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Fact: Giving birth is never easy. But if you’ve had a C-section (whether it was planned or not), then the period after delivery can come with a host of unique challenges—it is a major surgery, after all. That’s why we tapped the experts for ways to speed up the recovery process.

RELATED: 10 Things No One Tells You About C-Sections (According to Women Who’ve Actually Had One)

Newborn baby in hospital
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Rest and Take It Easy

Sure, this one’s pretty obvious, but that doesn’t make it any less true. You’ll want to avoid heavy lifting (nothing heavier than your baby, per the American Pregnancy Association) and housework (ask your mother-in-law to unload the dishwasher). And the good old “sleep when the baby sleeps” rule still applies. Need more convincing to take it slow? “If you don’t allow yourself to recover, then you’re not doing anybody any good—sleep deprivation increases mood disorders like postpartum depression and anxiety and it also decreases milk supply,” says Dr. Suzanne Gilberg-Lenz, an OB-GYN in California. Wait for the green light from your doctor before exercising, driving and having sex (usually around the six-week mark).

mom holding newborn baby
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Be Mindful of What You Eat

The bad news? Constipation is a common side effect of abdominal surgery, including C-sections. But you can help move things along by eating the right foods and staying hydrated. “Eat nutritious, fiber-rich and softer foods for a few days until your movements are back on track. Think: avocados, soup, smoothies, eggs and lots of liquids,” occupational therapist and inventor of UpSpring's C-Panty, Catherine Brooks, tells us.

RELATED: The 9 Best Foods to Eat When You’re Backed Up

Consider an Abdominal Binder

Also known as a “belly binder,” this elastic belt wraps around your waist to provide extra support. “Putting some counter pressure across your abdomen can help to ease pain and swelling during those first few days at home when your muscles aren’t really available to you,” says Dr. Gilberg-Lenz. Many hospitals offer these for free, so ask your doctor before you leave.

Let the Incision Breathe

Don’t put any products on your incision for the first two weeks, cautions Dr. Gilberg-Lenz. (Showering is OK, though.) And try to keep it as clean and dry as possible. “If the incision is underneath a fold of skin or if it’s really hot, then a cold hair dryer works great to keep it dry.”

Mom holding her newborn baby girl
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Be Patient

“Every day gets a little easier in the recovery of a C-section,” says Dr Sherry A. Ross, OB-GYN and author of She-ology. The Definitive Guide to Women’s Intimate Health. Period. But know that it may take a while before you feel like you’re fully healed. “The first few weeks are definitely the most challenging since the body is going through a major physical and hormonal transition.” With an uncomplicated cesarean, you should recover in about six weeks but don’t rush it (see point number one).

Prepare for Swelling

Be forewarned—your legs, ankles and feet are going to swell a lot during the first few days. “Once you’re mobile, then the fluid you’ve retained will shift with gravity and move south,” explains Dr. Gilberg-Lenz. But there’s no reason to be alarmed, she adds, unless it is very asymmetrical (i.e., one leg much more than another), you are at risk for DVT or you have had previous issues with high blood pressure, in which case you should speak with your doctor. “It will take about one to two weeks for this fluid to find its way out via a big increase in urine production.” In the meantime, gentle walking (provided the doctor says it’s OK) and staying hydrated can help to decrease the swelling.

Ask for Help

Yes, you should absolutely ask for help with physical tasks like reaching the top shelf or getting a ride to the grocery store (better yet—get someone else to buy your groceries for you). But make sure that you have emotional support, too. Talk to your partner, friends or doctor about how you’re feeling and accept their offers of help. (Totally cool to ask your mother-in-law to stay at a hotel, though.)

RELATED: 12 Labor and Delivery Do’s and Don’ts – According to Real Moms

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