Friday, August 23, 2013

20 Tips for a Better C-Section Recovery

Lately, I've been inspired to share some of the tidbits I've come to know through my pregnancy journeys. This is my third one, I'm pretty close to an expert now, right?

Yeah, I thought so.

I just can't believe how much there is to know that no one shares with first time moms! That has got to be so terrifying! I mean, I know it is, I was you once, too! And at the time, I wasn't living with my family or anything, so I had to kind of figure everything out on my own. I want better for you, mamas, and there are just some things that people may not get around to telling you. That's where I come in!

I think this is pretty obvious, but I'll say it anyway...I'm not a doctor, I'm definitely not your doctor, and while most of these aren't actual medical decisions to make, you should not take what I say as "the ONLY way", or better than an actual doctor's advice. Okay? Okay.

In delivering my boys, I had two c-sections. And I'll have a third this fall. While each hospital, doctor and experience is different, I've come across a few things that I think make it all just a little bit better! And if you are approaching your own C-section experience, or just want to be prepared in case things go that way, these tips are for you! Now, I hope that I'm among friends that won't judge me for the way my children arrived in this world - that is one of my biggest Mommy pet peeves! All that matters is that baby gets here, and they are healthy, and so is Mom. No one hands out awards for any kind of birth, no matter what, so never judge a mama based on her birth choices. You never really know what the circumstances were, right? 

That was tip number 1. Unofficially. Bonus material, if you will. (wink wink) You're welcome.

Pre-Birth

1. Iron Up
One thing I had NO clue about as a first-time pregnant woman was Anemia. The word Hemoglobin meant nothing to me, and I didn't understand its relationship with iron. Now? I am constantly obsessed to know what my hemoglobin is and what I can do to raise it. Here's the short story. Hemoglobin is that stuff in your blood that processes oxygen, and your body needs Iron to rebuild these cells. During pregnancy, your levels tend to drop because of the stress to your body. This can cause you to feel winded, drained, tired, and short of breath. Ideally, we would all be somewhere around a 15, but doctors like you to be at a 12 while pregnant. If you dip below this (and you should be tested about twice during your pregnancy), your doctor will likely already prescribe iron supplements or a change in diet. But here's my tip. And again, ask your doctor first! I take Iron all pregnancy long, because I struggle with anemia every time. I usually hover around the 10's, and then after surgery I drop quite drastically. The more iron you have in your body, the faster your blood cells re-build, and the faster the problem is solved (and you feel better). So as I near the end of my pregnancy, I up my iron intake. It made a WORLD of difference after my second c-section. I felt better in a couple days rather than a couple months! You lose a lot of blood during surgery, and you can crash quite a bit (I dipped down to a 6 after my first son was born!), so do your best to keep those levels up ahead of time! If nothing else, eat lots of leafy greens and vitamin C!

2. Give Freezer Cooking a Try
I am very, very blessed in that my husband gets a really great paternity leave package. He's usually around to do the cooking, and I sooo let him for the first month or so. I usually don't even think about it before that point! Even so, our days are chaotic with a newborn, and will be even moreso this time with two little ones running around! So do yourself a favor, and plan out some freezer cooking meals to save for the weeks after you give birth. I suggest making things that will have leftovers and last a couple nights (like soups and such) so you don't have to go too crazy with your cooking late in your pregnancy. I'm going to do some freezer cooking this time, and so far I'm planning on making 1-2 soups, chili, an Italian dish, egg "patties" to make breakfast sandwiches with, and a baked french toast. I'm still looking for a few other recipes, so if you have any ideas - send them my way! It's also a good idea to have frozen burgers or ground meat on hand for easy quick cooking.

3. Pack Well
Your hospital stay post c-section will be longer than a vaginal delivery, so packing "a bit" too much isn't the worst thing in the world. Especially since you're not really in any condition to run and get things, and your significant other will probably have his hands full, too. Make sure to pack sports bras (as soon as your IVs come out, these can go on, and it feels like HEAVEN!), maternity lounge-type pants, socks, hair ties, chap stick, face cleaning wipes, nursing pads & lanolin (if you plan to breastfeed), toiletries for the bathroom, dry shampoo (makes you feel less gross while you regain the strength to shower), maxi pads (can't use tampons for 6 weeks) & granny panties (trust me, you won't want to wear anything else for a while). It's also a good idea to pack some snacks like pretzels, granola bars, and a batch of cookies. Meal times are usually scheduled, and while it's easy to get your hands on as many drinks as you want, snacks are a bit harder to come by. Having them in your bag make things easy, and usually cheaper than using vending machines.

