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How to Sleep After a C-Section: 5 Key Pieces of Advice

Get better sleep after a c-section by improving your sleep hygiene and anxiety, and trying acupuncture, progressive muscle relaxation, and gentle exercise.
Published
2023-02-03
Updated
18 MINS
Written by
Jeff Kahn, M.S., Rise Science Co-Founder
Reviewed by
Chester Wu, MD, Rise Science Medical Reviewer
Our Editorial Standards
We bring sleep research out of the lab and into your life. Every post begins with peer-reviewed studies — not third-party sources — to make sure we only share advice that can be defended to a room full of sleep scientists.
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Updated Regularly
We regularly update our articles to explain the latest research and shifts in scientific consensus in a simple and actionable way.
Woman sleeping on her side after a c-section

How to sleep after a c-section?

  • Get better sleep after a c-section by improving your sleep hygiene and anxiety, and trying acupuncture, progressive muscle relaxation, and gentle exercise. Try sleeping on your back or on your side.
  • Getting enough sleep after your c-section will help you better manage pain, as well as support the health and wellbeing of both you and your baby.
  • The RISE app can guide you through 20+ sleep hygiene habits each day, and tell you when to do each one to maximize your chances of getting a good night’s sleep.

Sleeping while caring for a newborn is never easy, but when you’re recovering from a cesarean section, or c-section, sleep can be even harder to come by. But it’s also even more important. 

Not only do you want to be feeling and performing your best when caring for your new tiny human, you also want to be giving your body the rest it needs to recover from the recent surgery. But wound pain, anxiety, and the demands of a newborn make a full night’s sleep feel like a luxury. 

While we can’t help the baby sleep through the night, we can share advice on how you can improve your sleep after a c-section. Plus, we’ll share how the RISE app can help you get as much shut-eye as possible. 

Disclaimer: The scientific literature uses gendered language when talking about c-sections. We have used the term “women” in this article, but this advice is for anyone who has had a c-section.

Why is it Hard to Sleep After a C-Section?

Sleep problems after a c-section are common. Research shows mothers who have a c-section tend to get an average of four hours of sleep a night, and 34% wake up during the night in the first week postpartum. 

More research needs to be done on sleep after birth in general, as well as sleep after both emergency and elective c-section deliveries. Many of the studies that have been done use the Pittsburgh Sleep Quality Index as a way to measure sleep, but this is subjective and humans are notoriously bad at evaluating our own sleep. 

Sleeping after a c-section is no easy feat. And while some reasons for this are obvious — the crying newborn being number one — others are less well-known. Here’s why it’s hard to sleep after a c-section. 

Wound Pain 

When you have had a c-section, you may experience pain from the surgery and wounds, which may make it harder to fall asleep or wake you up during the night. You may also find it hard to find a comfortable sleep position that doesn’t put pressure on your stitches. 

For this reason, c-section mothers may have more sleep problems than those who give birth vaginally — although this hasn’t been well studied. 

Research shows 50% to 70% of mothers experience moderate or severe pain after a c-section. And a 2020 study found that the worse the pain after a c-section was, the poorer the quality of sleep new mothers got was. 

Anxiety and Postpartum Depression

New mothers in general may be feeling anxious about their new baby, their role as a mother, recovering from birth, or navigating maternity leave. And the sleep loss certainly doesn’t help stabilize their mood. 

But research shows anxiety and depression are common in mothers who are going to have c-sections. About 25% to 28% experience depressive symptoms and 30% to 37% experience anxiety. 

They may have added anxiety about the surgery itself, recovering from the procedure, and feeling out of control. And there may be even more worries about their baby’s health if they’ve had an emergency c-section.  

It’s a vicious circle, though. Stress, sleep disturbances, or being worried have been linked to an increased risk for emergency c-sections in first-time mothers.

Depression is also common. Sleep difficulties during pregnancy are associated with postpartum depression. Having a c-section increases your risk of postpartum depression and posttraumatic stress symptoms. And women who have elective c-sections have a higher rate of postpartum depression at about 33%, compared to vaginal delivery mothers at about 18%. 

All this anxiety can make it hard to fall asleep, or fall back to sleep if you wake up during the night in pain or to feed the baby. And depressive symptoms aren’t a recipe for a restful night’s sleep, either. Women with high levels of depressive symptoms have significantly poorer sleep than those without. 

One study found having more depressive symptoms in late pregnancy was linked to poor sleep after a c-section, as well as this poor sleep getting progressively worse in the first six months after birth. 

