C-Sections are major abdominal surgery and it still seems like the information given to postpartum moms post surgery is not ALL the information needed for optimal healing.
I have not had a C-Section personally, but have friends and have spoken with lots of postpartum moms in my classes who have. And the overall impression I get from them is that they wish they knew more about how to deal with the scar and how to help heal their bodies.
There are a few things you can do if you are preparing for a C-Section, or have recently undergone one. Let’s dive in, shall we:
Eat Nutrient dense, whole foods and supplement with Vitamins that promote healing.
A few major things need to happen here with food and vitamins;
- fuelling the body properly to heal tissues that were damaged during surgery
- Nourishing the body to promote milk production (if you plan on breastfeeding). Check out this article to read more about foods to eat when breastfeeding.
- Supporting the body through this intense transition to having to care for a newborn and lack of sleep.
This time can absolutely make or break your postpartum mental wellbeing and experience. The health of the body and the fuel you are feeding your body, have a direct relation to your mental and physical wellbeing. And in a time where an increasing amount of women experience some form of postpartum mood disorder, it is critical you do everything you can to plan for success and mental health.
To start off, this is NOT a time to be restricting your diet or calories, let your body determine what and when it needs food. I know the appeal may be there to lose that baby weight, but give it time, if you stress your body more by restricting calories, it can actually hold onto extra fat for preservation.
Try to include as much as you can of these three components into each meal:
1) Fat (ex: oils, nut butters, avocados)
2) Protein (ex: good quality meat, hemp hearts, chia seeds, eggs, quinoa, beans/lentils)
3) Fiber (ex: oatmeal, nuts, fruits and vegetables, beans, flax, chia seeds)
Because the body needs a little bit of extra help healing, it sometimes makes sense to supplement with vitamins that aid in healing, especially if your diet isn’t ideal. But IF you can take some time to focus on one thing, let it be the consumption of more whole foods. Don’t eat fast food everyday, take some vitamins to balance it out and think you will be healthy. It starts with the food you take in. Get plenty of fresh fruits and vegetables, and good quality meats and fats. The vitamins can just be a nice complement to good food.
I am not a doctor. Your doctor or health practitioner knows what is best for you and your health. Please don’t go out and blindly buy and take all the vitamins. Talk it over with them first, or even get your levels tested to see if you are dealing with any nutritional deficiencies. These are just some ideas based on my research and experience.
Vitamins can help the body with its immune function, which aids in healing and building new tissue. Dosage amounts will be different for absolutely every human, please talk to your doctor, nutritionist or naturopath to find the dosage that is right for you.
If you do nothing else, take a good quality prenantal multivitamin (refer to this article on choosing a prenatal).
Our first immune-enhancer; this vitamin can aid in wound healing by decreasing inflammation, as well as minimizing the chance of wound infection. **You don’t want to blindly take Vitamin A. Toxicity is possible with this vitamin if you take too much which can result in liver failure if an overdose is taken.** If you suspect a deficiency, ask your doctor before you start supplementing with it. Before you start supplementing, get this vitamin in by consuming lots of cooked* carrots, sweet potatoes (most yellow or orange fruits and veg), leafy greens (like spinach and kale), liver, eggs, seaweed.
There are two main types of Vitamin A; Retinol is converted to Vitamin A in the body when a meat source is consumed, Beta Carotene is converted to Vitamin A when a fruit or vegetable source is consumed.
*Vitamin A is better absorbed by the body when the vegetable is cooked. This study shows that 11% of Vitamin A (aka beta carotene) in raw carrots were bioavailable when consumed raw, versus a whopping 75% of cooked carrots (they cooked in a stir-fry) being bioavailable.
Even if you eat lots of oranges, you are probably not getting enough vitamin C. Just as an illustration, a medium sized orange contains about 50-60mg. Vitamin C is one of the basic building blocks of your cell’s needs which is number one when it comes to immune health. Personally, I take about 2000-4000mg/day of vitamin C if I feel like I need a boost, if my kids are sick or if I feel something coming on (sore throat, cold, etc). Vitamin C is a water soluble vitamin meaning it is not toxic if taken in high doses like fat-soluble vitamins are (Vitamins A, D, E, K)). You can take Vitamin C to bowl intolerance, so if you take your capsules and then have a very loose bowl movement, take less the next day and see how that affects you. I also like to use lots of vitamin C (or magnesium) after I’ve had my baby for that dreaded first bowl movement after birth. It is much better than taking a stool softener :).