4. Pamper Yourself
Before you head into the hospital, paint your nails or head out for a mani-pedi. Get a trim to get rid of your split ends. Take a really long shower or bath the night before or morning of, and take the time to style your hair a little. You aren't going to win any beauty pageants in the hospital, but going in while you're in good shape helps you get through the days while you're lying in bed!

5. Take Zantac
This one ABSOLUTELY HAS TO BE CLEARED WITH YOUR DOCTOR! Please, please, please ask them first! My entire OB office in Charlotte followed this method, and when I presented it to my doctor here in Buffalo, she was excited to try it out with me (she also knew some of the doctors at my old office since she worked at their related hospital). Because she gave me permission, I did it again, and it was such a life-saver. But some doctors won't let you, so BE SURE! Basically, the idea is - during abdominal surgery, it's likely that you'll get nauseous because they're moving things around in there. For whatever reason, taking antacid helps alleviate this. They will probably already give you Zofran in your IV before surgery (a drug that keeps you from getting sick - I took it for morning sickness, too), but the Zantac really makes sure you'll do okay. My instructions were to take one just before I went to sleep the night before, another as soon as I woke up in the morning, and a final one an hour before surgery. You'll likely have to take the last one in the hospital, so make sure your doctor puts it on your chart if they OK it so the nurses know you're allowed. Otherwise, they won't let you, since you're not supposed to really eat or drink before surgery. And bonus? If your stomach is sensitive to any pain medications, this will help you with that for most of the day, too. Just make sure you have permission first! I gave my SIL this tip, and her doctor wouldn't let her use it. 

During

6. Breathe for the baby
I had a really amazing anesthesiologist for my second c-section. He was one of the nicest, warmest, most understanding medical professionals I've ever met. He should win an award for his bedside manner! One of the great things he told me pre-surgery was a tip on how to get through it while also doing the best for my baby. He pointed out that until the baby is totally out and the cord is cut, he's still getting his oxygen from me. Which means that I can't cry hysterically, or hold my breath, or waste any of the precious oxygen that could be going towards my baby on talking excessively or nervously. He said to think only of my breathing, concentrate on how it goes in, breathe it in deep, and relax while I exhale. I did this through all of their prep and as they made the first incision (husbands aren't allowed in for that part so it's a little stressful), and then as my husband came in to hold my hand, I concentrated on breathing until the baby was out. Once the baby is out, that's all you can think about anyway, so you've done your job!

7. Talk
The rest of surgery seems to take a while. It really doesn't (maybe 15-20 mins more), but when you're anxious to hold your baby and have your body put back together, it can feel like it! Once your job of breathing for the baby is done, talk to your significant other through the rest. Talking helps it go by faster, and you almost don't notice what's going on. During both of my c-sections, my husband left to be with our baby before they were totally done, so I usually end up spending another 10 mins or so with just my doctors. Talk to them! I always found it funny that they carry on conversations about tennis and TV shows while they're working INSIDE of a human being, but joining in the conversation makes it feel like a much more normal thing is going on! Oh, and PS - your anesthesiologist should be right up by your head for most of your surgery. If anything feels wrong or painful, tell them right away and they will adjust your meds if needed.

In the Hospital

8. Be Patient, and Love Your Baby
Most hospitals have caught up to the current train of thought in regards to the bond between Mom & baby by honoring the "golden hour". This refers to the hour right after birth when a newborn is the most alert. During this hour, babies are good at learning how to latch on to nurse, and are the most able to take in the scent, sound, and feel of you. Despite having a c-section, hospitals should still honor this time for you while you're in recovery. Take FULL advantage of this hour, because it's also likely the last time of the day where you'll be pain-free enough to take in as much about your baby as you can! Once your spinal wears off, the pain sets in, and while hospitals are really great with making sure moms are comfortable, the first 24 hours is rough. For me, when I have my baby in my arms, it really helps take my mind off of it, but it's still a tough day! Be patient, though, because by the next day, that constant pain should be a lot better - likely limited to the moments when you move around. It's not an easy time, but love on your baby, have faith that you'll be through the worst of it soon, and you'll feel better before you know it!

