C-Section

experts explain how to sleep after a c-section
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These 4 Sleeping Positions Will Keep You Comfortable After A C-Section

Be careful with your body as you heal.

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Between pain, anxiety, and waking up to feed your baby, getting a good night’s sleep after childbirth is pretty impossible. Well, at least for a little while. And if you're also recovering from a cesarean section surgery at the same time, you might wonder what the best sleeping positions after a C-section actually are (or, honestly, if they exist at all). At such a chaotic time in your life, filled with so much change, it's important to rest so you can help your body recover from something as intrusive as major abdominal surgery.

While most experts agree the best sleeping position after surgery is on your back, there’s a special way they recommend getting out of bed after a C-section. It’s not recommended to rise straight up out of bed from your back after the surgery. Instead, you should first roll onto your side, and use your arms — and not your abs — to help you sit up.

You will be sore for a few weeks after surgery, so it's best to keep your baby close by when you sleep. Then again, you should take care to not fall asleep with your baby in bed, especially if you are taking narcotic pain medication after surgery. “Babies who sleep in adult beds with adults are at an increased risk of strangulation, suffocation, and Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS),” board-certified OB-GYN Dr. Kerry-Anne Perkins, M.D., tells Romper.

One 2015 study published in the journal CHEST found that the safest sleep position for new moms — especially C-section moms who had anesthesia during delivery — is with their upper body elevated to reduce the risk of breathing problems.

No matter what position you try, you might find that using lots of pillows to support your legs and back will help you get comfortable after your C-section, as it “helps to align your body in a neutral position,” says Perkins. “This is optimal for healing. Pillows or even a rolled blanket can support your arms, legs, knees, back, and hips.” So, with that in mind, if you're on the mend and caring for your little one, here's how to sleep after a C-section.

On your back

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Perkins tells Romper that the best sleeping position after any surgery is usually on the back, which supports your spine and keeps your body aligned — especially if you use pillows or blankets to help support your lower back, neck, and legs. “This holds true for abdominal surgeries such as C-sections,” she explains. “This position decreases stress on the incision and pelvis as it heals.”

If you do sleep on your back, just make sure not to use your abs to help you sit up. Instead, use the “log-roll” method by rolling onto your side, moving your feet off the bed, and using your arms to push yourself up to sitting. “Keep in mind that your legs and upper body are strong, so use them to help move you in and out of the bed,” OB-GYN Dr. Kameelah Phillips, M.D. previously told Romper. “The biggest thing we’re looking at from a postoperative standpoint is that we don’t want to put too much tension on the incision.”

Propped upright

According to the CHEST study, sleeping in an upright position improved breathing and reduced postpartum moms' risk of a dangerous condition called obstructive sleep apnea (OSA), which sometimes occurs during pregnancy. OSA, characterized by shortness of breath during sleep, can lead to chronic fatigue, cardiovascular problems, and complications after surgery. Sleeping upright can help keep your airways open so you’ll get better sleep at night.

Fortunately, upright does not mean sleeping while standing up, although I can tell you that you will probably learn to do that as a new mom, too. The study found that sleeping with their upper body elevated by 45 degrees was the best way for postpartum moms to sleep and breathe easy, and the position didn't seem to interfere with sleep quality or time.

On your side

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Side sleeping is generally recommended in late pregnancy to support your growing belly, and it also gets a green light for post-op snoozing. “Sleeping on your side after a C-section is the next most recommended position after back sleeping,” Perkins tells Romper. “I recommend using pillows to aid in order to keep your muscles and bones aligned in a neutral position. This will bring comfort and better rest. As a new breastfeeding mom, you may find side-lying very comfortable for breastfeeding, especially after a [C-section].”

Use pillows

No matter how you sleep, you might want to hold onto your pregnancy pillow — literally — after delivery. Perkins recommends using pillows to help you get comfortable and support your spine. “Using pillows during recovery from surgery helps to support and align your body for optimal healing,” she says. If you sleep on your back, you can use the pillows to support your thighs and knees. If you sleep on your side, you can place a body pillow in front or behind you to support your back and spine. “Then use pillows or rolled blankets to support your shoulders, legs, ankles, and knees to help stabilize those joints,” Perkins suggests, adding that you may need more or less support. Speaking of pillows, you can hold one against your incision for support when you cough, sneeze, or laugh. “Some people opt for using an abdominal binder in the first days to weeks after surgery,” Perkins notes.

If you still can’t get comfortable, talk to your doctor about how you can get better sleep in those first few weeks with your little one. With a careful post-op recovery plan, you’ll be back to sleeping more normally — well, as normal as one can sleep with a crying baby in the house.

Studies:

Zaremba, S., Mueller, N., Heisig, A. M., Shin, C. H., Jung, S., Leffert, L. R., Bateman, B. T., Pugsley, L. J., Nagasaka, Y., Duarte, I. M., Ecker, J. L., & Eikermann, M. (2015). Elevated upper body position improves pregnancy-related OSA without impairing sleep quality or sleep architecture early after delivery. Chest, 148(4), 936–944. https://doi.org/10.1378/chest.14-2973

Experts:

Dr. Kerry-Anne Perkins, M.D., board-certified OB-GYN

​​Dr. Kameelah Phillips, M.D., board-certified OB-GYN and founder of Calla Women’s Health

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