Having a c-section is absolutely insane. You’ve just had your abs ripped apart and now you have a tiny, vulnerable human to keep alive. And you have to do it with virtually no sleep.
I did not plan for a c-section (my first was an emergency), so I was entirely unprepared when I got home and realized just how little I could do. I could not sit up, bend, or stand for longer than 10 minutes without being in pain.
So, how exactly would I get a onesie out of the bottom drawer, open the freezer drawer in our kitchen, or pick up the baby blanket I just dropped?! And when would the range of motion torture end?
The truth is that your recovery time will depend on your unique situation, but I can share my experiences and some tips and tricks to make life a little less painful after a c-section.
Why you can’t bend after a c-section
If you have a weak stomach, please don’t start searching for c-section surgery videos like I did. It’s way rougher than I was expecting… your OB-GYN will quite literally pull your ab muscles apart to get access to your uterus and baby.
It’s no wonder that sitting up or bending over right after a c-section will leave you screaming (been there).
Besides the pain, you’ll also be on a strict regimen of pain meds, which can leave you feeling dizzy and unsteady. Trying to bend over could lead to you falling, which puts you at risk for complications.
A c-section is a major abdominal surgery, and it takes 4-8 weeks to recover. But full recovery takes much longer than that, which is why your doctor likely won’t clear you to get pregnant again for at least 12 months.
P.S.: The damage to your abdominal muscles is one of the things that can lead to diastasis recti, which can also leave you with the “mom pooch” or “hanging belly.” You can read more about that here.
Recovery time is different for everyone
You may have heard your doctor say that exercising during pregnancy can make your labor and recovery less painful. The same goes for c-section recovery.
Your age, overall health, and fitness level will impact how quickly you can get back to normal, including being able to bend.
That said, in my personal experience, the most significant factor that affected my recovery was emergency vs. planned c-sections.
Emergency vs. planned
My first c-section was an emergency, and the recovery was a bit brutal. I could hardly walk, and of course, I could not sit up or bend whatsoever. When a section is planned, the doctor can take his or her time cutting carefully, and while they’ll likely be swift, they won’t be rushed.
During an emergency, there is less care and more of an effort to be as fast as possible, especially since your or your baby’s life is likely at risk. While I did not feel any pain during any of my c-section surgeries, I felt a lot more tugging and pulling on my body during the emergency.
Please note that this is my personal experience, and you should talk to your OB-GYN about expectations.
Related: How to Sleep After a C-Section (10 Tips From a 3x Caesarean Mom)
My experience with c-section recovery time
I personally didn’t start gaining back normal functions until the 2-3 week mark. I also ended up with an infection at the incision, which did not occur with my planned c-sections.
My other two c-sections were planned, and it was night and day in terms of recovery. In fact, after my third c-section, I was literally walking within hours of having surgery! I could sit up and bend by the end of the first week. My husband was absolutely amazed and could not believe it was even possible. I mean, I was, too!
Give yourself grace and expect recovery to be slower than your friends or peers on social media, especially if you’ve had an emergency c-section.
Walking after a c-section
The hospital will send you home with lots of information on c-section recovery, so definitely take the time to read through those handouts and packets. Your OB might also give you some materials to review prior to a c-section (if it’s planned).
That said, your nurses will try to help you walk as soon as you can to prevent post-op complications. Walking within the first 24 hours of surgery can also speed up healing (which is pretty counterintuitive if you ask me).
Outside of walking, though, you really need to take it easy. Your physicians will instruct you not to lift anything heavier than 25 pounds, stand for long periods of time, or do anything that puts strain on your body – including bending.
Bending after a c-section
In terms of when you can start bending after a c-section, you’ll need to listen to your body and increase your activity as your strength comes back and your body heals.
Instead of bending to pick a diaper up off the floor after surgery, do a slight bend and see how you feel. If it’s not painful, bend a little further. If at any point you feel pain or like you’re straining your body, ask for help! The healing will come in time.
You won’t be cleared to drive a car for two weeks, and one of the reasons for that is you may not be able to twist your body to look over your shoulder. If you can’t twist your body, you can’t expect to have a full range of motion to bend, either.
While it differs from mom to mom, don’t expect to be able to bend for 4-6 weeks after surgery.
Potential risks of bending too soon
If you put strain on your body immediately after surgery, you do run the risk of creating intra-abdominal pressure. Your doctor tore your abs apart, so your pelvic floor is understandably shot right now. Putting pressure there can lead to organ complications.
You can also cause harm to your incision or pull apart your stitches when you bend, lift heavy things, or stretch excessively.
How to Pick Things Up and Sit Up If You Can’t Bend
OK, so you probably won’t be able to bend for a few weeks after having a c-section. What do you do when you need to pick something up or get out of a chair?!
Lean on your support system
I was lucky in that I had my mother and mother-in-law with me for the first couple of weeks after birth. They could help me retrieve things off the floor, fold laundry, and lift heavy things after surgery. My husband also routinely lifted me out of bed (literally gave me a hug and lifted me into a standing position).
If you don’t have that kind of support, you can get creative.
There are grabber tools you can purchase right from Amazon. This one from EZPIK is great quality and can pick up to 5 pounds without you needing to bend.
It folds up so you can store it away, and it has a magnetic tip to help you out if you drop something hard to grab like a battery or coin.
Use your arms to do the work
When it comes to bending to get up out of a chair, I perfected using my arms to do the work. Put your hands on the armrests of a chair and use them exclusively to push yourself up.
Definitely be careful with sitting up – we’re so used to using our core muscles to do this, but if you do that after a c-section, you will howl in pain.
Roll instead of sit up
If you’re laying down, you can also roll out of bed. If you’re lying on your back, roll to your side and then use your arms to push yourself up and out.
The things we do for our babies!
Prep your space
If your c-section is planned, definitely take the time to prep your space before surgery. Put any items you know you’ll need at eye level. Move the swaddles from the bottom drawer to the top drawer. Get the box of diapers off the floor and put them in your diaper caddy.
Ensuring your need-to-have items are within reach when standing will help you avoid bending or working too hard after surgery.
Do baths in the sink
Kneeling next to a bath tub is not possible after a c-section, so make sure you have the items you need to do baths in the sink.
Many moms swear by the Blooming Bath, which is a flower pad that goes in your sink and is the perfect size for a newborn.
It’ll help you do baths while standing, and honestly, this is way easier than using a bathtub, whether you’ve had a c-section or not.
A c-section may be incredibly common, but don’t let that fool you – it’s still a major surgery. You won’t be able to bend like normal for many weeks, but the recovery will come and you will be back to yourself before you know it.
Take it easy and don’t strain your body. Be kind to yourself and take the time you need to heal and regain strength after your c-section.
Rebekah is a writer and mother of three children. She is also the woman behind Two Mama Bears, a blog for parents with babies and toddlers.