9. Wear an Abdominal Binder
My hospital gave me this AMAZING abdominal binder to wear both while in the hospital, and to take home with me. It's like a large elastic piece of fabric with Velcro on it that wraps around your torso. It helps you feel more held together, which is amazing, because you feel so sloshy and uncomfortable after having a baby! And after surgery, that sloshing can tug on your stitches and hurt - so this really minimizes that. Not all hospitals will give you these (the one where I delivered my first son didn't), but the nurses told me that you can buy them at medical supply stores in case I needed more of them. So it isn't a bad idea to pick one up head of time to bring to the hospital with you just in case, and if they give you one - you're all set with an extra!

10. Brace Yourself
If you haven't had a c-section before, this one is for you. Despite having major surgery right in the center of your body, they make you get up and walk 10-12 hours after your surgery. Yeeep. It's terrible, there's no way to sugar coat it. So far, those moments rank as the worst 2 in my life, and I'm about to add a third to that list in a few months. It's hard, and terrible, but it doesn't last very long, and every time you get up after this point will be better and better. Make sure that when it happens, you stand with your knees (not your core muscles, which will be your instinct), and move very slowly. Don't be afraid to lean on the nurses and/or your husband. The reward for your efforts is that they will likely put new sheets and things on your bed, and when you get back in, you'll feel refreshed and comfortable.

11. Don't Be Afraid to Move
I know I just got done telling you how terrible it is to get up that first time, but...once you do it, it will never again be quite that hard. The nurses always told me that the more I move around, the faster I would heal. Of course, you're not supposed to over-do it, but getting up here and there is good for you. You'll likely have to walk yourself to the bathroom by the second day (or with your significant other's help), so that will probably be all of the walking you really need. Just make sure you don't wait too long between trips, and take it easy and slow when you are walking. If, by your last day there, you are feeling ambitious, try taking a very brief walk in the hallway, or pace your room (slowly) a few times. If you start to feel lightheaded, or like your bleeding has gotten worse, sit down - your body is saying it's not ready for that just yet!

12. Take a Shower
From what I hear, lots of hospitals encourage moms to take showers very soon after giving birth. They don't push you quite as hard after a c-section, and you DO have the right to refuse to take one. If you do, though, they will probably bring in a sponge bath for you at some point, and most of them will let you do it yourself. I chose this option because I was so anemic that standing in the shower was just too hard. However, I took a shower the morning I checked out both times so that I would be refreshed before I went home. When you do that, and put yourself into normal clothes, it makes you feel a bit more empowered to be back at home and on your own. Plus, you don't want to have to think about showering right away after the exhausting trip home (and trust me, after lying around for days and having almost everything taken care of for you, that single trip home is tiring).

In the Weeks that follow

13. Use a Pad to Buffer Your Scar
Okay, this might sound weird, or gross, but - use a maxi pad to cover your scar. Depending on your doctor, you may have staples, stitches, or even just liquid stitches when you leave the hospital. You may have even been sent home with just steri-strips after having your staples removed before you leave (that was my experience after my first baby, I went home with staples for a few days with my second). Regardless of your situation, it's really uncomfortable to go from those weird gauzy underwear they have you wear in the hospital to the real deal. Putting a maxi pad there buffers the space between your scar and your underwear and makes it more comfortable. You can also pre-cut a couple spots into the elastic before you go into the hospital so it doesn't squeeze against you too tightly. An added bonus to using the maxi pads this way? Being that it's a removable white surface, you can tell when your scar stops bleeding or oozing (sorry if that's gross, but it happens!), and know exactly what color everything is. You have to be on the look out for signs of infections those first couple weeks post-surgery, and this makes it very simple to see what's going on!

