I’m guessing you are here because your birth story included a Csection. Perhaps it was planned, perhaps not. Either way you are now healing from major surgery. OK, I know that technically speaking a Csection is not “major surgery” because the uterus – the giver and nurturer of human life – is not considered to be a “major” organ?!?! I am a woman, a mother, a feminist, and a doula in Amsterdam; and because I am writing this post we will define a Csection as major surgery here.
So you are healing from major surgery whilst also facing those intense cocooned days of living with your newborn baby, waiting for milk to come in, comforting and feeding your newborn baby, trying to remember to eat and drink enough yourself, not to mention your whole body and system recovering from 8/9/10 months of pregnancy…..
all. at. the. same. time.
(Image credit: Helen Carmina Photography)
Now, as many clients and friends will testify, I am a great believer and fan of the body’s ability to heal itself miraculously – but given that there is so much going on for you after having had a baby, a major surgery and a major rite of passage – a little helping hand to support it in it’s recovery and reacclimatisation can go a long way to a happy healthy postpartum period.
Here beneath you will find a comprehensive list of holistic healing tips to help your body, mind and soul heal and thrive following a Caesarean birth.
# Bed and bedroom # Rework it for practicality’s sake. Leaving the remarkable ease of a hospital bed with hoists and levers and buttons to raise you up and down to your heart’s content can be a big shock to the system. When you arrive home head straight to your bedroom with someone on hand to do the heavy lifting (in NL we are so lucky to have Kraamzorg for this support) and make the necessary adjustments.
- Make sure baby is close; to you and/or your partner. Consider safe co-sleeping to make sure they are really close. Having baby as close as possible will limit the moments where your heart might break a little bit as you are struggling to get up and reach baby.
- Get something to step up onto your bed if it’s high, something strong and sturdy to hold on to as you lower yourself if it is low.
- Set up an adequately sized bedside table (this may mean drafting in a larger or wider temporary table) which is big enough to house a big bottle of water, a tea pot full of tea (see below), a breast pump or a baby bottle, your mobile phone and it’s charger (maybe you will need an extension lead), a lamp suitable for use in the night, a muslin cloth, pain meds, and if there is any room left – a little bowl of healthy nibbles to be topped up by your loved ones every 12 hours – think fresh fruit, nuts, crackers, dried fruits, dark chocolate (it helps the oxytocin keep on flowing and boosts serotonin don’t you know?!)
# AIR to the wound as much as possible # Lie down whilst baby sleeps or is carried by your partner and just let clean dry air reach the wound – in the very immediate days that might mean that you need to hold the belly up off the wound as your body begins to reacclimatise to not having a full pregnant belly anymore. NB. If you have been advised to have the wound covered for the first 3 – 5 days – perhaps simply allow for 30 minutes to an hour in between dressing changes to let the air get to it. Please note I also advise against using a hair dryer to “blow dry” the wound. There can be all kinds of particles in the air, which when heated and concentrated into a directed stream of air toward the incision can be completely inconducive to successful wound healing.
# Nothing more than water! # In the first couple of weeks water is all that is needed to wash the wound; and the most important thing: dry it scrupulously (moist patches of skin can be breeding ground for fungal infection; see aromatherapy hacks for antifungal oils) – see the old cotton sheet tip hereunder – these strips can make soft, clean and reusable drying cloths too.
# Pain medication # Keep on top of the dose for the first few days. Double check with your healthcare providers if the pain relief you are prescribed is compatible with breastfeeding. Many medications work by building up a certain level in the blood; so when you take a dose set an alarm or get someone to remind you when you are due to take the next dose in order that your dose remains on an even keel and so that you don’t get caught unawares by intense pain.
# Big ‘Bridget Jones’ knickers # When lying naked in bed skin to skin with baby isn’t possible for whatever reason – big Bridget Jones knickers to the rescue. At least 5cm above your belly button (if you can find them!!!), 100% cotton, at least two sizes larger than you would normally wear (they will help keep the sanitary towels in place too!) and if you can bear it; have someone take a photo of you doing your most seductive hip shaking in these pants – so you never forget the comfort of these hip huggers!
# Rip it up # Additionally, tear up or cut up an old cotton sheet – get it washed in a hot hot wash (60 degrees plus) and tear it into strips about 15cm x 25cm in size, to fold or roll up and to tuck between your wound and the aforementioned Bridget Jones knickers.
