Postpartum Recovery : Healing for Both Vaginal and C-Section Moms! (2023)

Congratulations! You’ve been through 9 (or so) months of pregnancy, hours of childbirth and you’re finally a mom! The time period directly after giving birth is calledthe postpartum period, and there are a lot of changes, emotions, and symptoms you will experience through this transition.

Whether this is your first birth or your tenth, postpartum life can look drastically different from one baby to the next. Let’s go over some of the potential symptoms and tips you can use to make your postpartum experience one that is happy and healthy!

What Are The Primary Health Considerations For New Moms As They Begin The Path To Healing?

Let’s talk about the complications that postpartum can bring, and a few warning signs to look out for. Most women know there are potential risks to your health surrounding childbirth, but many only focus on pregnancy and labor-related complications, not necessarily those associated with the postpartum period. In fact, this crucial time period can impact mom’s risk for chronic health conditions, her future pregnancies, and the health and well-being of her child(ren).

According to the Center for Disease Control (CDC), the rate of maternal morbidity/mortality is higher in the U.S. than in other developed countries around the world. This rate has been steadily increasing over the past two decades.

How are women falling ill? Here are the main sources:

  • Hemorrhage-Severe bleeding typically occurs directly after delivery, or in a few days after birth. Usually when this type of bleeding occurs, it’s either not well-controlled, or health care providers are unaware of the severity.

  • Infection-This is a huge source of illness among postpartum mothers. If you have risk factors such as obesity, high-blood pressure, diabetes, or having the flu, you are at a slightly higher risk of developing infections after birth. If small infections grow, they could lead to a potential complication called sepsis, which is an infection that overtakes your entire body.

  • Heart Disease-This ranges from postpartum preeclampsia, stroke, blood clots, or heart failure.

  • Mental Health Issues-Many women are aware of the impact of mental health issues in the postpartum period. This can include postpartum depression, postpartum anxiety, or postpartum rage.

Taking into consideration all of these potential complications, what warning signs should you look for? Make sure to always call your healthcare provider if you experience:

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  • A persistent fever above 101 degrees Fahrenheit

  • Trouble breathing

  • Chest pain or coughing up blood

  • Intense headaches

  • Thoughts of self-harm to you or your baby

  • Heavy bleeding after you arrive home (changing your pad more than once per hour)

Postpartum Bleeding

Let’s discuss a bit more of what to expect with postpartum bleeding! Regardless of whether you’ve had a vaginal delivery or a c-section, you will still experience postpartum vaginal bleeding for up to 6 weeks after you deliver. This is because as your placenta detached from your uterine wall, it left a huge scab on the inside of your uterus that takes a long time to heal!

Think of a time when you’ve scraped an elbow or knee. First, the cut bleeds with dark, red, fresh blood. It slowly tapers off and forms a scab. Occasionally the scab falls off, re-introducing a bit of bleeding. Sometimes this happens multiple times, until your cut has fully healed. This is exactly what is going on in your uterus, but it’s a MUCH larger, more complex wound.

Many women start off with bright red period-type bleeding for about a week. This slowly tapers off, similarly to having your normal menstrual cycle. It just takes a LOT longer. As this wound is healing, many women experience “spurts” of brighter blood. This is typically normal, similar to the way I’ve described how a normal scab heals!

Of course, it is always important to contact your provider if you experience heavy bleeding or find yourself changing your pad more than once per hour at any time during your postpartum period.

How Does Postpartum Recovery Differ For Vaginal Births Vs. C-Section Birth?

There are quite a few differences between recovering from a vaginal birth, vs. recovering from a c-section. Here are some differences you can expect:

  • Hospital Time- If you’ve had a vaginal birth in a hospital, you can expect to stay at least 24-48 hours before you’re discharged home. If you’ve had a c-section, it can be a bit longer. Remember, a c-section is a major abdominal surgery, and your doctor needs to monitor you more closely for signs of infection, or any complications that may arise. Expect to stay in the hospital for at least 3 nights after your cesarean!

