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Dos & Don'ts After a C-Section

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In 2012, nearly one in three women in the U.S. gave birth via cesarean section, notes the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. So you can take comfort in the fact that you're far from alone. Recovering from a cesarean section takes longer than recovering from a vaginal birth, but you should feel like yourself within a few weeks. By taking care of yourself, you'll regain your strength more quickly.

Your Activity Level

A cesarean section is major abdominal surgery, and your body needs time to heal. Plan on spending four days in the hospital. Once you get home, stay in bed or on the couch as much as possible for the first week. Don't lift anything heavier than your baby, and let someone else handle housekeeping chores. If possible, have someone stay with you around the clock. Even simple tasks such as bathing or getting dressed can be exhausting during the first week or two, and you may feel dizzy or lightheaded. As you gain your strength, you can go for short walks, but skip heavy exercise, such as jogging, and avoid situps. Avoid driving for the first three weeks. The more you rest, the more quickly you'll recover.

Skip the Buffet

After a vaginal birth, women often feel ravenously hungry, and may relish a large meal. A cesarean section is entirely different. Although you may feel hungry, you should eat carefully. Abdominal surgery can trip up your digestive system for a few days, so avoid heavy, rich or fatty foods that produce gas. Check with your doctor for specific dietary guidelines. In general, you'll want to eat light, nourishing foods, such as soup, yogurt, poultry, whole grains, and fruits and vegetables.

Incision Care

Follow your doctor's instructions for caring for the wound site. If the incision was closed with staples, stitches or glue, you can remove the dressings when you get home. For incisions closed with strips, change the dressing every day until the strips fall off. Wash the wound site gently with warm water and soap in the shower, but don't scrub it.

Wait on the Bath

After your surgery, you can expect vaginal bleeding, or lochia, for up to six weeks. Don't use tampons to control this bleeding; stock up instead on thick pads. The bleeding will wane over time and change in color from bright red to brown, pink or yellow. Heavy bleeding that returns after it has slowed indicates that you're probably doing too much. Although you can take a short warm bath, defer on soaking in the tub until your incision site has healed and the bleeding has stopped. Hold off on sex until the bleeding has stopped and your doctor gives you the green light.

Ask For Help

It's normal to feel overwhelmed and exhausted after childbirth, and a cesarean section can amplify those feelings, especially if you had an emergency surgery. Give yourself time to process emotions associated with your experience, and talk with your partner or loved ones. Ask for help if it all seems too much, and tell your doctor if you experience fever over 100.4 degrees, a rash, severe, prolonged headache, sudden intense pain in the abdomen or the incision site, red streaks in your legs, heavy bleeding or feelings of panic or depression.

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