You May Be in Hospital  

You may be kept in hospital after a c-section for two to four days while you recover. But this itself can impact your sleep aside from any pain or baby-related disturbances. 

You’re not in your own environment, you might be sharing a room with other patients, have medical devices attached to you, or staff may come in during the night to check on you or others. 

A very small study found hospitalized c-section mothers had considerably worse sleep than mothers who had given birth vaginally who had been discharged and were sleeping at home. The babies of the hospitalized mothers were being cared for by hospital staff, yet the mothers still got less sleep overall and felt more tired each morning.

Common New Mom Sleep Disturbances 

Beyond the three listed above, there are more reasons why every new mom can’t sleep, regardless of how they gave birth. These include: 

  • Getting up in the night to feed or tend to your baby 
  • Needing to use the bathroom frequently throughout the night 
  • Uterine cramping and pain 
  • A decline in the hormone progesterone right after birth, which acts as a sedative 

And besides giving birth, there are many reasons women can have sleep problems in general.

Why is Sleep Important After a C-Section?

Sleep is important at every stage of life. When you don’t get enough sleep, your energy levels, mood, and mental and physical performance all take a hit. 

When you’re caring for a newborn, sleep disturbance can impact how well you can breastfeed, bond with your baby, and manage the stresses of motherhood, as well as take a toll on your own health and the health of your new baby.

Sleep deprivation causes you to feel pain more intensely and getting enough sleep can help you manage pain better. You can learn more about sleep and pain management here. And you want to be getting as much rest as possible to help your body heal and recover from the surgery you’ve just gone through. 

Sleep deprivation can also increase your risk of weight gain. Women with shorter sleep duration six months after giving birth were more likely to be 11 pounds or more above their pre-pregnancy weight one year postpartum. Excess weight can make it harder to get the sleep you need and it can increase your risk of sleep disorders like sleep apnea

And while aging is probably the last of your concerns right now, research shows not getting enough sleep during the early postpartum period is linked to accelerated aging. 

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How Much Sleep Do I Need After a C-Section?

We all need a different amount of sleep each night. This is called our sleep need. Your sleep need is determined by genetics, just like height or eye color. 

One study suggests the average sleep need is 8 hours 40 minutes, plus or minus 10 minutes or so, but 13.5% of the population may need 9 hours or more sleep a night. You can use the RISE app to find out your sleep need in down to the minute. 

In an ideal world, you’d get as close to this number as you can each night. But we know when caring for a newborn and recovering from a c-section, this is going to be trickier than usual. 

RISE users on iOS 1.202 and above can click here to view their sleep need.

What’s the Best Sleep Position After a C-Section?

There isn’t much research into the best sleep position after a c-section. The best position is most likely the one that is the most comfortable for you and helps you get the most sleep. 

Side Sleeping 

Side sleeping may be what you’ve gotten used to during pregnancy, and it’s a great option post-birth, too. 

It may be the easiest way to get in and out of bed while you’re recovering from the surgery, and you may find side-lying an easier way to breastfeed as it doesn’t put strain on your wound. 

Side sleeping can also help with: 

Try placing a pillow between your knees to keep your spine aligned, or keep using your pregnancy pillow or body pillow, if you have one, to take pressure off your joints. 

Back Sleeping

Back sleepers may have been avoiding their favorite position while pregnant and be happy to get back to it now the baby has arrived. Back sleeping is often recommended post-surgery, and it could be the most comfortable position as it doesn’t put any pressure on your c-section wound.

Try placing a pillow under your knees to keep your spine aligned. 

Come the morning, roll onto your side and slowly push yourself up out of bed, rather than just sitting up. This will ensure you’re using your arms, not your abdominal muscles, to get up, minimizing how much strain you put on your stitches and incision site.

Elevated Back Sleeping 

Try sleeping on your back, but lifting up your head and upper body with a few pillows or even sleeping in the upright position or on a recliner for the first few nights after surgery. 

You may find it easier to breastfeed during the night this way, and some mothers may find sleeping in the seated position the least painful. 

Sleeping on your back slightly elevated has been shown to help new mothers with sleep apnea. One study found moderate to severe obstructive sleep apnea (OSA) was diagnosed in 20% of postpartum patients, but sleeping at a 45-degree angle treated half of them. 

Heads-up: Obstructive sleep apnea is when your airways close during the night, temporarily cutting off your breathing. We’ve covered how to know if you have sleep apnea here.

Front Sleeping 

You may want to avoid stomach sleeping. You’ll be pressing into the wound on your stomach, which may keep you up or wake you up in the night. 

