You made it through pregnancy. You even made it through your C-section with grace. Recovery should be a walk in the park, right? For some women it is, but many new moms will experience complications – like a hernia.
If you thought a hernia was something only men got, think again.
Before you freak out, breathe and sit down. Hernias are a rare complication of a Cesarean delivery (thankfully). But it’s still important to know the symptoms, so you can head to your doctor if it does happen to you.
Table of Contents
- What Is a Hernia?
- The Causes and Symptoms of an Incisional Hernia
- How Doctors Treat Incisional Hernias
- Are Hernias Common After a Cesarean Delivery?
- What Happens if the Hernia Is Untreated?
What Is a Hernia?
So what exactly is a hernia?
A hernia occurs when a part of the body pushes through another part of the body where it doesn’t belong. When we talk about incisional hernias, the abdominal lining actually pushes through the surgical incision.
Basically, the lining of your abdomen starts pushing through the incision from the Cesarean procedure (yikes).
While this condition sounds like something out of a horror movie, it’s not quite as bad as it sounds (although still serious). Hernias only cause physical symptoms, but they won’t go away on their own. Brushing it under the rug and forgetting about it isn’t an option.
The Causes and Symptoms of an Incisional Hernia
Some women are at greater risk of an incisional hernia than others. Factors that may put you at greater risk of a hernia include:
- Large incision
- Weak tissue
Women who are overweight or obese are more at risk of developing a hernia because the extra weight adds pressure to the stomach.
Studies have also shown that women with a midline (vertical) incision are more likely to have a hernia than women with a transverse (horizontal) incision.
Common Symptoms to Look for
Incisional hernias cause three main symptoms: abdominal bulge, nausea/constipation and pain.
An abdominal bulge is by far the most common symptom women experience. The bulge may look like it’s coming out of your surgical scar, or you may just have a bulge in or around your scar.
Incisional hernias don’t always develop right after C-section deliveries. Some women don’t notice a bulge until months after the baby is born.
It doesn’t help that the skin in your abdominal area can be a little wonky after delivery. It may be loose, it may be bulging or it may be dimpled after you have the baby, which can make it hard to see the mass.
These bulges, or masses, are usually more noticeable when you’re coughing, standing up straight, doing something physical.
Nausea and Constipation
Some women will also experience nausea and constipation after developing a hernia. Hernias usually affect the abdominal area, which can easily upset your stomach.
The bulge or mass can push the intestines out of place, too, which can make you constipated.
Pain or Discomfort
Hernias can also cause pain or discomfort, but not always. Pain tends to be more common in women with prominent bulges.
The problem with this symptom is that most new moms ignore it. You’ve just had a Cesarean delivery. You’re going to be in pain while you recover.
The pain and discomfort will stick around after the normal healing time, so new moms eventually catch the drift that something is wrong.
How Doctors Treat Incisional Hernias
If you develop a hernia after your C-section, your doctor will probably recommend surgery. Surgery is the go-to treatment method for most women.
No medication in the world can make your hernia smaller.
Doctors may be more adamant on recommending surgery if:
- The hernia is causing so much pain and discomfort that it’s interfering with your daily life.
- The hernia is getting larger.
- The bowel is trapped in the hernia (incarcerated hernia; rare).
An incarcerated hernia causes severe pain and is considered a medical emergency. While rare, it is possible to develop this complication.
If surgery isn’t an option for you, you can wear an abdominal binder. These binders are essentially belts that keep the hernia in place.
The hernia won’t go away, but the belt can help ease your symptoms.
Open and Laparoscopic Surgeries
Surgery is the only surefire way to reduce a hernia. There are two types of surgeries that doctors perform:
- Open surgery involves making a large incision to repair the hernia.
- Laparoscopic surgery involves making a small incision to access and repair the hernia.
In both cases, a mesh is usually placed over weak areas to keep everything in place.
How Long Is Recovery?
Women who decide that surgery is the best course of action to treat their hernia will have to endure a six-week recovery time.
During these six weeks, you won’t be able to lift heavy objects or pick up your children.
Are Hernias Common After a Cesarean Delivery?
Hernias are not a common complication of a C-section delivery. Research shows that about 2 out of every 1,000 women develop hernias that require surgery within 10 years of a C-section delivery.
It’s possible that more women develop hernias, but they may not get surgery to fix it.
What Happens if the Hernia Is Untreated?
Surgery may not be an absolute necessity, and some women decide that surgery just isn’t an option – ever.
In many cases, the hernia is small (barely noticeable) and doesn’t cause any symptoms. These hernias don’t necessarily need to be repaired.
The world won’t come crumbling down if you don’t get your hernia repaired, but make sure that you discuss all of your options and the potential risks with your doctor before making your decision.
For some women, post C-section hernias are a nightmare. Others don’t seem to notice it at all. While rare, it’s important to be on the lookout for the tell-tale belly bulge after your Cesarean delivery and see your doctor if you believe you may have a hernia. If the pain is severe, head to the emergency room, as you may be experiencing an incarcerated hernia (very serious).