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Recovery after a caesarean

10-minute read

Key facts

  • Recovery after a caesarean section usually takes longer than from a vaginal birth.
  • You can usually do skin-to-skin with your baby during your caesarean and breastfeed soon after your caesarean.
  • You will usually be in hospital for 3 to 5 days after a caesarean section.
  • It is important to watch out for signs of infection when you go home and see your doctor if you have any symptoms or concerns.
  • Support is available from many different people after a caesarean — ask your friends and family for help while you recover at home, and professional help is also available if you need it.

What happens straight after having a caesarean?

The midwives and nurses will look after you in the recovery room until you’re ready to go to the postnatal ward. The midwives will check your vaginal bleeding and monitor your pain.

If you are awake, you can usually see and hold your baby during or straight after your caesarean (also known as a C-section).

If you have had a general anaesthetic, as soon as you are alert, you can begin skin-to-skin contact and possibly breastfeeding.

Skin-to-skin contact is important for you and your baby after birth to support bonding, and improve your chance of establishing breastfeeding more easily. Your partner or support person can do skin-to-skin if you are unable to. If you are choosing to breastfeed, your midwife can help you find a comfortable position.

Sometimes after a caesarean birth, your baby may have difficulty breathing and may need extra care from the neonatal medical team. In some cases, your baby may need to be move to the newborn care nursery.

How long will I recover in hospital?

You will usually stay in hospital for 3 to 5 days after a caesarean section. You will feel pain for at least a few days. It’s important to manage your pain, as this will help your recovery. Tell the midwives if you are in pain, they will be able to give you medicine and guide you on when and how much you can safely take.

You will stay in bed until your epidural or spinal anaesthetic wears off. You can do breathing and leg exercises while in bed. Your midwives will help you to get out of bed, and once you can walk on your own the drip in your arm and bladder catheter (tube to collect urine, or wee) are usually removed. This usually happens in the first 1 to 2 days. The midwives will help you to have your first shower after your caesarean.

You should walk gently every day to reduce your chance of getting a chest infection or blood clots. A physiotherapist may give you exercises to help strengthen your muscles. It’s important to take things gently after a caesarean section, and follow the instructions from your health team.

Will I be able to breastfeed after having a caesarean?

You can usually breastfeed your baby soon after a caesarean section. Sometimes there may be short-term effects from the caesarean, for example there might be a slight delay in your milk coming in. Don’t be discouraged — often it just takes a little more time, and support is available if you need it.

If starting breastfeeding is delayed, ask your midwife to help you express colostrum (the first milk you produce after your baby is born). Colostrum has lots of protein and antibodies to build your baby’s immunity.

When you start breastfeeding, ask your midwife to help you position your baby. It may be more comfortable to:

  • have a pillow on your lap to protect your wound
  • lie on your side
  • hold your baby under your arm, with their feet towards your back

What should I do when I get home?

General self-care

It’s important that you look after your body when you come home after having your baby. Try to get as much rest as possible and eat nutritious food. Do not lift anything that weighs more than your baby. You can start going for a walk on flat ground, pushing your baby in the pram when you feel able.

Make sure you keep your wound clean and dry. Wear loose clothing over the wound and check for signs of infection. If your wound has been closed with staples, these will need to be removed around 7 days after surgery. If you had stitches, they will usually be absorbed by the body (known as dissolvable stitches).

You can continue to take regular pain medicine to make sure your pain is well managed. Ask your doctor, midwife or pharmacist for advice.

Talk to your doctor or midwife about when it is safe to drive. This is usually after you have fully recovered and may take up to 6 weeks.

You may not feel ready to have sex for weeks or months after having a baby. Listen to your body and wait until you feel comfortable. Read more on sex after having a baby.

Support at home

Looking after your new baby can be hard. After a caesarean you should try to avoid doing anything more than light housework such as washing dishes.

Ask family and friends for help as you recover from your caesarean section. They may be able to help with house cleaning, cooking meals or caring for your other children.

Read more on bringing your baby home from hospital.

Where can I get emotional support after having a caesarean?

You may feel happy after having a caesarean birth. You may also feel a range of emotions, especially if your C-section it was unexpected. Emergency caesareans can happen very quickly and can for some parents and support people, they may be a traumatic experience.

Some tips for managing your emotions include:

  • talk to a midwife immediately after the birth about your experience
  • talk to your doctor, midwife or maternal child health nurse at any time, about how you feel
  • ask for practical and emotional support from friends and family

If the caesarean birth was traumatic, it is possible to develop post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) or postnatal depression.

If you have negative feelings about your birth, it’s important to seek help as early as possible. You doctor will be able to guide you to the appropriate support. If needed, therapy or medicines can be used as treatment.

What follow up appointments should I have?

You should see your GP around 6 weeks after giving birth for your postanatal check up as well as a check up for your baby. However, if you have any problems or concerns you should see them sooner.

When should I see my doctor?

There is a risk of infections in different parts of your body after giving birth. Contact your doctor or midwife straight away if you notice:

FIND A HEALTH SERVICE — The Service Finder can help you find doctors, pharmacies, hospitals and other health services.

Will having a caesarean affect future pregnancies?

The risks of serious pregnancy complications increase with each caesarean you have. These can include problems with the position of the placenta and problems with the placenta detaching after the birth. The risk of needing hysterectomy at the end of a future pregnancy also increases. This would prevent you from having any more pregnancies.

It is often possible to have a vaginal birth after caesarean section (VBAC). This can be a safe choice for many women. Sometimes health problems or pregnancy complications mean that a planned caesarean for your next birth is a safer option than a vaginal birth.

Discuss your options with your midwife and doctor early in your next pregnancy, so you are able to make an informed choice. You have a right to make a shared decision with your doctor after discussing your preferences as well as the risks and benefits of the options.

Resources and support

The Australasian Birth Trauma Association has information about caesarean section.

The Australian Breastfeeding association has a breastfeeding helpline you can call on 1800 686 268.

If you or your partner or support person needs emotional support you can contact:

Other languages

The Royal Women’s Hospital has fact sheets in a many different community languages.

Speak to a maternal child health nurse

Call Pregnancy, Birth and Baby to speak to a maternal child health nurse on 1800 882 436 or video call. Available 7am to midnight (AET), 7 days a week.

Learn more here about the development and quality assurance of healthdirect content.

Last reviewed: December 2023

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