# One step at a time # Keep moving. Slowly but surely, a little bit more each day. Keeping moving helps our whole body to heal, regulate and keep functioning optimally through good circulation and good flow of the lymph and other fluids. Keeping mobile can also help to prevent a build up of trapped gases. You don’t need to head out of the door if you don’t feel ready, but stroll around the house, if you have a garden have a wander in the garden. Don’t carry or lift anything heavier than baby though remember, and do what you need to do to help your body feel safe and supported; even if that means physically holding your abdomen with your hands as you walk for a few days.
# Sleep When Baby Sleeps # The original and best restorative modus operandi for our bodies. Potentially easier said than done with a newborn baby; so I mean it when I say “Sleep when baby sleeps!” The washing, the cleaning, the ironing, the phonecalls, the social media updates can all wait: sleep is where the healing is at!
# “It takes a village” # Every family needs extra help after the birth of a newborn, but following a Caesarean birth, with rest being as fundamental to physical healing as it is; organising a meal train, or someone to come and entertain siblings or the dog, someone to put a load of washing on and peg yesterday’s load out on the line (you get the idea) can really make a difference to your peace of mind and the logistics of those early weeks. I can’t speak for elsewhere but I know that here in Amsterdam and elsewhere within The Netherlands, we have some incredible mother-led communities and organisations being initiated by volunteers that are easily accessible for all. You can find the Postnatal Support Network of Amsterdam here, and I have no doubt that you will find someone in your area that can point you in the right direction for help and support. If not: reach out to friends. You can set up a WhatsAp or Facebook group for those friends in your circle who can offer some support and get used to asking for what you need during the coming few days, weeks and months.
Food & Drink
# Water Water Water # Aim to drink at least 2 litres of pure water a day (on top of teas and broths). This is essential for rehydrating after surgery and a hospital stay which can be notoriously drying for the body. It also helps prevent infection, flush out inflammation and traces of analgesia and antibiotics, help keep the bowel and urinary tract moving and flushing, along with providing enough hydration as your body begins to produce breastmilk too!
# Wholesome Good Food # This is important however you give birth, but especially after a Caesarean. A varied, well balanced diet rich in protein, good fats, minerals, vitamins and fibre will help your body attribute the necessary nutrients to all the different bodily functions happening at once (as mentioned above). Foods which help to fight inflammation are also helpful for your body right now.
Spicy / Herbal Hacks
Get the kettle on! Tea time!
(head over here for the tea set!)
Nettle tea, dandelion tea, fennel tea and breastfeeding teas such as the Weleda tea will all help to promote breastfeeding but also assist your body in flushing out all the excess fluids your body produced during pregnancy, aswell as help your body cleanse out all the pain medication, anaesthetics, antibiotics and IV fluids that you may have received during the Caesarean and immediately afterwards.
Warming spices: ginger, cardamon, cinnamon, turmeric – hello Chai latte! In Traditional Chinese Medicine giving birth to a baby represents a serious interuption to the flow and force of one’s qi or “chi” as we commonly say in the West. It is therefore considered essential to post partum healing to replace the lost heat after any birth, but giving birth via major surgery is considered an even greater deficit in chi.
Also worth noting: turmeric is not only a warming spice but one of nature’s greatest anti inflammatory substances (over the counter anti-inflammatories include Advil/Nurofen/Naproxen), and is a galactagogue (a substance which encourages the production of breast milk) so turmeric can truly have a multitude of highly beneficial side effects. See this link for a wonderful recipe for a rich nourishing turmeric “golden milk” at no. 7 & a simple but tasty turmeric tea at no. 1 It is worthwhile noting that Turmeric is best absorbed by the body when paired with black pepper; again more info via the link above.
Raspberry Leaf Tea – whilst after any other type of birth I would encourage the use of Raspberry Leaf Tea, following a Cesarean I would encourage caution. Longer term certainly helpful as it is such a wonderful uterine tonic at any stage of a woman’s life, however for the first six weeks following the operation I would personally be limiting this tea to once every few days.
Peppermint Tea or Peppermint Oil – whilst normally both peppermint tea and oil would be wonderfully helpful after surgery on or around the abdomen for gas or trapped wind, following a C-section during the period of time where you are likely to be trying to initiate breastfeeding – peppermint oil is understood to interrupt milk supply and production. See instead the aromatherapy section further down the thread.
Find the position that works the best for you and your baby. Maybe it is sat upright holding baby in the “rugby ball” position. Perhaps you can lie on your side with baby adjacent to you (this might not be possible immediately after a Cesarean). If you are sitting cross legged it can be really wonderful to put a cushion or pillow underneath each of your knees as it takes the strain off your abdomen. If the breastfeeding pillow which you bought with every good intention in the world isnt working for you – don’t hesitate to try without!
