I always said that my birth plan was to go with the flow, and to have “a healthy mom and a healthy baby.”

I didn’t want to get my heart set on certain things happening, because knowing my personality, it would be harder for me to accept when things didn’t go as planned that way. I didn’t know what to expect because I had never been in labor before. I was giving birth for the first time. So I planned to just play things by ear and see how they went.

As labor progressed and then didn’t anymore, it became clear that I needed to have a C-section in order to deliver Raleigh safely. There was no hesitation from my partner and I—we were OK with the decision.

healthy baby born via c-section as one mom shares what to expect during a c-section

I knew C-sections happen often, and I know lots of people who have had them. I have a nursing degree and I did my internship on the same labor and delivery floor of the same hospital that I delivered at. I was in the operating room for several C-sections during my internship.

But what I didn’t know was what it was actually like to have a C-section.

I didn’t know what to expect during a C-section.

No one had ever told me what it was really like to have one, and what to expect after mine.

I wasn’t prepared for the recovery process.

Introduction to Cesarean births class

Here’s what to expect during a C-section—and 23 things I wish I had known

Had I known these things, I think my recovery would have been less anxiety-filled, because I would have known what to expect.

1. It is major surgery

Yes, C-sections are pretty common these days. I heard a statistic that said as many as one-third of babies are born this way. But still, it is major surgery.

Related: A brief history of the C-section

2. Getting up to walk is ROUGH at first

It’s going to hurt like heck when you get out of bed and walk for the first time, which they make you do relatively soon after surgery. You will feel like you are 100 years old and you can’t stand up straight. You will likely shuffle around as you remain hunched over. This is NORMAL.

Related: How to have a positive birth experience with a C-section

3. Each day gets a little bit better

You will feel a little bit better with every day that passes. I was told this by one of my nurses who had 4 C-sections herself and was pregnant again. I consider her an expert.

4. Take medication for the pain

You will be offered narcotics in the early days after surgery. I didn’t take the narcotics because I’m prone to nausea as a side effect. But I got some IV medication that was like strong ibuprofen, and when I went home, I rotated ibuprofen and Tylenol for the first week or two. If you can stay on top of the pain, you will be able to move better and care for yourself and your baby better.

5. It hurts like crazy to cough, laugh or sneeze

Holding a pillow against your incision, or pressing on it with your hands might help a little bit. But in those early days, it’s going to hurt, period. I tried my hardest not to do any of these three at first. Some places might make you practice coughing to clear your lungs. (I read that in my baby book.) No one made me do that at our hospital.

Related: Chewing gum after a C-section could help you leave the hospital sooner

6. The swelling in your body will likely get worse before it gets better

You receive a lot of IV fluids in the hospital during labor and during the C-section. These made my already swollen face, legs and feet even bigger before my body started to get rid of the excess fluid. Really, my whole body was swollen. It will go away over the next week or two.

7. Accept help when you go home

Cooking help, cleaning help, child care help. Accept it all because you will need it. Remember, you just had major surgery.

Related: 8 things to do now to prepare for your C-section

8. You need to take care of yourself

Expect to be taking care of yourself in the early days as you recover enough to take care of your baby. I didn’t anticipate how hard it would be to try to care for a baby while I was recovering too. I mainly focused on feeding Raleigh in the early days and Matt did the rest of everything. Once I started to feel and move better, I took on more of the responsibilities.

9. Be careful with how you move

Don’t do anything resembling a sit up or anything that strains the ab muscles. Don’t try to use your abs to sit up from laying down on your back. (Especially if you’re holding your baby. I accidentally did that.) Roll to your side and use your arms to push yourself up instead.

Sleep in a recliner if laying flat hurts too much at first. If you overdo it, you might injure yourself and possibly cause problems with your incision. I tweaked things at least once, although thankfully not to the point of needing to go in for treatment. But I sure did get sore from it.

Related: Secrets to better postpartum care from mothers around the globe

10. Use an abdominal binder

This might help you feel more stabilized as your incision and muscles heal. I didn’t use mine until after a week or so, but I wish I would have used it right away. It would have offered me some support when I needed it badly.

mama holding her baby, who was born via c-section. One mom shares what to expect during a c-section.

11. Expect soreness

Especially in the scar tissue beneath the incision—this is where I have had the most tenderness since my surgery. Expect the soreness to move, too. One day, the right side might be sore and the next, the left.

12. Ice might help

Buy a couple ice packs or take a few home from the hospital and use them when you’re resting. It will help decrease inflammation, swelling and pain.

13. Expect numbness

You will likely feel numbness and tingling in your lower abdomen around the incision area. This is a normal result of the surgery because of the affected nerves. It will get better with time.

14. Don’t overdo it

You’ll hear this advice offered a lot. I was also told that everyone does overdo it at some point. Once you start to feel a little better, resist the urge to do all the things. If you do too much, you’ll take a few steps backwards and likely have a lot more pain and tenderness for a couple days.