If this is the only way you can sleep, speak to your doctor to get the go-ahead first.

How to Improve Sleep After a C-Section?

You may be feeling over the moon with your newborn baby, but you still wish the sleep problems that came along with them weren’t a thing. Here’s how to improve your sleep after a c-section. 

1. Improve Your Sleep Hygiene 

RISE app screenshot showing when to get and avoid bright light
The RISE app can guide you through 20+ sleep hygiene habits.

Sleep hygiene is the name for the set of habits you can do each day to improve your sleep. They can help anyone fall asleep faster and wake up less often, but it’s especially important during late pregnancy and the first month after birth when sleep problems are usually at their worst. 

Here’s what to do: 

  • Get bright light first thing: Light in the morning resets your body clock for the day, making sure you feel sleepy come bedtime. Aim to get at least 10 minutes of light as soon as possible after waking up. Getting outside in natural light is best, but if you can’t walk or make it outside, aim to get 30 minutes of light through a window. A light therapy lamp can also help if you can’t get outside.
  • Avoid light close to bedtime: Bright light suppresses the sleep hormone melatonin, meaning too much light close to bedtime can keep you up. Dim the lights and put on blue-light blocking glasses 90 minutes before bed. 
  • Avoid caffeine, intense exercise, and alcohol too late in the day: You may be avoiding caffeine and alcohol if you’re breastfeeding, and exercise while recovering from a c-section, but even when you’re back to full health or not breastfeeding, these three things can keep you up or wake you up in the night. RISE can tell you when to stop each one. 
  • Avoid large meals close to bedtime: If you’re breastfeeding, you’re probably feeling hungry all the time. And even if you’re not, sleep loss can up your hunger hormones. But try to avoid large meals two to three hours before bed as they can disrupt your sleep. 
  • Keep your bedroom dark, cool, and as quiet as possible: Aim for 65 to 68 degrees Fahrenheit, use blackout curtains and an eye mask, and make your bedroom as quiet as possible — or as quiet as you can with a newborn. 

You’ve got enough on your plate when caring for a newborn, so sleep hygiene can feel like too much to remember. The RISE app can guide you through 20+ sleep hygiene habits each day and tell you the ideal time to do each one to make them more effective and easy to follow.

RISE users on iOS 1.202 and above can click here to set up their 20+ in-app habit notifications.

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2. Lower Your Anxiety 

Lowering your anxiety is easier said than done, especially when you have a whole new human to worry about now. But anxiety is the enemy of sleep — and you don’t need another thing keeping you up at night. 

Here’s what to do: 

  • Do a calming bedtime routine: This will help slow your body and mind down for sleep and reduce any anxiety you feel about facing another sleepless night with a newborn. Try reading, listening to music, journaling, or doing yoga. 
  • Do a brain dump: Try writing down what you need to do tomorrow. Research shows spending just five minutes writing down the tasks you need to get done can help you fall asleep faster. RISE’s brain dump feature will remind you of everything you wrote down the next day, so you can fall asleep knowing your to-dos won’t be forgotten. 
  • Try relaxation techniques: RISE has audio guides that walk you through four science-backed relaxation techniques, including progressive muscle relaxation and diaphragmatic breathing. One study found progressive muscle relaxation helped reduce pain and improve the sleep of mothers who had c-sections, and help them get back to doing physical activity.  
  • Ask for help: You’ve just gone through nine months of pregnancy, major abdominal surgery, and now there’s a newborn in the mix. Don’t be afraid to ask a friend or a family member for help with childcare, errands, or talking through your worries. Speak to a professional if you’re worried about postpartum depression. 
  • Remember it’s a phase: Don’t let anxiety around c-section recovery keep you up. Remember this phase of motherhood will pass, you’ll recover from the c-section, and any pain-related sleep problems should improve.

You can learn more about how to sleep with anxiety here.

RISE users on iOS 1.202 and above can click here to go right to their relaxation audio guide homepage and get started.

RISE users on iOS 1.202 and above can click here to set up their Brain Dump Habit notification

3. Manage Pain  

Pain from your surgery and the recovery process may be the number one thing disturbing your sleep — aside from the baby, of course. 