Please head over here to KellyMom.com (a great source of breastfeeding information and support) for their take on setting yourself up for successful breastfeeding after a Caesarean birth.
Milk Production/Pumping – I just want to be upfront and honest that milk production can take a little longer following a Caesarean (and analgesia); and so pumping might well be suggested to “improve” or hasten milk flow by increasing milk removal; especially helpful in the early days when you and baby are both learning how to breastfeed. Please don’t despair, this does not mean that “you can’t breastfeed after a Caesarean”, this does not mean your breasts “aren’t working”. In those early days it can feel like you’re climbing a mountain on your hands and knees, but keep in mind that in fact it is the first 8 weeks post partum which determines your milk production and flow, and each day you are probably noting that you feel a little bit better, a little bit stronger: have faith – this too shall pass! All that said, given that it can be more difficult to initiate breastfeeding after a C-Section, if you have any pain or doubts about baby’s latch or your breasts, then make sure to consult a well recommended Lactation Consultant or Peer to Peer Breastfeeding Counselor to iron out any issues before they take route. Lastly; due to the IV fluid that you receive when you undergo a Cesarean birth combined with the fact that baby doesn’t withstand the compression of a vaginal birth; babies born via Csection can have a slightly higher birth weight than their vaginally born counterparts. This can in turn mean a slightly elevated weight loss in the early days…remember to bring this into any conversation about baby’s weight loss (even if it’s just a personal reminder to reassure yourself) and perhaps consider waiting one more day before intervening with supplementation.
Probiotics – after having been exposed from the inside out to bacteria which are so different from our own microbiome in an operating theatre, and then receiving a big dose of antibiotics; taking probiotics in the form of supplements, or drinking yoghurt or water kefir, or eating fermented foods like Sauerkraut can really help mothers and their babies readjust their microbiome from the inside out. Studies are showing us that our guts are fundamental to good health, and unfortunately also show that having a Csection can have a detrimental effect on our babies’ gut health. I say “can have” because I believe that we can redress this difference. The probiotics have a great impact on breastmilk milk quality but also on our internal healing as they can help to reduce gas, constipation and bloating which are common post surgery side effects. Of course if you choose to feed formula then supplementing your baby with a dose of probiotics for babies is a healthy supplementation. I personally have had positive experiences using Bio-Kult and ABC Dophilus probiotic powder for babies from Solgar.
“Skin to Skin” – this is so helpful for promoting bonding, breastfeeding hormones, improving the microbiome of the infant and mother, regulating temperature of mother and baby, and don’t get me started on the yummy squishy smell of the newborn. (Be still my ovaries!) Make sure your room temperature is warm enough, and snuggle up together in bed – include your partner too!
When using essential oils on the skin they should always be diluted in a carrier oil. Good carrier oils include coconut oil, sweet almond oil and grapeseed oil; all of which are readily available – some even in super markets.
Immediate post partum the ways that aromatherapy can work are not related to the wound but more to the healing going on in the abdomen, specifically helping to eliminate trapped gases or constipation with gentle light touch massage around the upper abdomen.
Fennel, cardamon, ginger; all helpful should there be any trapped gas, or constipation. If you’re feeling a little warm or your temperature is up then fennel with it’s slightly cooling properties would be a wiser choice. The other blessing here is that all three of these herbs and spices are traditionally used as galactogogues – substances that promote and enhance milk production. Please remember that the key to increasing milk production is milk removal (which is where pumping can be very helpful to maintain a regular rhythm on top of feeding baby on demand). To take a galactogogue, either as a herb, essential oil, or tea; but not maximise the milk removal can result in engorgement, and other related issues – which is the last thing you want when you are already recovering from major surgery and learning how to breastfeed!
Please note it is wise to use only one drop of whichever one essential oil you choose to use on your body, as new mothers and their babies remain very sensitive to smells of all kinds (it is nature’s way of protecting the newborn). Dilute even one drop with a small teaspoon of carrier oil.
Rose, lavender, and chamomile to relax and restore. Bergamot and/or neroli to lift the spirits during the day. These essential oils could be used on a warm or cool compress on your face or your neck, or could be diffused gently in the room. Again; less is more.