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

15. No heavy lifting

My mother-in-law had three C-sections and she said she remembers being told not to lift anything heavier than a gallon of milk. Really, your baby is the heaviest thing you should be lifting.

This is tricky with a car seat, though. If I went anywhere, I needed to lift the car seat in and out. Add a 9-pound baby to that, and it was really hard not to lift too much. Initially, I got help as much as I could when I needed to go to appointments or on errands. Once I was feeling a little better, I used my stroller to go places instead of carrying the car seat very far.

16. No driving for a while

I was told not to drive until you can slam on the brakes without pain. And sit comfortably in the car too.

17. Watch for signs of infection

Increased pain, swelling, redness, heat or drainage from the incision, fever or chills… Report any signs of infection to your doctor asap.

18. Some swelling around the incision is normal

Don’t worry yet—let time pass and see how it goes. Things are trying to heal beneath the surface, and through all the layers that were cut. It will get better.

19. Start walking as soon as you can

But again, don’t overdo it. Take it easy. The more mobile you are though, the better you will feel. Physically AND mentally.

20. Hormones will likely make everything seem and feel worse

This is normal. However, if you feel like you’re passing the baby blues phase and heading into postpartum depression, talk to your doctor.

Related: Yes, your pregnancy hormones plummet after birth. Here’s what to know about the postpartum hormone crash

21. It’s OK to grieve

You may feel some regret about having a C-section, or grieve the “loss” of a vaginal birth. These are normal feelings too. Give yourself grace. You sacrificed yourself to bring your baby into this world in a way that is truly selfless. You are a warrior.

Related: I grieved the birth experience I didn’t get

22. C-sections are REAL births

This might seem obvious, but a lot of people don’t realize that they consider C-sections to be a lesser form of birth. That they are somehow inferior to those who have had vaginal deliveries. You are not a lesser mom because you had to have a C-section. Remember, you sacrificed yourself completely, you were CUT OPEN, so that your baby could have life. Be kind to yourself.

mom holding baby after recovering from her c-section. One mom shares what to expect during a c-section.

Related: PSA: C-sections are not the easy way out

23. The C-section recovery is a long process

You will need patience. If you push it or do things you aren’t supposed to, you will permanently injure yourself. Instead, go slow. Do approved core exercises. Again, you had major surgery. Your body went through a lot. Be patient and be kind to yourself.

Tips for Effective Pain Relief After a C-Section

Recovering from a Cesarean section (C-section) involves managing postoperative pain to promote healing and overall well-being. Here are some tips for effectively managing pain after a C-section:

1. Follow Prescribed Medication Schedule:

  • Take prescribed pain medications as directed by your healthcare provider. This may include opioids for severe pain, NSAIDs like ibuprofen, or acetaminophen (Tylenol). Adhering to the prescribed medication schedule can help manage discomfort and facilitate a smoother recovery.

2. Use Ice Packs or Heat Therapy:

  • Apply ice packs or heat therapy to the surgical site as recommended by your healthcare provider. Ice packs can help reduce inflammation and numb the area, while heat therapy can promote relaxation and alleviate muscle tension. Alternate between ice and heat therapy as needed for pain relief.

3. Practice Relaxation Techniques:

  • Engage in relaxation techniques such as deep breathing exercises, meditation, or guided imagery to reduce stress and promote relaxation. Relaxation techniques can help distract from pain sensations and improve overall comfort during the recovery process.

4. Gentle Movements and Stretching:

  • Incorporate gentle movements and stretching exercises into your daily routine to improve circulation and alleviate muscle stiffness. Avoid strenuous activities that may exacerbate pain, but aim to maintain mobility through gentle movements such as walking or gentle stretching exercises.

5. Proper Wound Care:

  • Follow proper wound care instructions provided by your healthcare provider to promote healing and prevent infection. Keep the incision site clean and dry, and monitor for any signs of infection such as increased redness, swelling, or drainage.

6. Stay Hydrated and Maintain Nutrition:

  • Stay hydrated and maintain a balanced diet rich in nutrients to support the healing process. Adequate hydration and nutrition can help optimize recovery and minimize discomfort during the postoperative period.

7. Utilize Supportive Devices:

  • Consider using supportive devices such as abdominal binders or supportive pillows to provide additional comfort and stability during recovery. Abdominal binders can help support the abdominal muscles and reduce discomfort during movement.

8. Seek Alternative Therapies:

  • Explore alternative therapies such as acupuncture, massage therapy, or transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation (TENS) under the guidance of your healthcare provider. These therapies may complement traditional pain management strategies and provide additional relief from discomfort.

9. Communicate with Your Healthcare Provider:

  • Maintain open communication with your healthcare provider regarding your pain levels, concerns, and preferences for pain management. Your healthcare provider can adjust pain management strategies as needed and provide additional support to ensure a comfortable and successful recovery.

By incorporating these tips into your postoperative care plan, you can effectively manage pain after a C-section and promote a smoother recovery process. Remember to prioritize self-care, listen to your body, and seek support from your healthcare team as needed throughout the recovery journey.

