A hysterectomy is a surgical procedure that removes the uterus and, in some cases, the cervix and ovaries. For many women, this surgery can lead to an extensive hysterectomy recovery period as it often includes major abdominal surgery.
While there are no guarantees for how long it will take to recover from a hysterectomy, there are methods you can follow which may help to aid your body's healing process.
This article outlines the best ways on how to recover safely from a hysterectomy by following these tips.
Full Guide For Safe Hysterectomy Recovery - The First Week
Recovering from a hysterectomy is no easy feat. One of the most important things you can do for yourself after a hysterectomy is to care for your body.
You must rest and take it easy for at least 24-48 hours after surgery, even if you're feeling well enough to get up and do things around the house or go out with friends. Your body has just undergone major surgery, and you need to give it time to heal.
Don't push yourself too hard, or you risk endangering your recovery and putting yourself at a greater chance of infection, pain, or other complications from surgery that may require additional care. One of the best ways on how to recover safely from a hysterectomy is by following these easy tips for aftercare:
Drink lots of fluids, especially water. You'll want plenty of liquids, so stay well hydrated during this post-operative period as you may experience dry mouth due to anesthesia medications.
Non-carbonated beverages such as water, flavoured herbal tea, or fruit juice are all great options that will reduce excess bloating and gas, both of which can put a strain on your incisions and increase the amount of pain you're in after.
As your body starts to heal from the surgery, you can reintroduce carbonated fluids into your diet. You can try ginger ale with bitters, which will ease any nausea you may be feeling.
Keep your diet in check
Eating the right foods will help your body heal and maintain strength while you are recovering. It may seem like all you want is "comfort" food, but this can be detrimental and cause weight gain due to increased calorie consumption and decreased movement; many women struggle to lose weight after a hysterectomy.
Don't forget about protein, which helps with recovery and has been shown to decrease symptoms of depression post-surgery. Protein-rich options include eggs, lean meats such as chicken or fish, beans (soaked overnight), tofu, quinoa, lentils and almonds.
Getting enough fruits and vegetables is also an important part of a healthy diet. Eating small meals more frequently helps to avoid putting strain on your digestive system.
If you're having difficulty eating solid foods, try consuming nutrient-dense liquids like smoothies blended in the blender or ready-made meal replacements like Ensure or Boost.
Stay away from alcohol
You'll likely be prescribed medication to help with pain and recovery, and you should avoid alcohol while taking these medications. Drinking alcohol while on narcotics is dangerous because it can have cause serious adverse effects.
If you're taking any medications, talk to your doctor before consuming alcohol or other drugs because they may not mix well with each medication. Inebriation also increases the risk of falling and opening up your incisions.
Physical activities - what you can and can't do
You'll likely be able to resume normal activities within two weeks of surgery; however, there are some things that you should avoid in the first several days after a hysterectomy.
In particular: lifting heavy items (especially over five pounds), driving, operating machinery, and exercising - this is anything more strenuous than a leisurely walk on flat ground).
You should also try to avoid going up stairs if possible until one week following your surgery. Walking is recommended as soon as you feel comfortable doing so, but it is important to take it slow until your healing has progressed.
Bathing and showering
It is recommended to only shower during the first few weeks after surgery. Ensuring your incision is clean and dry are the two most important things you can do once you are at home.
You will get different instructions on bathing depending on what type of surgery you had - make sure to ask your doctor before being discharged from the hospital.
You may take a shower immediately, but make sure to avoid direct contact with your incision. You can rinse it off gently and dry it by patting instead of rubbing it.
Taking care of your incisions means the difference between infection and no infection. Your doctor will likely give you instructions on caring for the incision. It is important to follow the exact directions from your doctor; these are guidelines.
To clean your wound:
Clean gently with soap and water - make sure not to scrub too hard or use too hot of water as this can irritate the incisions even further. Gently pat dry (don't rub)
There are a few different sutures used, depending on the type of hysterectomy you've had. The most common are staples and steri-strips.
The staples and/or steri-strips will help your incision heal. Staples are metal clips that doctors may use in addition to sutures on an open wound for faster healing time, but they can also hold the skin together while it heals naturally over a long period of time.
Steri-strips have adhesive strips, which you should not remove until they begin to peel and curl up at the edges. Your steri-strips will likely start to peel up after about a week, be careful not to remove them before this, or it could cause the wound to open back up.
In some cases, steri-strips may not curl up, and you will have a difficult time during the removal process. If this is the case, contact your doctor about the best course of action.
