How to handle that C-section scar

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What you want to know about the size, closure, and care of a C-section scar — plus tips to minimize it.

Whether you’re scheduled for a C-section, or end up having one because baby won’t budge, there’s one thing you can count on—a scar. Sometimes the idea of a permanent effect can be more traumatic than the actual mark, so here’s what to expect to help you relax.

Location, location, location

“The most common C-section incision is the transverse, commonly called the ‘bikini cut,’ ” says Lisa M. Valle, D.O., a board certified obstetrician and gynecologist in Orange County, CA. The cut occurs 1 to 2 inches above the hairline, and is typically 4 to 6 inches long (in other words, you can still wear a teeny bikini without showing your scar). Doctors rarely use a vertical or “midline” incision, but they may in emergency situations, because it offers a larger space to deliver the baby.

Read more: 7 tips for recovering from a C-section

Getting closure

Your incision will be closed in one of two ways: stitches, otherwise known as sutures, or metal staples. A recent Italian study found there were no overall differences among women whose incisions were closed with staples vs. sutures when it came to cosmetic results, based on both an independent plastic surgeon’s ratings and the women’s own perceptions of their scars. Still, don’t be shy about discussing both options with your ob/gyn well in advance, especially if you have a metal allergy, to avoid a reaction or infection, Valle says.

One true difference between the two: “Sutures dissolve in about two weeks time,” Valle notes, “Staples need to be removed approximately four days after surgery.” Both are dressed in a bandage for about two days, which will be replaced by small adhesive strips that keep the edges  of the incision together before you leave the hospital. These usually fall off, or are simply pulled off like a bandage on your first post-op ob/gyn visit.

Read more: C-sections linked to chronic disease in kids

TLC time

A C-section usually comes with a five-day hospital stay, which means you’ll take your first shower after the surgery in the hospital. Valle says to gently cleanse the incision by patting the area with a soft washcloth dampened with lukewarm water; you can shower normally, but don’t let water pound on the area and skip soap in that spot (you don’t need it).

Once you’re released from the hospital, cleanse the incision with rubbing alcohol and a sterile cotton ball once a day, after bathing normally (let soap drip over the area, but don’t slather it on or scrub just yet). Put the breaks on shaving and waxing until your doctor gives you the go ahead, and only use creams or ointments if your ob/gyn suggests it.

— Christine Coppa

Read more: 3 reasons not to stress about a C-section

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