You may be in hospital for a few days after a caesarean section, and may need to take things easy for several weeks.

This page covers:

Recovering in hospital

Looking after your wound

Your scar

Controlling pain and bleeding

Returning to your normal activities

When to get medical advice

Recovering in hospital

The average stay in hospital after a caesarean is around three or four days. You may be able to go home sooner than this if both you and your baby are well.

While in hospital:

  • you'll be given painkillers to reduce any discomfort
  • you'll have regular close contact with your baby and can start breastfeeding
  • you'll be encouraged to get out of bed and move around as soon as possible
  • you can eat and drink as soon as you feel hungry or thirsty
  • a thin, flexible tube called a catheter will remain in your bladder for at least 12 hours
  • your wound will be covered with a dressing for at least 24 hours

When you're well enough to go home, you'll need to arrange for someone to give you a lift as you won't be able to drive for a few weeks.

Looking after your wound

Your midwife should also advise you on how to look after your wound.

You'll usually be advised to:

  • gently clean and dry the wound every day
  • wear loose, comfortable clothes and cotton underwear
  • take painkillers if the wound is sore – see controlling pain
  • watch out for signs of infection – see when to get medical advice

Non-dissolvable stitches or staples will usually be taken out by your midwife after five to seven days.

Your scar

The wound in your tummy will eventually form a scar.

This will usually be a horizontal scar about 10-20cm long, just below your bikini line.

In rare cases, you may have a vertical scar just below your bellybutton.

The scar will probably be red and obvious at first, but it should fade with time and will often be hidden in your pubic hair.

Controlling pain and bleeding

Most women experience some discomfort for the first few days after a caesarean, and for some women the pain can last several weeks.

You should be given regular painkillers to take at home, for as long as you need them.

Paracetamol is usually recommended for mild pain, co-codamol for moderate pain, and a combination of co-codamol and ibuprofen for more severe pain.

You may also have some vaginal bleeding. Use sanitary pads rather than tampons to reduce the risk of spreading infection into the vagina, and get medical advice if the bleeding is heavy.

Returning to your normal activities

Try to stay mobile and do gentle activities, such as going for a daily walk, while you're recovering to reduce the risk of blood clots. Be careful not to overexert yourself.

You should be able to hold and carry your baby once you get home. But you may not be able to do some activities straight away, such as:

  • driving
  • exercising
  • carrying anything heavier than your baby
  • having sex

Only start to do these things again when you feel able to do so and don't find them uncomfortable. This may not be for six weeks or so.

Ask your midwife for advice if you're unsure when it's safe to start returning to your normal activities. You can also ask your GP at your six-week postnatal check.

When to get medical advice

Contact your midwife or GP straight away if you have any of the following symptoms after a caesarean:

  • severe pain
  • leaking urine
  • pain when peeing
  • heavy vaginal bleeding
  • your wound becomes more red, painful and swollen
  • a discharge of pus or foul-smelling fluid from your wound
  • cough or shortness of breath
  • swelling or pain in your lower leg

These symptoms may be the sign of an infection or blood clot, which should be treated as soon as possible.

What is a caesarean birth like?

Three mothers share their experiences of what their caesarean births was like.

Media last reviewed: 20/03/2014

Next review due: 20/03/2017

Page last reviewed: 01/07/2016

Next review due: 01/07/2019