Wear loose clothing to ensure that the incision does not rub against clothing as you move around. This can include maxi skirts, soft and comfortable sweatpants with a loose waistband, and even leggings are a good idea. For many women, investing in a pair of maternity leggings is well worth it, as the waistband comes up over any incisions.
Avoid direct and prolonged exposure of your incisions to sunlight, and don't put any ointments, creams, or lotions onto your incisions. This can cause bacteria to grow, which may lead to infections.
You might see some clear or light red fluid coming out of the incision. This is usually nothing to worry about, but it's best to call your surgeon if there are any significant changes in how much fluid you see leaking from the wound or you are soaking through your bandages.
Your doctor will prescribe you something to help with the pain after surgery. It is common for discomfort and mild-to-moderate levels of pain to be present in your postoperative period.
Take your prescription pain meds before it becomes too severe, as this can control the level of pain better than if taken later on when it's more intense.
You should also alternate between medication that treats inflammation (Motrin) and those that treat all other symptoms like stiffness or aching joints (Tylenol).
If you know you're going to be doing something that may cause strain or pain (walking or bathing, for example), try taking your medications a half-hour beforehand.
If you have any questions about your pain medications or are struggling with out-of-control pain, call your doctor or surgeon to discuss it.
Bowel function and stool softeners
After a hysterectomy, your bowel will take time to recover. Your first bowel movement should occur 4-5 days after surgery and may be accompanied by gas pain.
This can be somewhat relieved by walking and making sure you are well hydrated. Mild stool softeners can help with any discomfort; they're available at any drugstore and recommended for at least the duration you are on heavier pain killers. Opioid and codeine-based medications are known for causing constipation.
Changes to your body
Be prepared for a few changes in your body after a hysterectomy. You may notice a vaginal discharge for up to eight weeks. This will start bloody and gradually get lighter in colour and thinner over time as you recover from surgery.
For some women, two weeks after their procedure, there are also periods of increased bleeding that last around 24 hours; this is completely natural too! If it persists longer than one day or the duration becomes very heavy, please contact your doctor.
If you're having your ovaries removed, it's important to know that this may result in symptoms of menopause. Menopause can cause sleepless nights with night sweats, hot flashes and vaginal dryness, among other things.
To minimize the risk of going through menopausal symptoms after ovarian removal, talk with your doctor about hormone replacement therapy (HRT) before surgery.
How you may feel after your hysterectomy
It is normal to feel tired and weaker than usual for up to eight weeks following major surgery. Try taking naps during the day and frequent rest breaks so you can get through your daily tasks. Simple things may initially exhaust you, though, but with time they will grow easier again.
After having a hysterectomy, it is normal to be worried and nervous. You may feel a sense of loss or become depressed. It's also common for your appetite to change.
If these feelings persist even when things start getting back on track in your everyday routine, don’t hesitate to tell your surgeon so they can help make sure everything is going well with recovery.
Getting in and out of bed after a hysterectomy can be a huge challenge for some.
If you're struggling with getting out of bed, try using pillows as supports under your head and upper body to keep you upright while sleeping, or try sleeping in a recliner instead of your bed.
Using an abdominal binder can also help prevent pain and discomfort, but check with your doctor before you do this.
It's good to avoid sexual activity for up to six weeks following surgery when the area will be more vulnerable to irritation and infection. Only after you've been given the go-ahead from your doctor should you attempt any form of intercourse.
During this period, this also means no self-pleasuring. Having an orgasm while you are still internally healing can rip open the sutures inside and may lead to infection; in some cases, further surgery may be necessary.
How to recognize when it's time to call your doctor if something seems wrong
While we all hope for a safe and fast hysterectomy recovery, sometimes it doesn't go smoothly. Here are some tips to know when to call your doctor.
- Fever of 100.5 or greater
- Signs of infection at the incision site
- Foul or infected smell coming from vagina
- Uncontrollable pain that pain medications aren't managing
- Vomiting or nausea
- Extended constipation or diarrhea, even after taking meds for it
- Unable to urinate, or difficulty emptying bladder
- Chest pain, shortness of breath, or pain in your calf/legs - this could mean a blood clot and requires immediate medical attention.
Final thoughts on hysterectomy recovery
Recovery from a hysterectomy can be difficult, but it’s not impossible. By following the hysterectomy recovery guidelines and taking care of your body post-surgery, you should be able to recover quickly with little complication.
If things don’t seem right after surgery or if there are any questions about what is happening in your body during this time, make sure to call your doctor. You may have some physical discomfort for a few weeks (or even months) as your body heals and adjusts, but remember that your body will heal fully with time.
How has been your experience with recovering from surgery? We want to know what worked for you - share it below so we can help other women recover after their own surgeries too!