfectly healthy incision can take up to six weeks to heal properly, and Dr. Heller says an infected wound is usually healed in less than two months if the mother is in good health.
4. Maintain a healthy lifestyle post-pregnancy.Dr. Heller stresses maintaining healthy habits is just as important post-pregnancy as it was while carrying the baby.
"The best way to prevent an infection after a C-section is by adhering to the same principles your OB/GYN recommended at the beginning of your pregnancy," she says.
This includes eating the right foods, taking your prenatal vitamins, exercising regularly, and maintaining a healthy weight.
5. Don't be afraid to call if you have concerns.If something seems off with your incision, let your doctor know.
"Although it's not an emergency requiring you to call 911, at first sign of infection call your OB immediately. Don't sit on it," says Dr. Heller.
Your doctor will check for signs of infection and either make a recommendation for treatment or refer you to a specialist for additional care.