Maybe it didn’t turn out the way you planned, maybe you were prepared for giving birth vaginally but for some reason you ended up having a planned or emergency caesarean section. This article will be part of a series of articles about the first weeks after a caesarean birth and what you should be thinking about at that time, because after all, you have gone through a serious surgical procedure and this places different demands on you and your body.

The reasons for having a caesarean section include:

  • Your baby is in a breech position (bottom down) and attempts to turn the baby were unsuccessful
  • Pre-eclampsia
  • Fear of childbirth
  • Low-lying placenta where the placenta blocks the baby’s way out
  • Narrow pelvis
  • Large baby
  • Giving birth to twins or triplets 
  • In the middle of a vaginal birth due to labour not progressing or stopping
  • Your baby’s condition deteriorating during labour

Below you can see how a caesarean section is performed

The doctor cuts through the layers of skin (what’s known as the bikini incision is the most common type), makes an incision in the uterus and delivers the baby. The placenta is removed and checked (like in a vaginal birth) and everything is sewn back together.

As you can see, a caesarean section is an abdominal operation that requires a certain amount of recovery.

PART 1: diet and wound healing

Although caesarean sections often involve a long healing period that places greater demands on the body than vaginal childbirth, you can speed up the process and make things easier on yourself, so let’s take a closer look at what you can do right from the start.
There are 3 different stages of wound healing:

Phase 1: Inflammatory phase
The inflammatory phase is the first phase and starts the second you get a wound. This is followed by coagulation and the removal of bacteria, dead tissue and foreign objects from the wound. This process causes swelling and heat. Fluid may also seep out of the wound. The dead cells release substances that irritate nerve endings, causing pain. Once the area is cleaned up, the inflammation period ends.

Phase 2: Proliferative stage
This is the start of the growth phase and new formation. Collagen and ground substance are produced and the skin regenerates gradually, starting from the bottom of the wound, gradually causing the wound to close. This phase can take anything from a few days up to a few weeks.

Phase 3: Remodelling phase
There is now a remodelling phase and scar tissue is formed. Blood vessels that are no longer needed disappear and this causes the scar to fade. How the scar looks depends on how much collagen is needed. Collagen forms into clumps to make the wound as resistant as possible. So the first step is inflammation. Logically, you need something anti-inflammatory, so what you eat during this period is something that can positively affect the healing process.
Omega 3 is a recognised anti-inflammatory. You can find it in oily fish and linseed oil. Other recognised anti-inflammatory sources include turmeric, berries, cocoa and chia seeds – perfect for adding to your smoothies.

Don’t reduce your calorie intake!

Metabolism can be increased by up to 50% during the healing period! Reducing your calorie intake is not the way to go, though many people mistakenly believe it is. The opposite is actually true – give your body lots of nutritious food. If you also want to breastfeed, your body has a lot to deal with.

Your life as a mother begins with changing nappies, carrying your baby around, taking the pram out, bringing the pram in, breastfeeding multiple times a day and even breastfeeding at night. You’re no longer pregnant but you don’t recognise your own body. You feel like something is missing, you experience pains here and there, your maternity clothes are getting too big but your old clothes are too small – you feel like you’re caught between things. The temptation to start reducing your food intake is strong, but as mentioned – you need a lot of energy right now so try not to give in to temptation! Food is now your fuel, and you also need it to build up your core and pelvic floor muscles.

Eat lots of protein!

The next important thing to consider is your protein intake, which should be quite high because protein is responsible for tissue building (collagen) and protein must be supplied from outside as the body cannot produce it on its own. Phases 2 and 3 are more demanding than phase 1 – new tissue has to be built!

You can find protein in meat, fish, chicken, cottage cheese, quark, eggs, beans, tofu and seafood.

Don’t forget about water and fibre!

Your water intake should also be high, as collagen contains a certain amount of liquid. If you have started breastfeeding, it is even more important to get enough fluids. Too little fluid can lead to poor blood circulation, which in turn slows down the delivery of essential nutrients to the area that needs to heal.

It usually takes 2–3 days for the body to start functioning normally again (read – to be able to do a number 2) after abdominal surgery, but sometimes it takes longer than that. If that’s the case, I would also recommend fibre from vegetables, fruits and seeds. Meals consisting of smoothies and soups are your best choices. Other good choices include oat porridge, buckwheat porridge, berries, fruit with chia seeds, linseeds and psyllium seeds.

Another tip: don’t forget vitamin C, zinc and iron.

Vitamin C is used to treat things like burns. You can find vitamin C in grapefruits, oranges, peppers and potatoes.

Zinc is known to speed up wound healing. Zinc is found in seafood, dairy products, nuts and beans. If you are breastfeeding, your zinc needs are even higher than they were when you were pregnant.

Iron helps build blood cells – and if you’ve had a caesarean section, you’ve probably lost some blood. Also, a lot of iron was needed during pregnancy so make sure you eat leafy greens, dried apricots (helps with digestion too!), meat, seafood and beans. A good tip is to eat iron together with vitamin C-rich foods so it is absorbed more efficiently.