Following the first 6 weeks of healing the wound should be healing nicely – or certainly appear to be doing so from the outside. From the six week point in the healing process, gentle massage and wound care on the skin can be supportive in successful longer term healing. Once again; go gently with the dosage – start with just one drop of whichever oil you choose in a teaspoon of carrier oil. Also, go gently with your touch and pressure – be mindful of how your wound is feeling. Start out for the first couple of months with light touch massage once or twice a week gently increasing if it feels comfortable; and then 3-4 months post partum introduce massage with an electric toothbrush or a vibrator (yes a vibrator!) if it feels comfortable for you. The gentle pulsation of the toothbrush or vibrator is thought to discourage adhesions from forming amongst tissue and organs.
Frankincense – a healing essential oil with antiseptic, antibacterial and anti fungal properties, it is also a cicatrisant (which means it promotes effective healing and regeneration of the skin/wounds/scars). It is also an effective digestive oil; when used externally through massage it can help to relieve trapped gas.
Lavender – wonderfully calming (but not necessarily the best essential oil to promote sleep as it actually improves mental function), antibacterial, antiviral and proven to be an effective essential oil for pain relief. It has also been understood to speed up the healing process of wounds, cuts, burns, and sunburns because it improves the formation of scar tissue.
Chamomile – antidepressant, antispasmodic, sedative, anti-inflammatory, and cicatrisant (see above), wonderful for promoting skin healing and regeneration too; calming properties for even the most sensitive skin.
Carrot Seed Oil – antiseptic, antiviral & disinfectant, carminative (removes stubborn trapped gases), It stimulates both circulation and metabolic function; which in turn can promote good healing. Carrot Seed essential oil stimulates the growth of new cells and tissues. It also tones the skin and prevents it from hanging loose or showing signs of aging. It has a soothing earthy aroma and is known to promote relief from stress and anxiety, which having a refreshing effect on the emotions.
One last word of caution; even after the 6 weeks…go gently; especially if you are breastfeeding. One or two drops in a heaped teaspoon of carrier oil is more than enough. The body is so sensitive for the first 4 months after giving birth; and whilst essential oils are natural, they are powerful and can impact on the function of the uterus and the production and regulation of hormones amongst other things, so over use can result in heightened sensitivity.
I carry the Helios Homeopathic Childbirth Kit in my doula bag – always! I know many other doulas do, and I find it to be very helpful during all stages of labour, birth and post partum parenting. It has five powerful remedies in an adequately potent dose to assist inside out healing following a Cesarean Section too.
Arnica: a common addition to many first aid kits, Arnica is useful for all new injuries, and can help reduce soreness, bruising, tissue damage, and bleeding related to surgical procedures. Very helpful for alleviating bruising, swelling, and soreness during recovery from most surgeries.
Bellis perennis: commonly referred to as Bellis Per. Useful when bruising and trauma occur to soft tissue, and/or to deep internal tissues after surgery involving the abdomen, breasts, or trunk-especially if a feeling of stiffness or coldness has developed in the area.
Calendula: to help complete the healing of deep wounds (a Csection incision means cutting through seven membranes) along with preventing inflammation, suppuration and infection at the site of the wound. Calendula also helps prevent keloid formation of the scar.
Staphysagria: useful when pain persists at the site of a surgical incision, or after procedures that involve the stretching of a sphincter muscle. It is also indicated after surgeries involving reproductive organs (prostate surgery, hysterectomy, C-section, episiotomy) or the abdomen, stomach, and rectum (including hemorrhoids). Staphysagria may also help after operations on traumatic injuries.
Hypericum: particularly useful for injuries, wounds and surgeries involving nerve rich areas of the body.
I took the remedies above for three weeks on rotation. The Helios Childbirth Kits include the remedies at a very potent dose (200c), so for clients I recommend two weeks at the strongest dose as included in the kit, then acquiring the same remedies at a lower potency (30c) for another week or two. For more specific advise on any other symptoms you are experiencing I recommend finding a qualified homeopathic practictioner in your area.
Rescue Remedy: another favourite from my doula bag! This is very helpful for the emotional side of the healing and coming to terms with the experience, along with those moments of potential overwhelm which come with just having had a baby, and are exacerbated by the intense aches and pains that come with Cesarean recovery. A few drops under the tongue when you feel like you need it; as an added bonus it is very “cleansing” for the body too.
