Locations:
Search IconSearch

C-Section Recovery Timeline and Aftercare

What to expect after having surgery

mom and newborn baby

Having a baby is a major milestone in life. While it can be exciting, it can also take a toll on your body. Compared to a vaginal delivery, if you’ve had a cesarean delivery (C-section), you need to take extra precautions and give yourself even more time to recover from childbirth.

Advertisement

Cleveland Clinic is a non-profit academic medical center. Advertising on our site helps support our mission. We do not endorse non-Cleveland Clinic products or services. Policy

C-sections account for 31.7% of all deliveries in the U.S. As with any major surgery, it takes time for your body to heal. So what can you do? And what should you not do?

Ob/Gyn Erin Higgins, MD, explains what your recovery will look like and what to expect.

How long does it take to recover from a C-section?

It takes about six weeks to recover from a C-section, but each person’s timeline will be different. An incision — typically a horizontal cut made in your lower abdomen — can take weeks to heal.

During that time, it’s recommended that you avoid lifting anything heavier than your baby. Don’t have sex or participate in rigorous exercise either.

Your doctor may recommend a C-section if:

Recovery timeline

While most individuals recover in about six weeks, it’s important to remember each person’s journey is different. Here’s what to expect.

Advertisement

Week 1

Most people will spend two to four days in the hospital after a C-section.

During this time, the hospital staff will help with pain management, ensure you’re eating and drinking enough and help you move around. This is all in addition to bonding with your newborn, which can include attempting to breastfeed.

Once you return home, it’s important to take it easy and avoid lifting, twisting or any movements that can put pressure on the incision. “Those muscles are pretty weak because of the incision,” says Dr. Higgins. “It can be uncomfortable.”

Make sure you keep your incision clean and dry. To manage pain at home, Dr. Higgins recommends taking acetaminophen or ibuprofen on a regular schedule. An abdominal binder, a wide compression belt that goes around your stomach, can also be used to offer additional support and avoid putting stress on sutures.

It is also normal to have vaginal bleeding after a C-section, though it’s typically not as heavy as after a vaginal delivery. “It can last up to four to six weeks postpartum,” says Dr. Higgins. “Generally, the first few days are the heaviest with the passing of blood clots up to the size of a golf ball.” Contact your doctor if you’re soaking one pad per hour or passing large clots.

Having a support system around you is key during your recovery. Dr. Higgins suggests having your partner, family members or friends help with tasks like planning and making meals, doing laundry and even helping to care for your baby.

And do get up and move around, which can help avoid blood clots. “It’s recommended that you get up and walk around,” says Dr. Higgins. “We don’t want someone lying in bed for two weeks.”

Weeks 2 through 5

Your first postpartum visit should happen during the second week. At that time, your doctor will inspect the incision site and check that your recovery is progressing along.

Dr. Higgins says you should reach out to your physician earlier if you experience the following:

  • Excessive pain.
  • Infection at the incision site.
  • Abnormal discharge.
  • Heavy bleeding.
  • Chest pain.
  • Shortness of breath.
  • Fever.
  • Pain or swelling in your legs.

Over the next several weeks, you might also experience “baby blues,” caused by short-term fluctuations in hormones that can affect your mood. This is normal, says Dr. Higgins. But if you experience feelings like being depressed or feeling hopeless, talk to your doctor about postpartum depression and what it means.

“If those feelings start disrupting your life and cause problems bonding with your baby, your doctor can offer some treatment options,” says Dr. Higgins. Options can range from medication, therapy or even support groups for new parents.

Week 6

At this point, you should have your final postpartum appointment with your doctor. Remember that everybody heals and recovers at different rates so it’s important to talk to your doctor about how you feel — and it’s OK if you need more time.

Advertisement

“Physical recovery from a C-section puts a lot of stress on the body,” says Dr. Higgins. “Resting and allowing your body to heal is very important.”

If your pain has decreased and the incision is properly healing, you may be given the green light to resume normal daily life.

“When a person has fully recovered, we view it as their graduation day,” says Dr. Higgins. “Sex, exercise — I recommend that they start those things slowly and gradually increase activity.”

Tips to recovery

Having a newborn and recovering from surgery doesn’t leave a lot of time for self-care. But it’s crucial you take time to take care of yourself. Here are a few tips on what to do.

  • Get plenty of rest. Your body needs to heal, so don’t push yourself to return to your normal activities too soon.
  • Avoid lifting heavy objects. You shouldn’t lift anything heavier than your baby.
  • Talk a walk. Skip the heart-pounding exercise like running or lifting weights, but walking will help your body heal.
  • Remember to eat. It can be overwhelming those first few weeks with a newborn but it’s important to make sure you’re eating a healthy diet — for you and your baby.
  • Monitor your pain. Use a heating pad to provide relief and follow any directions from your doctor when it comes to pain medication.

Advertisement

Learn more about our editorial process.

Related Articles

Mother post birth in medical bed, with partner holding new baby, and caregiver nearby
Baby on the Way? Here’s What You May Not Know About Labor and Delivery

The birthing process can take longer than you might expect, and plans can always change

Hand holding packet of birth control pills in front of feet on a scale
April 23, 2024/Women's Health
Birth Control and Weight Gain: What the Science Says

Despite popular opinion, scientific research shows that most birth control methods don’t contribute to weight gain

Person on scale, questioning muscle weight vs. fat weight
April 12, 2024/Exercise & Fitness
The Difference Between Muscle Weight vs. Fat Weight

Both are needed for a healthy body

Plate full of colorful and healthy fruits, veggies and grains
April 8, 2024/Women's Health
6 Ways To Boost Breast Health

Taking precautions like eating healthy, stopping smoking and getting regular screenings can help protect against breast cancer

Female struggling to push a large rock up a hill
March 21, 2024/Weight Loss
Why It Really Is Harder for Women To Lose Weight (and What To Do About It)

Genetics, metabolism and hormonal fluctuations can all make weight loss more difficult

Female patient at doctor office discussing concerns and issues
March 12, 2024/Women's Health
Bleeding Between Periods? How To Tell if It’s a Problem

Reasons for spotting can include menopause, uterine fibroids, PCOS and birth control

person leaning over sink brushing teeth
March 7, 2024/Oral Health
What Do Your Hormones Have To Do With Your Oral Health?

Estrogen and progesterone changes throughout the month — and throughout your life — can make you more prone to dental health concerns

Female speaking with doctor, with uterus and ovary with cysts
February 21, 2024/Women's Health
Can PCOS Cause Weight Gain?

The common hormonal condition is linked to insulin resistance, which can cause weight gain

Trending Topics

Female and friend jogging outside
How To Increase Your Metabolism for Weight Loss

Focus on your body’s metabolic set point by eating healthy foods, making exercise a part of your routine and reducing stress

stovetop with stainless steel cookware and glassware
5 Ways Forever Chemicals (PFAS) May Affect Your Health

PFAS chemicals may make life easier — but they aren’t always so easy on the human body

jar of rice water and brush, with rice scattered around table
Could Rice Water Be the Secret To Healthier Hair?

While there’s little risk in trying this hair care treatment, there isn’t much science to back up the claims

Ad