4 extra C-section recovery tips

1. Prepare ahead of time

Make freezer meals and buy easy to eat snacks and beverages to make staying fueled and hydrated quick and easy. If you are having a scheduled C-section or if at all possible before delivery, stock up on groceries too. Make things as easy as possible for your return home. My go-to’s are granola bars for snacks, and crockpot meals for supper. I use crockpot liners to make cleanup even quicker.

2. Remember, health is most important

A healthy mom and a healthy baby is the most important goal, above all else. Keep that in mind to ensure the proper perspective through it all.

3. Journal throughout the process so you are able to remember the early moments

The hospital stay was such a blur to me. I was really introspective and focused on the aftermath of surgery. I’m very thankful for my journal entries, as well as the photos my partner took, to help me relive that time.

4. Even if you are more swollen than you’ve ever been in your life, you need to be in some of the photos.

I didn’t want to be in any photos in the early days because I looked terrible and felt even worse. But it’s so important to have at least a few of you from that time. You and your baby especially. Those pictures will be cherished by them someday, because they show the sacrifice you made to give your baby life.

My hope is that knowing these things will help make any future C-sections I have a lot easier to plan for, deal with and recover from.

I hope the same for you too.

Need additional support recovering from a c-section? These products can help

bodily belly band


Belly Band


You need support in all the ways right now, mama. The double-layer belly wraps from Bodily provide targeted compression to help support your belly and lower back as you heal and regain strength postpartum. With velcro to customize the fit and a soft but structured design, it keeps you stabilized without feeling too constricted.

Bodily C-Section Box


Scheduled C-Section Box


Another option? Leave it to the pros. The from Scheduled C-Section Box Bodily has all the things you’ll need to care for your body after birth. From postpartum bleeding to incision care, this pre-packed hospital bag is filled with expert-approved essentials including their belly band, incision-friendly postpartum underwear, maxi pads, mesh undies (a life saver!), breast care and even some educational materials to guide you through the early days and weeks.

Belly Bandit C-Section Recovery Briefs

Belly Bandit

C-Section Recovery Briefs


This high-waisted design lays flat and is incredibly gentle against your scar. Silver-infused fibers help eliminate bacteria and odor to keep you feeling fresh and comfortable.

Frida Mom C-Section Recovery Band

Frida Mom

C-Section Recovery Band


There’s nothing better than snuggling your teeny babe–except when those tiny feet bump your incision. The C-Section Recovery Band from Frida Mom offers a soft bumper to protect your tender belly as well as a hands-free way to apply heat or ice. Just slip the reusable packs inside to get the relief you need.

Belly Bandit C-Section Scar Defense

Belly Bandit

C-Section Scar Defense


These super thin adhesive sheets not only help improve the appearance of scars, but can also help hydrate and heal surrounding dry and itchy skin.

FAQ Section: Understanding C-Section Recovery

1. What should I expect during a C-section recovery?

  • C-section recovery involves major surgery, and it’s essential to understand the process to ensure a smoother healing journey. From the initial days post-surgery to the gradual improvement over time, knowing what to expect can alleviate anxiety and aid in preparation.

2. Is it normal to experience pain and discomfort during C-section recovery?

  • Yes, it’s normal to experience pain, discomfort, and limitations in mobility during the initial stages of C-section recovery. Activities such as walking, coughing, laughing, or sneezing may be particularly challenging, but these symptoms tend to improve gradually over time.

3. How can I manage pain during C-section recovery?

  • Pain management strategies include taking prescribed medication for pain relief, using ice packs to reduce inflammation, and practicing gentle movements to prevent stiffness. It’s crucial to stay on top of pain management to facilitate mobility and overall well-being.

4. What precautions should I take during C-section recovery?

  • It’s essential to avoid heavy lifting, strenuous activities, and movements that strain the abdominal muscles. Additionally, maintaining proper wound care, monitoring for signs of infection, and following healthcare provider recommendations are vital for a safe and successful recovery.

5. How long does C-section recovery typically take?

  • C-section recovery varies for each individual but generally involves a gradual improvement over several weeks. While initial discomfort may persist, most women find that each day brings a slight improvement in overall well-being and mobility.

6. How can I support my recovery process at home?

  • Accepting help from others, prioritizing self-care, and gradually reintroducing activities are essential aspects of supporting recovery at home. Preparing ahead with freezer meals, stocking up on essentials, and journaling throughout the process can also aid in managing recovery effectively.

7. What emotional aspects should I consider during C-section recovery?

  • It’s normal to experience a range of emotions during C-section recovery, including feelings of grief, regret, or frustration. Remembering the importance of your health and the selflessness of your actions can provide perspective and self-compassion during this time.

8. Are there additional tips for a smoother C-section recovery?

  • Practicing patience, documenting your journey, and ensuring inclusion in photos despite any self-consciousness can contribute to a more positive recovery experience. Prioritizing health, seeking support, and maintaining a positive outlook are crucial components of navigating C-section recovery successfully.

This article was originally published on LauraRadniecki.com. It has been updated.