Psychological & Emotional Healing
Acceptance and Integration – these are simple, commonly used words which psychologically are the foundations of a healthy processing of any difficult experience in life, including difficult or traumatic birth experiences. First of all, tell your story as often as you feel comfortable sharing it. Seek out your partner, your friends and family, your healthcare providers, a therapist, your doula (or post partum doula), the neighbour, the dog(!)…anyone who can listen to you unconditionally and non-judgementally, and simply allow you to speak things out and recall things one by one to make sense of how it all unfolded. This is a very important step for your brain in processing the experience; this is one of the primary ways in which it organises difficult or traumatic events.
Journaling – could you find the time to write down a few words each day about your feelings about the Caesarean, your recollections, what you’re grateful for from the experience, how you feel you are healing each day, what disappointments and concerns have come up for you that day? It doesn’t need to be worthy of Anne Frank; it might just be a list of words, it may be a collection of pictures or diagrams, you could use video or voicenotes. Again, journaling in this way can be incredibly helpful in assisting the brain to process the experience and not file it away as a trauma. The three feelings you should pay keen attention to and treat with extra special care are guilt, shame and fear; if these feeling persist then consider getting a referral to a therapist.
Support Groups – there is a lot of support, empathy and healing to be found in the experience of sharing birth stories with others who have gone through a similar kind of birth experience (particularly if that experience was far away from the experience that you were hoping for). It is important to find a group which is facilitated by someone who you feel safe with, and who can hold space for all members of the group, and who can be relied upon to maintain healthy, non judgemental, mature and open communication in the sessions. I know many birth workers (myself included – click here to join the Cesarean Support Network NL); midwives and doulas, along with coaches and therapists who host group meetings in person; there are also organisations such as the International Cesarean Awareness Network (ICAN) that have local chapters just about everywhere in the world. Facebook and other online forums also have a variety of virtual support groups which can be sources of tremendous value; especially when they are international and there are people online around the clock.
VBAC/ Vaginal Birth After Cesarean – one of the most difficult things I have read about women who give birth by Caesarean Section is that they are significantly less likely to choose to have more children because for many the experience of having the surgery, and recovering from surgery is too much to imagine going through a second time. I do maintain that some of that is because there is so little follow up care from health care providers, and somehow such a stigma attached to Cesarean birth that there are few resources out there on successful short, medium and long term strategies for healing successfully from a C-Section. Please keep in mind that the outdated adage “Once a Caesarean, always a Caesarean” is NOT TRUE. Many women go on to experience vaginal birth following a C-Section; so please don’t let your experience of having had a Csection put you off planning a VBAC. Most doulas have experience supporting VBAC; and as I do run a VBAC Support Group in Amsterdam, I hope to write a comprehensive VBAC post in the not so distant future *watch this space*.
Longer Term Healing Hacks (6 weeks +)
Keep working on Acceptance and Integration – this journey can make leaps and bounds and take long rests over many months and years.
Body work – consider seeing a chiropractor, an accupuncturist, an osteopath, a cranio sacral therapist, a somatic coach, a Mizan therapist, an energetic healer, or an Arvigo practitioner. Whilst the mind commands a lot of our attention, our bodies can often go ignored, and our bodies store a lot which actually we often need to release. Seeing any one of the therapists mentioned above (and there are many other types of physical therapy that can help – you need to work out what is good for you) could have a very supportive role in healing the body from the experience of surgical birth.
Massage or cupping – one of the potential complications with longer term healing following a Csection is adhesive scarring (internally). By massaging the area directly around the scar (as mentioned above with an electric toothbrush*** or vibrator), the adhesions are understood to be less likely to form. Gentle cupping (non therapeutic grade) around the scar after a few months can also discourage adhesions (extensive scar tissue) from forming. It can also be very beneficial for gently removing any inflammation and/or stagnation in the area of the scar; improving sexual response, improving the functioning of the uterus, and bringing blood flow, lymph flow and warmth back into the region. A great practitioner for this is Mirjam Heemskerk of Gentle Beginnings here in Amsterdam; she specialises in holistic recovery in the post partum period. You can visit her and her wonderful work over here.
(I have successfully used my Philips Sonicare toothbrush for both excellent teeth cleaning and Caesarean scar healing! *** Not the brush end; the body of the toothbrush!)
What can you add??? What worked for you???
Leave your comments with your own tried and tested healing hacks, or your experiences with the suggestions above – I would so love to hear if this helped you in anyway.
Lastly; please get in touch with feedback or questions, or if you would like a consultation to help process your birth story, to plan your next birth, or for coaching or doula support in any capacity; I am available in person in Amsterdam, or online via Skype/FaceTime. You can find out more about my doula support packages here. We can arrange an appointment via email:
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