  • Vaginal Tears- If you had a vaginal delivery, you may have experienced a vaginal tear (or you may have received an episiotomy). If you’ve had a c-section, you likely do not need to expect to heal from a vaginal tear. Occasionally, depending on whether you pushed or not prior to your cesarean, you may have a vaginal tear in addition to a c-section scar. This may also be true in some cases of multiples (when one twin is born vaginally, and one is born via c-section).

  • Incision- If you have a c-section, you’ll have a scar to care for! Your doctor will likely advise you to gently clean your c-section incision with soap and water at least once per day. After cleaning, dry your incision with a towel and apply antibiotic ointment as prescribed. Providers differ on whether covering the wound is beneficial for healing, vs leaving it open to air.

  • Pain/Lifting- Even though a vaginal delivery may likely come with vaginal pain/soreness in the postpartum period, most women who have had BOTH types of deliveries agree that the pain associated with having a c-section is more intense than a vaginal delivery. Because a c-section is major abdominal surgery, you may also need additional support from your partner, family members, and/or friends with general chores and household tasks for some time. Your provider will likely tell you to not lift anything heavier than your baby for the first few weeks. This means no lifting heavy baskets of laundry!

Postpartum Healing Tips

Here are a few healing tips to help with your recovery!

  1. Numbing Spray, Tucks Pads, and a Peri-Bottle = Your new best friend!If you’ve experienced a vaginal tear, this little combo should be in your bathroom, next to the toilet. Every time you use the bathroom in the first few weeks, make sure you squirt your peri-bottle as you urinate (this helps decrease stinging) and pat dry. Then, apply some numbing spray, stick a Tucks pad on your bottom, and change your pad.

  2. Sitz Baths are Life.Do you know what a sitz bath is? It’s basically a way to cleanse and heal ONLY your lady parts, and it feels AMAZING. A popular, easy way to perform a sitz bath is to purchase a little cover that sits neatly on top of your toilet (as opposed to filling your entire tub up with water, and squatting in the tub). Fill the little basin up with warm water, and you can even add a drop or two of your favorite essential oils! Make sure you ask your provider before doing sitz baths, but most providers are completely fine with them and encourage their use!

  3. Take your stool softeners and drink lots of warm water.Regardless of whether you’ve had a c-section or a vaginal delivery, that first postpartum poop is not going to be fun. Take it from a girl who MISSED a few doses of her stool softeners...make sure you are ON THEM! Being constipated 5 days after you have a baby is pretty terrible. Drinking lots of warm water for the first few weeks makes a HUGE difference in moving your bowels as well!

  4. A postpartum compression garment can be really helpful!You may think postpartum compression garments are only for women who want to lose weight quickly after giving birth. That’s not true! The main purpose of a postpartum compression garment is to support and align your abdomen until your abdominal organs and muscles can do their normal jobs again! Many women think they are purely for weight loss, but they play much more into healing than most realize! These wraps may also help reduce pain, increase your mobility quicker, stabilize your pelvic floor, and even help heal diastis recti. If you’ve had a c-section, a compression garment can also take the pressure off your incision while it heals. Your insurance may cover the garmet.

  5. Make sure you stock up on the essentials BEFORE baby arrives.Pads, ice packs, nursing pads, and more. One thing I regret was not being more prepared with all of the essentials when I came home from the hospital! Check outthis full listof postpartum essentials you should have at home!

  6. Finally, take time for yourself.I know, easier said than done, but make sure you are taking a few minutes a day to focus on JUST yourself. Having a baby is a huge change to your routine and it’s very easy to lose yourself in the process. Whether it’s reading, meditating, taking a walk outside, or exercising, make sure you carve out a little time for mama each day! Some days it may only be five extra minutes in the shower, and that’s ok! Your mental health is just as important to consider as you transition into this new role.

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About the Author

Liesel Teen is a Labor & Delivery Nurse and mom of a sweet two-year-old boy. Her work and more helpful advice about pregnancy and birth can be found on her site:

Information provided in blogs should not be used as a substitute for medical care or consultation.

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