mom with c section scar and baby

How to Care for Your C-Section Scar

Today, about 32% of births are through cesarean delivery in the US. Although some were done as emergency surgical procedures, many were also planned. There are several reasons why you might want to undergo a c-section instead of vaginal birth, and there are also a few reasons why an expecting mother may need an emergency c-section. Regardless of your reason, delivering this way requires an incision site, which means there will be scar tissue after you've healed. Although this can cause some new mothers a bit of concern, there are several ways to help you minimize scarring during the healing process. Here, we'll go over everything you need to know about the types of c-section scars you may receive, how to care for your c-section scar, and what to do if you encounter any issues during recovery.

Reasons for a Cesarean

A cesarean delivery (c-section) is a surgical procedure in which a baby is delivered through an incision made in the mother's abdomen and uterus. Various medical reasons may necessitate a cesarean delivery, ensuring the safety and well-being of both the mother and the baby. Some common reasons include:

  • Prolonged labor
  • Fetal disorders or conditions
  • Breech positioning
  • Other complications during labor
  • Preeclampsia
  • Placenta previa
  • Infections in the mother
  • History of previous c-sections
  • Giving birth to multiples
  • In cases where vaginal deliveries pose a health risk

Some women can go on to have a healthy vaginal birth after a c-section, but it's important to discuss this with your doctor to ensure that it's a safe and viable option.

Different Types of C-Section Incisions

While you might think your c-section incision is going to leave a huge, noticeable scar, that's not often the case. C-section incisions are generally fairly small (about four to six inches long) and performed along the pubic hairline, making them easy to hide. However, two incision types—horizontal and vertical—can affect visibility on your lower abdomen.

The typical type of incision you receive will be a transverse c-section, also commonly referred to as the "bikini cut." Your surgeon will make a small incision horizontally across the bikini line. A low transverse incision is preferred, as it provides the most visibility of your uterus and has a faster recovery process with fewer complications.

A vertical c-section can be done either high or low, depending on the situation at hand. Oftentimes, vertical cuts are only made during emergencies, such as if your baby is in an awkward position or premature. A low vertical incision may be made if your baby is positioned feet first, sideways, or breech. A high vertical incision may be made if you have a premature baby.

After the abdominal incision for either option, your surgeon will also make a uterine incision so your baby can be delivered. This is an internal scar, though, so you'll only have to care for the incision on your abdomen. The internal incision will be closed with dissolvable stitches, while the external one may be closed using staples, stitches, or surgical glue.

How Long Does it Take for a C-Section Scar to Heal?

There are several c-section scar healing stages that your body will pass through after the initial incision. During this time, your scar can change appearance and will gradually become less visible. While your incision will usually heal in six to eight weeks post-op, your scar can remain in the remodeling stage of healing for up to a year. This is the part of scar recovery where the incision will gradually fade, flatten, and become less noticeable.

Different Types of C-Section Scars

A healed c-section scar can look different on everyone, and it often depends on how you care for it during recovery, your body type, and your age. If you normally heal well from scars or injury, the appearance of a c-section scar will probably follow the same pattern. Other women may find their typical scars are more stubborn, so your c-section scar may also be a bit stubborn. This can result in:

  • Hypertrophic Scar — this scar becomes thick and hard but maintains its original incision line. Your healthcare provider may recommend using silicone gel or silicone sheets to help flatten scars and reduce their appearance over time. However, these should only be used after your incision has healed completely.
  • Keloid Scar — if you're predisposed to keloids, you may experience this type of scar with your c-section. It's characterized by excess tissue forming around the scar, which may appear lumpy or uneven. Steroid injections and other techniques can help soften and flatten scars that are keloid.
  • Scar Overhang — this occurs when the scar tissue sticks to your abdominal muscles and excess skin or fat "hangs" over it. This can be difficult for many women to lose with diet and exercise, and the scar can make it more noticeable. Many new moms have this, and it's nothing you should be ashamed of! Still, if it's something that truly bothers you, wait until you've healed and ask your doctor for a recommendation for a postpartum plastic surgeon.

How to Take Care of Your Cesarean Section Scar

Your scar will heal gradually over time, but there are some things you can do to help it heal nicely. As your c-section incision heals during those first few weeks, here are some things you should do:

Keep the Area Clean and Dry

As your wound heals, it's important to keep the area clean and dry. You can clean it using warm water and lightly wash the surrounding area with a clean towel, but don't put any pressure on the incision site or stitches. After cleaning, gently pat dry and allow it to breathe. Wear loose-fitting clothing and change your bandages at least once a day. If you experience any scar pain or discomfort, talk to your doctor about breastfeeding-approved pain medications.

Skip the Gym, but Don't Stay Still

You need to rest during the recovery process, but that doesn't mean you should sit on your couch day after day. Try to avoid activities that involve bending, twisting, or putting any pressure on your abdomen. Instead, focus on getting in your steps. Walking with your newborn can help improve blood flow and increase the rate of healing. It also decreases your risk of deep vein thrombosis (DVT) and is a wonderful way to help soothe your baby. As always, talk to your doctor about any questions or concerns regarding postpartum exercise.

Attend Your Follow Up Appointments

Your postpartum follow-up appointments are essential, so don't skip them. Your doctor will check on how your scar looks, remove any stitches or staples, and ensure that things are healing without complications.

Limit Sun Exposure

As it heals, one of the best ways to minimize a c-section scar is to limit sun exposure. UV rays can darken the scar or lighten the surrounding skin, increasing its overall appearance. If you're going to be out in the sun, use a strong SPF with UVA and UVB protection or wear clothes that cover the scar.

Wear Compression Gear

Compression gear may also help your recovery, as it can help stabilize your abdominal muscles. However, only wear postpartum compression for the intended periods each day, as your incision does need to breathe for optimal healing.

Try Scar Massage

Massaging your scar may also help increase circulation and decrease the appearance of thick lines. You'll want to wait until your incision is fully healed to begin this and always check with your doctor in advance. If you're cleared, you can gently massage the area with unscented lotion in a circular motion, back and forth across the length of the scar. If you notice any issues arise, discontinue and talk to your doctor.

If you can't seem to minimize c-section scarring during recovery time, don't worry. There are additional options that can help once you've completely healed. Laser therapy or laser treatments are non-surgical procedures that can help fade or soften scars. There are also options for steroid treatments, scar revision surgery, or a tummy tuck if you experience any overhang. Still, give it time and work with your doctor to ensure you're doing what you can to help a c-section scar heal.

Remember, a c-section is a major surgery, and recovery should be taken seriously. Talk to your doctor about checking for signs of complications as the cesarean incision heals, and remember to take it easy! Don't be afraid to ask for help, and always take the time to care for your incision. To help support your recovery after a c-section, order an insurance-covered breast pump from Byram Healthcare. Thanks to the Affordable Care Act, all new and expecting mothers can receive one at zero out-of-pocket costs. Check out our breastfeeding comparison chart to learn more about your options and begin your order today.