Lisa Salmon finds out how we can best support new parents after a C-sections.
Increasing numbers of babies are being delivered by caesarean – and while not having to push your baby out may sound like the easy option, a C-section is major surgery, which takes a long time to recover from.
More than 25% of women in the UK now give birth by caesarean, according to NHS figures, compared to around just 8% at the end of the 1970s.
Of course, all new mums may need support once their baby arrives. However, women who have had a caesarean will probably find they need more assistance as they recover from the procedure.
“A C-section is major abdominal surgery, so planning and prioritising recovery is important,” says registered midwife Lesley Gilchrist. “Every woman’s recovery will be different and timeframes can vary. However, remember that whether they’ve had a planned or emergency C-section, healing and recovery is likely to be a longer process than if they had a vaginal birth.
“Learning what to expect following a C-section can help couples prepare for those important few weeks after their baby’s been born,” Gilchrist adds. “For at least the first two weeks after birth, partners should do everything they can to ensure all the new mum does is rest, feed and bond with their baby.”
Maxine Palmer, head of service development at the NCT, says: “It’s likely most women will need some help with daily tasks after having a caesarean, as it’s advised they don’t lift anything heavier than their baby for the first few weeks. Physical recovery from a caesarean birth usually takes six weeks, but for some women it may take longer.”
To mark April’s International Caesarean Awareness Month, Gilchrist and Palmer suggest how partners can make those early weeks a bit easier for new mum who’ve had a caesarean…
1. Get in the driving seat
Driving may be off the cards in the weeks following a C-section, because using foot pedals requires significant involvement of the lower abdomen, explains Gilchrist, who is also co-founder of My Expert Midwife. So, any help that can be provided with transportation needs will likely be greatly appreciated. Gilchrist advises that the car can be prepared by attaching a maternity seatbelt adjuster, so the belt doesn’t sit on their wound.
People can check with their own insurance policy about driving following surgery, plus their healthcare professional can advise on their individual circumstances about returning to activities such as driving. Gilchrist adds: “Remember, new mums shouldn’t drive if they feel they haven’t sufficiently recovered, even if they are legally allowed to.”
2. Take the strain
Women who’ve had C-sections should avoid lifting heavy objects, as this can cause back and abdominal problems in the future. Gilchrist says this is something they’ll certainly need help with, While Palmer adds: “They’ll need assistance with carrying a baby in a car seat, or taking a buggy up or down steps.”
3. Do the chores
Palmer says partners can offer support by taking on more of the household chores, including cleaning, preparing meals or looking after older children.
Gilchrist suggests: “Arrange the school run, walk the dog, keep the house clean and keep on top of the laundry – or ask for help from family and friends. Taking time to rest and bond with baby is most important to the new mum, so the more you can take off her plate, the better.”
4. Help in the kitchen
A new mum’s body needs fresh, nutrient-rich food to recover, and plenty of soluble fibre (fruits, vegetables and wholegrains) to help with bowel movements, Gilchrist explains. “Plan meals ahead, order meal boxes or ask friends and family to help by dropping meals off, especially in the early days,” she suggests.
5. Keep an eye on her pain
Make sure the new mum keeps on top of pain relief, and remembers to take any other medication to ease discomfort, Gilchrist advises.
6. Seek help if necessary
Gilchrist says if the new mum has increasing pain, any redness, weeping, oozing or an odour from the wound area, or if she’s low in mood with no improvement, contact her midwife or maternity assessment centre for advice.
7. Make daily self-care non-negotiable
Gilchrist stresses it’s vital new mums have time for at least half an hour of daily self-care – however they choose to do that. For example, it could be a walk when they feel well enough, or an uninterrupted chat with a friend. “Far from a luxury, this time for her is a necessity,” she says.
8. Let her sleep
Sleep is one of the most important things for any new mum, so she’s rested and energised to look after her baby. After surgery, sleep is also vital to support recovery, and Gilchrist says sleeping on the back is recommended, as it puts the least amount of pressure on the wound. “Help her get comfortable, and help her with laying down and getting up,” she suggests.
9. Listen to her
Making the adjustment to new motherhood can be a time of many emotions, Gilchrist points out. “If women have experienced an unplanned C-section, they may have additional feelings to work through, so let her talk through her emotions and be there for support,” she says.
10. Enjoy your time together This is a precious time to bond and spend time together, stresses Gilchrist. “If this means putting off visitors or social events for a few weeks, then don’t be afraid to refuse visits and invitations.”