Food Sources; carrots, green and red peppers, avocados, bananas, cabbage, kiwi, leafy greens, citrus fruits, etc.
Deficiency in this vitamin can lead to a compromised immunity. During a time of healing, your healthy immunity is critical, because it gives your body the defence it needs to fight off infection and heal properly. Make sure you are getting adequate Vitamin D amounts, especially if you are breastfeeding, this vitamin is passed through your breastmilk, so if you are deficient, your baby will be too (unless you are giving them a supplement). In the summer months, get outside when you can and get some direct sunlight, that is the most efficient way to synthesize Vitamin D in the body.
If you are taking a D supplement, make sure to take it with some fat so it is absorbed into the body. Or better yet, get a supplement that includes the fat, like a Cod liver oil.
Food sources containing Vitamin D; cod liver oil, salmon, egg yolks, organ meats.
Vitamin E has been studied and shown to help in wound healing, through its role as an antioxidant and its influence on connective tissue growth factor (maintaining healthy skin), and immune function. Some Vitamin E-rich foods include: eggs, Almonds, sunflower seeds, peas, organ meats, olives.
An essential micronutrient used by the body for cell membrane repair, growth and immune system function. A zinc deficiency can actually lead to impaired wound healing. If you want to get more information on the body’s needs and uses of zinc on a cellular level, check out this comprehensive study. Some foods that contain zinc: Meat (especially organ meats), shellfish, legumes (chickpea, lentils, beans), eggs, nuts/seeds, seaweed, pumpkin, sunflower seeds, etc.
This is a blog article in itself, but here is the gist. Improving your gut microbiome is the most important thing to improve your health and immunity. And in a time where you were probably given antibiotics during or after surgery, it is more important than ever to rebuild the healthy bacteria in your gut to aid in healing. There are so many different types and brands of probiotics out there, but in my research, the HMF strains are most effective (this comes from human sources), brands like Genestra or Seroyal. Probiotics are very expensive though, so if you don’t want to spend the cash, make sure to eat plenty of fermented foods such as; kefir, kimchi, sauerkraut, kombucha and miso daily to increase the healthy bacteria in your gut.
Fish Oil deregulates cortisol production (which is higher during a stress response post-surgery) as well as being anti-inflammatory. The standard diet is high is poor quality oils so try to replace those with high quality fish oils like Omega-3. You can either take an supplement (Good brands in Canada: NutraSea, Ganestra, Seroyal), or eat wild-caught ocean fish 2-3 times/week.
There is a common theme with all of these foods, vitamins and supplements; they all help with immune function, which is critical during a time of healing. Think of these vitamins as building blocks for our body. You can get many of these vitamins and minerals through your food, but some are trickier to get from foods (like vitamin D).
If you only take one thing away from this article, it is to eat a whole foods diet (aka real, unprocessed food), as much as possible.
Once more tip I’d like to leave you with, is scar massage. After the go ahead from your care provider around the 6 week mark, massage your scar regularly to help release tension and prevent pelvic floor issues (like ab separation, incontinence, prolapse) or pain in the low back or pelvis. Check out this simple video outlining the importance of scar massage as well as a how-to from Pelvic Floor Physio, Anita Lambert at Holistic Health Physio here in Peterborough, On.
If you are still pregnant, even if you don’t plan on having a C-section, make sure to set up your circle of support for postpartum. Your sole job at this time should just be feeding your baby, healing and RESTING! Everything else; the dishes, laundry, meal preparation, should be given to someone close to you so you don’t have to worry about it, especially if you’ve just undergone major surgery and aren’t supposed to lift anything heavy. I know it can be hard to ask, and some of you may not have a circle of support, if that is the case, hire a weekly housecleaner, stock your freezer with healthy meals when you’re pregnant or order a weekly meal box plan. Here are some more ideas for resources.
Mothers really need to be cared for and nourished at this time, even though the focus tends to lie on the baby and their wellbeing. I believe that times are changing, and many health professionals are shifting their focus to Mama and their physical and mental wellbeing. For even more resources on this topic, I LOVE to recommend this book for any woman entering the fourth trimester (aka postpartum/post-birth time).
Also, stay tuned for a free, very informative guide on preparing for a successful postpartum coming out next month!!
Happy healthy healing mamas – I’m happy to answer any questions you have, feel free to leave a comment below 🙂