Roughly 1 out of 3 babies born in the United States arrives via Cesarean, or C-section, birth (mine included). This is major surgery with a longer recovery period than vaginal birth, and new parents will likely need medication to help manage pain after their C-section. Exactly what painkilling drugs you’ll get depends on your medical history and hospital. Here’s what to know about oral drugs commonly prescribed for post-Cesarean pain.
Opioid drugs act on receptors in your spinal cord and brain to dampen your brain’s reaction to pain stimuli. Opioids also affect some areas in your brain that control emotions. So the pain-relieving effect comes from several directions: You don’t register painful sensations as intensely, and you generally won’t feel as strong of an emotional distress response to pain that still comes through.
Opioids are effective at treating acute pain, and they tend to deliver an overall calming effect as well. An important downside to consider is that opioids are some of the most common drugs for patients to misuse. Opioids have some important similarities to street drugs like heroin in terms of the kinds of high they deliver. If you or your doctor are concerned you may be especially vulnerable to a drug dependency, you may want to investigate alternate options. Other patients may use opioids to manage pain without developing any unhealthy dependency.
Opioid drugs your doctor may offer for post-Cesarean pain include:
- Hydrocodone (Vicodin)
- Oxycodone (OxyContin, Percocet)
Anti-inflammatory drugs are another common pain management option after a C-section birth. These drugs act by reducing inflammation at the incision sites, which can help lessen the pain signals those areas will send to your brain. Most non-opioid medications carry less risk of misuse or dependency, so your medical team may rely more heavily on these if there are reasons why you shouldn’t take opioids. Some common non-opioid drugs prescribed for pain management after C-section include:
- Ibuprofen (Motrin, Advil)
- Acetaminophen (Tylenol)
Preparing for C-Section Recovery
If you’re planning to breastfeed, talk to your doctors. Many medications, including opioids, can be taken safely while you’re breastfeeding. Your medical provider can answer specific questions and help put your mind at ease. If you have a C-section, you’ll likely need the strongest doses of medication in the first 4 days or so after giving birth, which is also before your mature milk comes in.
The consensus seems to indicate that opioids, when used as directed and for a short period of time, won’t have a negative impact on your breastfeeding baby. Your doctor may recommend timing breastfeeding sessions and medication doses so that you’re not nursing when the drugs are at their highest levels in your system.
Many new parents report that the hospital sends them home with more medication than they need. The hospital medical team may not have a chance to learn exactly how you tolerate pain, so they may err on the side of oversupplying you. Using more medication than you really need, especially opioid drugs, increases the chances that you’ll suffer negative side effects or develop a dependency.
Accept as much help as you can when your baby is born. Rest as much as you’re able, and listen to your body. It’s okay to take pain relief medication when you need it, but if the pain feels less intense, try reducing the dose to start weaning yourself off. You may be surprised by how resilient your body is, and how soon you notice that you’re healing.
When you don’t need pain medication anymore, dispose of leftover pills safely. The FDA recommends putting unused drugs in a sealed bag with something undesirable, like kitty litter, to reduce the chance that someone might find and take the pills.