Here’s what can reduce pain to help you drift off easier: 

  • Try acupuncture: Getting acupuncture after a c-section has been shown to reduce the amount of pain mothers feel within the first two hours, reduce how much pain relief medication they ask for, and delay when they ask for it. 
  • Get a hand and foot massage: A hand and foot massage that lasts only five minutes has been shown to reduce how much pain c-section mothers feel and how much pain medication they ask for. A 2022 study found Su Jok, acupressure to the hands and feet with buckwheat seed, helped reduce pain levels after c-sections from moderate down to mild. 
  • Try progressive muscle relaxation: Progressive muscle relaxation can help reduce c-section pain, help mothers get back to doing physical activity, and improve their sleep. 
  • Try aromatherapy: A 2022 study found aromatherapy with lavender, eucalyptus, or rose oil helped decrease pain levels after a c-section. Another study found breathing in lavender oil and dropping some on their pillow each night helped mothers improve their sleep quality and decrease their anxiety and depression.
  • Get more sleep: This can feel impossible when caring for a newborn and recovering yourself, but try as best you can to get as much sleep as possible so you can better manage the pain. Nap when the baby sleeps, or ask for help with childcare, so you can get more shut-eye. 

4. Do Some (Gentle!) Exercise

RISE app screenshot reminding you when to work out
The RISE app can tell you when to avoid working out.

Exercise can help you drift off faster, wake up less often in the night, and even improve insomnia. It can also help lower stress and anxiety, which can improve your sleep.

For new mothers specifically, exercise has been shown to improve sleep quality after a c-section, and research shows sleep disorders are significantly lower in active women than inactive women. 

Exercising right after a c-section is usually impossible due to pain and is not advised while you’re recovering. But once you’ve recovered, you aren’t in any pain anymore, and you get the go-ahead from your doctor — usually around the six to eight week mark — you can work on slowly increasing the amount of physical activity you do.

Start with gentle exercise like walking, swimming, or yoga, and build up to doing more demanding exercise. 

To protect your sleep, be sure to avoid intense exercise in the hour before bed. You may not be doing intense exercise straight away, but once you get the all-clear from your doctor you can get back to it, which may be 12 weeks after giving birth. Just be sure to prioritize your workouts earlier in the day.

RISE can remind you when to avoid working out, and you can learn more about the best time to work out here. 

RISE users on iOS 1.202 and above can click here to set up their avoid late workouts reminder.

5. Prep Before Your C-Section 

If you haven’t had your baby yet, you can start taking steps to improve your postpartum sleep while you’re still pregnant, as those who get poor sleep during the third trimester of their pregnancy, may also have disturbed sleep after birth. 

Addressing your anxiety and mental health while pregnant may also help you reduce the risk of postpartum depression and the sleep problems it can cause, too. 

And as sleep deprivation can make you feel more pain, aim to get as much sleep as you can before the baby arrives. 

To help, we’ve shared tips on how to sleep when pregnant and how to get energy when pregnant here. 

Get the Sleep You Need After a C-Section 

It’s a cruel fact of life that you need sleep perhaps more than ever just after a c-section — to help your body heal and be your best for your new baby — but the surgery, recovery period, and said baby will make getting that much-needed sleep tricky. 

As much as you can, work on improving your sleep hygiene to help you fall and stay asleep. The RISE app can guide you through 20+ sleep hygiene habits each day, and tell you when to do each one to maximize your chances of getting a good night’s sleep.

FAQs

How long is bed rest after c-section?

How long your bed rest is after a c-section will all depend on your body. You may be encouraged to get up and move around as soon as you can. You may stay in hospital for two to four days, have to take it very easy for six to eight weeks, and full recovery may take 12 weeks. Get medical advice about when you can resume everyday activities.

Trouble sleeping after c-section

You may have trouble sleeping after a c-section as you feel pain from the surgery, struggle to find a comfortable sleep position with your wound, or have anxiety or postpartum depression along with regular sleep disturbances from your baby.

How should you sleep after a c-section?

After a c-section, you should sleep on your back or side. This shouldn’t put too much strain on your c-section wound. You can also try sleeping on your back with your head elevated. Use pillows to keep your spine aligned and take pressure off your joints.

Sleeping positions to avoid after c-section?

Avoid sleeping on your front after a c-section. This can put pressure on your c-section wound and the pain can keep you up or wake you up. Try sleeping on your side, back, on your back with your head elevated, or sat fully up, if no other position is comfortable.

When can I lay on my side after c-section?

When you can lay on your side after a c-section will all depend on your body. You may find it painful while your wound is healing. If it’s comfortable, you may be able to lay on your side straight away.

When can I lay on my stomach after c-section?

When you can lay on your stomach after a c-section will all depend on your body. Speak to your doctor to get the go-ahead. The time frame will all depend on how long the healing process takes and when you no longer feel pain laying on the incision site — it may be six weeks or more post-surgery.

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