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Recovery From Childbirth

What's it like to recover from a c-section or vaginal delivery. Step-by-step as told by a labor and delivery nurse.

birth, doula, childbirth, labor, delivery

Read: C-SECTIONS ARE NOT THAT BAD, and you will probably understand the need for a c-section if your baby needs to be born FAST. But what about recovery from a c-section vs. a vaginal delivery? Doesn’t it suck?

Recovery from a cesarean section is definitely a more difficult process. It takes more time for you to return to your pre-pregnancy state. Honestly? It’s full abdominal surgery and should only be considered when it is the best medical option for the health of you and your baby. You should discuss this in detail with your medical provider. There are risks involved with any surgery, such as, infection, blood loss, anesthesia complications, damage to organs of your body, scar tissue, the effect on future pregnancies and deliveries, etc. About 1/3 of women will experience a cesarean section and will be recovering from one too! So let’s compare vaginal delivery recovery vs. c-section recovery!

Vaginal Delivery


Pushing a multi-pound human-being out of a small orifice of your body is what the vagina does! It’s stretchy and can rebound quite nicely. Usually the first few minutes after delivery are euphoric. The pain will tremendously diminish and because the vaginal tissues stretch and expand, there is a temporarily loss of sensation to the vaginal opening. This is when you may need to have a few stitches placed if you tore or had an episiotomy. Your doctor or midwife will numb the tissue with lidocaine and place a few stitches where necessary.

After pushing

You may experience swelling of the vulva. Your labor nurse will apply an ice pack, pads and those sexy mesh panties. Labor nurses help you through all of this, they check your tummy for a firm uterus, check your bleeding and help you begin breastfeeding. You may eat and relax for about an hour or so. Once mother and baby have fed, you will be helped to the bathroom. This means: you are already standing. Blood may gush out of the vagina and urination may sting, but you are standing on your own wobbly two feet. You will shower and return to a bed or wheelchair to change rooms.

Essentially, you are starting to return back to “normal” at this point. It’s normal to need ibuprofen, acetaminophen or perhaps something stronger for pain; but you are able to care for yourself and your baby almost immediately with very little assistance from others. Expect to have vaginal bleeding for about 6 weeks time, but it should diminish everyday. Physical labor is exhausting, but all your organs are in place and there is minimal tissue damage needing to heal. You will feel sore, and your medical provider will encourage pelvic rest for 6 weeks.

Cesarean Delivery

In the operating room, you will not feel pain. You will either have epidural anesthesia (kicked up a notch), spinal anesthesia or general anesthesia to insure that you will not feel pain. Spinal anesthesia in general is not enough to inhibit feeling pressure and movement happening to you. Usually you will be awake to hear the sounds and smell the scents of surgery. Feeling nauseous in this state of being or from the medication given is common. Your partner is allowed to sit with you if you are not unconscious (from general anesthesia) or amidst an emergency c-section. Listen for your baby’s first cries! Some hospitals even have clear drapes to allow you to see your baby being delivered. Baby-Friendly™ hospitals will also attempt to place your baby skin-to-skin with you on the operating table. You can even try to breastfeed there and then!

After surgery

You will be wheeled with your baby (unless in the nursery) in a bed to your recovery room. Your nurse will monitor your bleeding, the tone of your uterus, your blood pressure, and your overall ability to recover from anesthesia. Yes, you can breastfeed your baby in bed during recovery. Don’t worry, you will receive strong pain medication through an IV. It’s common to feel groggy, but you should mostly be awake and aware of everything occurring. Don’t expect to eat or stand for about 6-8 hours after delivery. This is determined by your doctor and nurses. If you have a midwife, they will still be present to support and care for you. You will in bed for awhile (6-8 hours), urinating through a foley-catheter, eating ice chips and having ankle booties on your legs to prevent blood clots.

After more time has passed

With premedication, you will be assisted to stand carefully with help. Nurses will assist you to the bathroom to try to urinate. About 12-24 hours after surgery, you will be helped to the shower. This is when you will first see your incision. Nurses will instruct you on how to care for your incision and when to report possible infection. *Keep it dry* after the shower!

About a day after your surgery

You will be moving around and caring for yourself and your baby with minimal assistance. It may be painful to stand straight and also to bend down (this lasts about a week). Moving is important but also not as easy as if you had a vaginal delivery. It takes about 2 weeks for your incision to be scabbed over and 6 weeks for it to be fully healed. Your medical provider will discourage stair-climbing or driving for 2 weeks and encourage pelvic rest for 6 weeks.  All in all, you are about 2 weeks behind in recovery for a vaginal delivery (your results may vary).

So that’s recovery in a nutshell. Caring for yourself and your baby at home, is another mountain to climb! When do you get to shower? How do you prepare food with an incision site and baby who wants to be held? It will take time for you to feel comfortable in your own skin again. Give yourself the luxury to make mistakes, sleep a lot and try new things. Between all of this and the emotional changes after delivery, it is a lot to handle! Have supportive family and friends around you and seek out a lovely mommy’s group!

The contents of this website are for informational purposes only and are not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health care provider with any questions you have regarding a medical condition, and before undertaking any diet, dietary supplement, exercise, or other health program. We may receive compensation through the issuer’s affiliate programs when you click on links to products.


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