How to Get The Best Night’s Sleep After a C-Section

8 Min Read | By Lottie Salako

Last Modified 14 February 2024   First Added 24 May 2023

This article was written and reviewed in line with our editorial policy.

Welcoming a new life into the world is an extraordinary experience, but the recovery journey following a cesarean section (C-section) can be physically and emotionally challenging. As a new mother, your body undergoes significant changes, and ensuring you get adequate rest and quality sleep is crucial for a smooth recovery and overall well-being.

Whether you are an expectant parent preparing for a C-section delivery or a new mum navigating the early stages of postpartum recovery, this article aims to provide helpful insights and steps to improve the quality and quantity of your sleep. By prioritising your rest and practising self-care, you can enhance your recovery journey, fully embracing motherhood’s joys while keeping yourself healthy.

So, let’s dive in and discover the secrets to achieving the best night’s sleep after a C-section, ensuring you get the rest you deserve during this transformative time in your life.

The importance of sleep in C-section recovery

Sleep plays a vital role in healing, allowing your body to repair and rejuvenate. A C-section is a major surgery, so your body needs time and care to heal properly. Not to mention that recovery from pregnancy itself is a complicated physical process.

Additionally, sleep deprivation is closely linked with decreased emotional regulation. We all know that being a new parent is already an emotional time, but a lack of quality sleep can make you…

  • Less resilient to everyday stressors
  • Less able to read emotions in others
  • More impulsive
  • More inclined towards low mood and depression
  • More argumentative and less able to accept blame

Given how much pressure parents are under during this time, sleep deprivation is the last thing you need. Focusing on your well-being is essential for the whole family.

3 reasons why it's difficult to sleep after C-section

Getting a good night’s sleep after a C-section can be a real struggle due to the discomfort, pain, and hormonal adjustments accompanying this major surgical procedure.

1. Physical pain

The most obvious barrier to a good night’s rest is pain. Although you should receive a pain management plan from your doctor, that doesn’t mean you won’t feel discomfort while healing.

2. Limited physical movement

Anyone who has slept in a small space or had an injury that impairs activity will know that falling asleep can be a frustrating task. After your C-section, you will have a relatively limited range of motion due to stitches, soreness, and general pain, which can mean you can’t sleep in your usual position. Staying still while you sleep can also lead to soreness and aches when you wake up.

3. Anxiety and stress

A C-section is a very emotional thing to go through, so naturally, many people feel anxious about their health and their babies – both before and after. Especially if your C-section was unplanned or traumatic. You may find yourself unable to relax even once you’re all home safe, impacting how quickly you fall asleep and how restful your slumber is.

What are the best positions to sleep in after a C-section?

1. Elevate your upper body

This is the best position to sleep after a major surgery like a C-section because it reduces pressure on your incision wound. While it is not the most natural position for most of us, with some support pillows, you may find that the relief from the physical discomfort helps you sleep better for longer.

During the early days of your recovery, you can sleep fully upright, but this is not recommended for the long term. Aim to position yourself at a 45-degree angle for a comfortable rest.

Elevated back sleeping has also been found to treat pregnancy-related sleep apnea, as it keeps your airways from being obstructed.

2. Flat on your back

You are told not to sleep on your back after you reach 20 weeks pregnant, so back sleepers can rejoice that it is recommended after a C-section. It places the most minor strain on your incision site and aligns your spine nicely. Feel free to add a pillow under your knees if that helps make it more comfy.

3. On your side

Side sleeping is a great choice when you’re recovering from a C-section. Research shows that sleeping on your left side can help increase blood flow to vital organs, aiding healing. It’s also the most common sleeping position – you’re bound to find this one relaxing.

Are there positions you can't sleep in?

After a caesarean, you are not advised to sleep on your front. Your incision is across your abdomen, so putting pressure on it will be painful and risk interfering with healing. Usually, doctors recommend avoiding sleeping on your stomach for six weeks post-C-section or until you no longer have any pain. However, this will ultimately depend on your body and what your physician says.

Mum holding baby Mum holding baby

10 tips for better sleep after C-section

When it comes to managing your sleep, there are fortunately plenty of ways to encourage good quality rest. Whether your barriers are physical, emotional, or environmental, we have rounded up our top tips for good sleep hygiene…

1. Light exercise and stretches

It’s best to avoid exercise immediately after your C-section, but around 6-8 weeks later, taking up low-intensity physical activity is a good idea. Not only is this vital for regaining your strength and mobility long-term, but it has also been shown to positively impact the sleep quality of post-partum women.

2. Stay hydrated

Hydration is essential at all times, but when you’re recovering from surgery, it’s especially crucial. Water helps regulate cell growth and temperature, flushes out toxins, and eases constipation. When breastfeeding, you also need much more water to ensure good milk production and maintain energy levels.

3. Balanced and nutritious meals

Of course, eating well is always a priority. However, it’s even more critical when undergoing something physically demanding like pregnancy, breastfeeding, or recovering from surgery. Getting the right balance of proteins, carbs, fats, and nutrients will give your body what it needs to repair quickly and efficiently.

4. Enlist some help

The best thing you can do as a new parent, in general, is establish a support network. Whether this is your partner, family, or friends, having other people around you will make a world of difference. The less you have to worry about or do for yourself, the more you can focus on resting and healing.

5. Stick to a schedule

This may sound impossible as a new parent during a time that feels very chaotic, but implementing a schedule can be super helpful. Your body responds well to patterns, so try to plan in naps and a bedtime routine – this includes what to do in the lead-up to actually going to bed.

Your baby will also thank you. While it may take some time, babies are shown to sleep better when on a schedule, as it helps them feel safe and secure.

6. Talk to your doctor about pain relief

This might seem like an obvious one, but some people are reluctant to take painkillers, even when they are prescribed. Pain will impact your sleep, everyday functions, and emotional well-being. If you have spoken to your doctor and established safe parameters, you should allow yourself to take the medicine you need to be comfortable.

If you experience unpleasant side effects, contact your doctor immediately to discuss the issue and find alternatives.

7. Supportive pillows

You will probably have discovered the joys of body pillows during pregnancy, but if not, now is the time to invest in one. Body pillows are long and large and come in different shapes to support other body areas. For example, U-shaped pillows are great for placing behind your back to help you sleep elevated or between your knees to relieve pressure.

8. Avoid alcohol and caffeine

After nine long months without your favourite alcoholic or caffeinated drinks, it can be frustrating to be told to wait even longer. However, both of these can negatively affect sleep and post-surgery healing.

Alcohol is particularly detrimental as it is an anticoagulant, making you bleed more. It also depresses the nervous system, putting pressure on your heart and lungs, and can lead to more post-surgery infections. The NHS recommends waiting at least 2 hours between an alcoholic drink and breastfeeding because it can be passed through to your baby, so if you’re nursing, it’s best to avoid it.

9. Create the right environment for sleep

Don’t neglect your sleep space amid all the changes to your daily routine. The best way to encourage good sleep is to ensure your bedroom is the perfect resting place. From finding the right temperature to black-out blinds, your bedroom design can significantly impact whether or not you slumber.

10. Be patient with your body

Last but most importantly, give yourself some grace. You have done something incredible, and it will naturally bring strong emotions and difficulties. Strive towards healing but remember to be patient and not push yourself too far or feel negatively towards your body or self. Kindness and self-care are important for your mental and physical health and setting an example for the kind of parent you want to be.

If you are suffering from low mood, negative thoughts, or feeling overwhelmed, there is nothing to be ashamed about. Many new parents struggle emotionally, and the best thing to do is reach out to medical professionals and your loved ones for support.

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