No matter how we bring our children into this world, our bodies will have some healing to do. Bringing a baby earthside is physically taxing, and involves so many different systems of the human body. In the case of cesarean delivery, there are a few more steps added to the recovery process. We tend to neglect these steps when leaving the hospital, but it’s important to know what tools are available in your recovery toolbox. Here are the five most impactful tools that ensure a faster and more complete recovery.
Walking- After surgery your epidural or spinal will be removed and over the next few hours the numbness will begin fading away. While you may leave the OR expecting to take it as easy as possible, you will quickly find that the first task on your “to-do list” is getting up and taking a walk through the hospital corridor. While this can be painful and feel like it adds insult to injury, ambulation is imperative to proper recovery. Why? Because it is the action of walking that jumpstarts our body’s routine functionalities. Walking as soon as possible after surgery, and continuing to take several short walks around your home each day encourages proper blood circulation, decreases the risk of blood clots, disperses any built up gas and the pain that it may be causing, has been shown to lower the need for narcotic pain relief, shorten hospital stay length, and ensures that the muscle movements of your digestive tract begin working as soon as possible which will lead to less constipation and discomfort throughout the coming weeks.
Proper Nutrition- Several studies have tested the efficacy of enhanced recovery after surgery pathways (ERAS). These pathways include measures such as decreasing the amount of time patients go without food and drink, encouraging early mobility as we covered above, providing regional anesthesia, etc… One pathway found to be very helpful is not only a proper nutritious diet both before and after surgery, but also ensuring limited interruptions to that diet during the pre and postoperative periods. Keeping fasting to a minimum has shown to have many benefits. These benefits include reducing pain levels, stabilizing blood sugar, and reducing tissue hypoxia. Because of these benefits the American College of Gynecology (ACOG) has encouraged providers to use this pathway. It is now recommended that liquids in moderation should be encouraged up until 2 hours prior to surgery, and instead of no food by mouth policies starting 12 hours prior to surgery it has been decreased to 6 hours. Food and drink is encouraged between two and four hours postoperative.
Abdominal Binders- Abdominal binders are one of the most underutilized recovery tools in the post cesarean (post birth) toolbox. While not widely studied, there are small randomized case studies on their benefits. In a study of 89 patients, all with similar hemoglobin and hematocrit levels, it was found that the group of participants that were given abdominal binders not only had better hemoglobin and hematocrit levels at 36 hours post surgery, but they reported lower pain levels as well. Binders are also instrumental in supporting the return of postpartum abdominal muscles to their original placements. While all mothers will experience some degree of Diastasis Recti, binders can prevent this muscle separation from advancing, and help close the gap overall.
Pain Management- Unfortunately cesarean recovery can come with a great deal of pain. Bending, standing, walking, and even turning over in bed can become difficult tasks even with pain medications, let alone without. Because of this, pain management is one of the most important parts of a proper recovery plan. Not only does adequate pain management keep the patient in a certain level of comfort, It will reduce the overall length of opioid usage, shorten the length of hospital stays, aid in returning to normal functionality, lead to a higher level of maternal satisfaction, which in turn effects breastfeeding, bonding, and postpartum mood. While opioid usage is still the most effective and most common form of pain management, there are local anesthesia options being used in select hospitals that can deliver lidocaine or marcaine directly into the incision. One form of this is known as the ON-Q pump. This small pump delivers numbing medication to the incision site through a small catheter placed within it. These pumps will be sent home with you, and will last an average of three to five days post-op. Afterwards it can be gently pulled out of the incision. While this sounds scary, I assure you from my personal experience that it does not hurt, and in fact is hardly even felt. This mode of pain management is not available at all hospitals and it may be worth inquiring about prior to settling on a birth location. These pain management options may not entirely cut out the use of opioid pain relief, but it is likely to decrease the amount needed and the length of use.
Birth Processing- In many cases, a mother may have arrived on the OR table after a scary or confusing turn of events. The fear of getting to the OR and the fear of Being in the OR can bring about a trauma response, and this may affect her overall feelings about her birth even after that fear has passed. The mental health aspect of birth is overlooked across the board, not just with cesareans, but we commonly see trauma based mental health issues arise after traumatic births. Having access to proper therapies and a support system in place is vital to the postpartum experience. Without these we may see this trauma develop into a myriad of postpartum mood disorders which can leave long lasting impacts in the life of mom, baby, and family. Without mental health, there can be no physical health.
- - Benefits of postoperative ambulation- Patient Ambulation in Post-Op Recovery - Full Text View - ClinicalTrials.gov
- - Fasting recommendations, and other recovery pathways, encouraged by the ACOG- Perioperative Pathways: Enhanced Recovery After Surgery | ACOG
- - The small study out of Iran that speaks on higher hemoglobin and hematocrit levels can be found here- Randomized controlled trial of abdominal binders for postoperative pain, distress, and blood loss after cesarean delivery - PubMed (nih.gov)
- - A more in depth summary of abdominal binding, its benefits, and an overview of how to use them can be found at this link- Abdominal Binding After C Section - C-Section What To Expect (csectionwhattoexpect.com)
- - The importance of pain management as it relates to cesarean recovery is briefly explained here- Optimal Pain Management After Cesarean Delivery - PubMed (nih.gov) and an overview of the ON-Q pump can be found at this link- Pain Pump Information | Local Anesthetic Pump | On-Q (myon-q.com)
This blog was written by a former Tranquility by HeHe Birth Doula.