As if chronic pain and pooping issues weren’t enough, there’s something else that you’ll need to consider after you’ve had a Cesarean section, and that’s your incision site. Even if you want to get a glimpse of where your baby came into the world, you’ll need to give your tummy some extra TLC if you want it to heal properly. And the first step starts with knowing how to keep your c-section incision dry because it can mean all the difference between healing and hurting.
Jumping in the shower might be low on your priority list when you’re struggling to get some sleep with a newborn who’s up all day and night. Thing is, at some point you’re probably going to want to feel like a human again and suds up your sore body. But you need to be careful to care for your incision, and more importantly, the bandages that are protecting it. “The incision site takes care of itself,” explains Dr. Cheruba Prabakar, M.D., a board-certified OB-GYN. “It’s not usually a problem until people start messing with it.” Unlike a Band-Aid that can come off sooner than c-section bandages, you’ll want to take extra care of your incision site so that you don’t run the risk of an infection — and another return trip to the hospital.
Here’s what you need to know about keeping your incision site dry — and keeping yourself healthy in the process.
Why It’s Important To Keep Your Incision Dry
If you thought that the dressings covering your incision were easily disposable, think again. “The dressings that your OB-GYN uses to help the incision heal are designed specifically to ward off infection,” says Prabakar. But how does infection potentially happen? Dr. David M. Kimble, M.D., a board-certified urogynecologist at The Kimble Center explains: “Moisture at the incision creates a breeding ground for bacteria,” he says. “It also prevents the edges of the incision to touch and bond which may result in delayed healing or a cosmetically unappealing appearance.”
How To Clean Your Incision Site
Keeping your incision site dry is one thing — but keeping it clean is entirely another issue. Experts advise sticking to strictly water (and staying away from soap) after surgery. “For the first two weeks, use only water to clean your incision,” says Dr. Megan Gray, M.D., an OB-GYN at Winnie Palmer. “When you shower, allow the water to hit the incision and run down.” Soaping up your torso or belly is okay as long as you avoid scrubbing the incision site. Be sure to use a mild unscented soap that doesn’t have beads that could potentially harm your incision.
Although you may have heard that salt water is the cure all for any type of wound, the jury is still out on whether using it can help make your c-section incision heal faster. “There’s no medical data that supports using salt and water to clean your incision,” says Dr. Sarah B. Schoel, M.D., an OB-GYN and Chief of Staff at Mercy Hospital. Using soap and water will work well to get the wound clean.
So if salt isn’t the right solution for you, when can you start using your favorite soap? “Once the skin has completely healed, you can use whatever soap you like,” says Gray. “Just avoid scrubbing over your incision with a loofa as the area will still be numb.” Since you might not be able to tell how much pressure you’re applying as you scrub, you can inadvertently irritate your skin without even realizing it.
How To Keep Your Incision Dry
Because your c-section incision sits squarely above your pubic area, it’s in a prime location for a potential infection. After taking a shower, you need to make drying off your skin a priority. “When you’re done washing, rinse your belly off and pat dry with a clean, dry towel,” advises Gray. If you want to be absolutely certain that your incision isn’t damp, you can use a hair dryer on a low setting to help expedite the process. Also consider the kind of clothing you’re wearing as a way to help keep the area arid. “Loose fitting clothing allows for air circulation,” adds Kimble. “Even a thin pad placed gently against the incision can wick away moisture.”
How Long You Can Expect To Take Care Of Your Incision
You’re not alone if you just want to ditch the dressing and expose your incision already. That’s not exactly a good idea, though, especially if you want it to heal properly. And that can be a waiting game, according to Kimble. “For most women, the surface skin incision will heal within two weeks,” he explains. “The internal incision is held together with long delayed absorbable sutures that have high tensile strength and can withstand the stress of most normal daily activities.” Even if you feel like you’re ready to rip off the bandage, keeping it on will help you to heal more efficiently.
Here’s When To Call A Doctor
Although your entire body is bound to feel beaten up after a c-section, there are certain signs to watch out for that your incision might need to be attended to by a medical professional. “If you’re experiencing excruciating pain on one side or both, or there’s puffiness at the incision site, you should speak to your doctor right away,” advises Prabakar. “Also, when your skin is red around the incision, that’s a red flag that it can be a deeper tissue infection.” Depending on how deep it is, your OB-GYN might need to open the incision again and restructure it. Once it’s irrigated, according to Prabakar, it can be washed out and packed once again.
There might be other instances where your incision needs some TLC. “New onset pain that is more intense than the day before, drainage or bleeding from the incision, and new swelling are all reasons to call your doctor,” says Kimbel who advises that the biggest offender can be an infection. Adds Kimbel: “If fevers develop, attention is necessary. Nausea and vomiting could be signs of an infection.”
Taking care of a newborn and your c-section incision isn’t an easy task. That’s why so many new parents will let their own self-care crumble while focusing their efforts on feeding your child — and trying to get even a little bit of sleep. But be sure to pay attention to your incision site to ensure that it’s healing properly. After all, prioritizing your health means that you’ll be at your best for both Baby and yourself.