- Most mothers who deliver their baby by C-section will experience postpartum edema — or swelling.
- Swelling is due to the fact that you’re carrying about 50% more blood volume and fluids during pregnancy, which don’t just disappear after delivery.
- Swelling is common in the feet, legs, hands, face, and vulva and should subside after a few weeks following birth.
- This article was reviewed by Veronique Tache, MD, who is an associate professor at UC Davis Health.
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Most mothers who deliver their baby by C-section will experience postpartum edema — or swelling — after their baby is born.
“[Swelling] is due to carrying 50% more blood volume and fluids during pregnancy, and the hormonal transition that happens so dramatically after you deliver,” says Dr. Sherry Ross, MD, OB-GYN at Providence Saint John’s Health Center.
All these extra fluids don’t just disappear after delivery. Rather, they’re redistributed throughout your body, resulting in some swelling. Now, any swelling is typical after giving birth whether it was a natural birth or C-section.
However, when you have a C-section and you’re administered IV fluids throughout the surgery, this fluid will be redistributed, too, which may result in a little extra swelling after the procedure.
Where you’ll most likely experience swelling
According to Ross, feet are the most notorious and obvious area that patients complain about swelling. Other common areas are:
You shouldn’t notice significant swelling on your C-section scar. If you do have swelling on the scar accompanied by red or leaking discharge, call your doctor, as it might be a sign that the wound is infected.
Swelling should subside after a few weeks
The swelling throughout your body is most likely going to be the worst during the first week after giving birth, and should subside after a few weeks, according to Ross. “Your body has gone through this amazing transformation for nine months, so trying to get back to ‘normal’ can take a while,” she says.
The swelling you experience is totally normal, and while it certainly can be uncomfortable, the swelling shouldn’t cause severe pain.
“If [the swelling] is symmetrical, that’s a good sign,” says Ross. Keep an eye on your swollen parts, and be on the lookout for changes. If you experience one-sided swelling along with pain in one of your legs, for example, you should contact your doctor, as it could be something more serious, such as a deep vein thrombosis (blood clot), a possible complication after a C-section.
How to reduce swelling
You can’t make the swelling go away overnight. It’s something you have to wait out. But, there are some things you can do to try to help the swelling go down and make you feel more comfortable.
- Stay hydrated. Ross notes this is especially important if you’re breastfeeding your baby. When you’re dehydrated, your body actually holds onto water more, so staying hydrated can help you lose some of that excess fluid more quickly.
- Don’t stand up for too long since that directs the fluid toward your feet and can lead to swelling in that area. Instead, sit down and take breaks often. While you’re sitting, elevate your feet above the level of your heart so that fluid flows more evenly throughout your body.
- Avoid salty and processed foods, as they can result in fluid retention, which is the opposite of what you want.
- Engage in light exercise, such as walking. A small elevation in your heart rate can help pump blood throughout your body more readily, which can prevent any fluid from pooling in one place and swelling that area, as a result.
- Wear comfortable loose clothing, like your pregnancy clothing. The last thing you want is to cut off circulation to an area of your body, which can cause more swelling and discomfort.
When it comes down to it, swelling is a normal part of the postpartum period, and recovering from a C-section, and it will pass.
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