14. Keep Wearing that Abdominal Binder!
Wear that puppy for weeks! I promise, it helps! It holds you together so well, and helps you get moving a little sooner than you would otherwise. I even wore mine overnight so I was comfortable and supported every time I turned over. I recommend having someone help you put it on to make sure you're getting the tightest fit each time.

15. Create a Care Basket
I have this little plastic basket that I've used after each of my babies were born (and will again!). It's nothing special - you can find them at Target or Walmart or even a dollar store. Anything will work. The point is just to make it reasonably sized and easy to move around. Keep all of your pain medications and vitamins in there, as well as necessities for you and the baby - pacifiers (if you're using them), diaper cream, gripe water or mylicon drops, lanolin, nursing pads, chap stick, baby hats and no-scratch mittens - anything you'll need fairly regularly and don't want to get up a million times to find. Take this basket to bed with you every night, and bring it out to the living room (or wherever you set up shop during the day). That way, everything you need throughout the day and night is always with you, and you always know where it is. For the first few weeks, especially when it hurts to move around, this is so helpful!

16. Sleep When the Baby Sleeps
This saying has always annoyed me, so I'm sorry for even saying it! The truth is, I could never nap when my kids did - I wanted to use that time to catch up online, watch TV, read a book, or talk with my husband. I tend to adjust to the sleeping situation fairly quickly, and sleeping during the day has always made me feel more "blah" than restful. However, in the very beginning, it's a good idea. At least for the first week or so. Sleep will help you heal, and it's important for all of the other changes (physically, mentally, and emotionally) your body is dealing with at the same time.

17. Get Storked
If you haven't heard of The Mommies Network before, now is the time to check it out! It's exactly what it sounds like - a network of mommies! They are an online forum-based group, chock full of other mamas in all stages of life, and they are full of advice and resources. There's a national chapter, as well as individual local chapters. If you're lucky enough to have a local chapter near you, you'll also find local events to attend, AND this wonderful program offered to new moms called Storking. Fellow members sign up to bring meals to the new mom - and they are great at it! Look and see if you have a chapter near you and sign up asap - some chapters require you to be a member for a minimum amount of time, or to have a minimum amount of posts before you are eligible to be storked, so check it out early!

18. Cough and Sneeze with a Pillow
This probably sounds totally weird, but when you feel a cough or sneeze coming on, hold it over your scar/stomach to brace yourself. Neither of these things are fun to do while you're recovering, but the pillow will help! So will having your abdominal binder on.

19. Keep Showers Short
If you're anemic post-surgery, heat will make you feel worse. I can't explain this, I just know that it's true. If it's too cold out to take a cool shower, keep your hot shower short. Plus, it's a lot of work and strain on your core muscles just standing upright for a long time (you'd be surprised what you really use those muscles for, including simple balancing).

20. Don't Over Do It
As Moms, it's in our nature to try and do it all. We want to be there for our new baby, our other children, take care of ourselves, our husbands, and our homes. Don't be afraid to ask for help. Get up from sitting or standing slowly (especially if you're anemic). Don't lift anything other than your newborn for 4-6 weeks. Leave the housework to other helpers, or for a better time. When you over do it, your body has a hard time recovering, and it sets you back further. You've already got so much going on with healing, getting to know your new baby and learning your new family dynamic - less important things can wait!

I hope these tips help you with your c-section experience - collecting them over time has certainly helped me! Do you have any other good tips to add to the list?

5 comments:

  1. not pressuring, but have you thought about a VBAC?? as long as your pelvic structure wasn't the reason for the previous sections and the baby is in the right position, you should be able to. ( i think, some hospitals won't after you've had 2 sections, only 1). The recovery from a vaginal birth is WAY simpler and with an epidural it really isn't overly painful.

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  2. Nope, not an option for me, and even if it was...not interested at this point :)

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  3. all of this just seems so HARD.. :( lmk if you need help. i will hopefully have some time between classes or if i actually have a day off, that I can come over and even wash dishes for you or something <3

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  4. Aw, thank you :) We should be in fairly good shape with Matt off work, but of course we'll always accept help in the beginning :) I'm pretty useless for the first 2 weeks or so. It's not all that hard, really. It's actually EASIER for me than pregnancy is. I'm looking forward to it! LOL

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