C-Section Incision Burning – What’s Normal, When To Worry

| Reviewed By Amanda Lundberg, BSN, RN

It is a common occurrence for those who have undergone a C-section to experience burning in their incision area, which is typically attributed to nerve damage in the abdomen and skin.

Pain medications, cold compresses, and supportive garments can help ease the discomfort.

In some cases, a burning or stinging sensation on or near your C-section incision can indicate an infection, hernia, or endometriosis, but these are typically accompanied by other symptoms. 

According to WebMD, in addition to the burning sensation:

“You might feel sharp, shooting pains in your wound area. This may be a sign that you’re getting sensations back in your nerves. The feeling should become less intense and happen less often over time.”

Speaking from personal experience, the discomfort you feel is temporary, and your recovery will soon be a distant memory.

The burning and stinging I experienced dissipated within a few weeks, but the numbness I felt at the incision lingered for months after the procedure.

C-Section Incision Burning – What To Know

Many women experience a burning sensation as they heal from a C-section surgery.

Key things to watch for during your recovery are how the wound appears, how long the sensation lasts, and possible signs of infection.

Why You Feel a Burning Sensation at C-Section Incision

A lot of women report feeling a stinging or pulling sensation similar to burning when they lie down or get up, and some feel their C-section incision burning on one side of their abdomen but not the other.

Mom-of-two Leslie Berry from Kidsly Mom described feeling a tender “burning sensation on one side.”

This is expected postpartum as the stitches are pulled during movement or whenever pressure is applied to the incision.

Nerve damage is the most common cause behind a burning C-section scar, and it accounts for the numbness and tingling sensation many women also experience. 

If burning is accompanied by other symptoms, this kind of pain can be attributed to an infection, a hernia, or endometriosis in rare cases.

You may also experience:

  • Numbness or a tingling sensation
  • Bruising
  • Aching or throbbing
  • Itching
  • Stinging pain

How To Ease Burning Pain After C-Section

I found an ice pack to be the most helpful by far during my recovery. I kept a few in my freezer so there was always one ready when I needed it. 

After checking with my doctor, I also used lavender essential oil (mixed with a carrier oil) around the incision. The lavender soothed the itch and discomfort, especially after a hot shower.  

  1. Medications: Take prescribed pain medications as directed by your healthcare provider. These may include over-the-counter pain relievers or prescription-strength options.
  2. Cold Compress: Apply a cold compress or ice pack wrapped in a thin cloth to the affected area for 15-20 minutes at a time. This can help reduce inflammation and numb the area.
  3. Warm Compress: After the initial acute phase (typically after the first 24 hours), you may switch to a warm compress to help soothe the area. Warmth can increase blood flow and relax muscles.
  4. Proper Wound Care: Keep the incision area clean and dry. Follow any specific wound care instructions provided by your healthcare provider. Ask your doctor before using any healing ointments.
  5. Gentle Movement: Engage in light, controlled movements to help prevent stiffness and promote circulation. Avoid strenuous activities until your healthcare provider advises otherwise.
  6. Posture and Support: Maintain good posture to avoid putting unnecessary pressure on the incision site. Use pillows or cushions to support your back and abdomen while sitting or lying down.
  7. Breathing Techniques: Deep breathing exercises can help relax your abdominal muscles and improve circulation. Take slow, deep breaths in through your nose, and exhale slowly through your mouth.
  8. Avoid Straining: Avoid activities that could strain your abdominal muscles, such as heavy lifting or intense physical exertion.
  9. Hydration and Nutrition: Stay well-hydrated and maintain a balanced diet rich in nutrients to support the healing process.
  10. Massage: Gently massaging the area around the incision (if approved by your healthcare provider) can help reduce muscle tension and improve blood flow.
  11. Supportive Undergarments: Consider wearing supportive underwear or an abdominal binder recommended by your healthcare provider. This can help provide gentle support to the incision area.
  12. Rest and Sleep: Ensure you get adequate rest to allow your body to heal. Finding a comfortable sleeping position with the help of pillows can be beneficial.
  13. Communicate with Your Healthcare Provider: If the burning sensation persists, worsens, or is accompanied by other concerning symptoms, consult your healthcare provider promptly.

What the Incision Should Look Like as It Heals

According to physical therapist Dr. Laura Glazebrook, a healthy C-section scar should “start fading from a red to a pink coloration, and it should look pretty uniform as it heals.”

C-section scars commonly heal in line with the incision, but some scar formations can appear raised and thicker (hypertrophic) or stray from the boundaries of the original wound (keloid).

A woman applies healing cream to the site of her c-section wound.

How To Know if C-Section Is Healing

You’ll know your c-section site is healing well when it becomes less and less tender to the touch.

The scar itself will change from pink to purplish and may remain this way for several months before gradually fading into a faint whitish line.

How Long C-Section Pain Lasts

Some women can experience pain for several days or weeks following cesarean delivery.

You’ll likely need to take pain relief medications for the first week or so, and after this period, it’s normal to feel sore and tender for the first month postpartum or longer.

Your first checkup is normally scheduled 4-6 weeks after delivery, so if you are still experiencing pain at this stage, your doctor will be able to discuss your ongoing recovery and recommend other forms of pain relief.

It normally takes around 6-10 weeks for a C-section incision to heal completely.

Healing can be sped up by ensuring you don’t rush into resuming your regular activities.

Dr. Rajiv B. Gala at the American College of Obstetricians & Gynecologists stresses that:

“At least six weeks healing time allows the incision line to mature so that when strenuous activities are performed, the integrity is not compromised.”

When To Expect Pain and Discomfort To Go Away

Pain and feelings of discomfort should have more or less subsided once you are 8 weeks postpartum, and the general soreness should begin to fade within the first 2-4 weeks following your delivery.

Be patient with your body. It is recovering from both pregnancy and major surgery, so don’t push yourself too hard!

Signs of Infection

Burning can be a sign of an infected incision, but it is not the only sign.

If you experience any of the following, please report these to your healthcare provider as soon as you can:

  • Nausea and dizziness
  • Feverish/have high temperature
  • More pain in the wound or your womb since delivery
  • Incision site feels warm to the touch
  • Green or yellow weeping/discharge from the wound
  • A foul odor from the wound
  • Wound is red or swollen
  • Wound is gaping/open
  • Unpleasant vaginal discharge
  • Pain during urination

When To See the Doctor

It’s advisable to see your doctor if you experience any signs of infection alongside a burning sensation or if you are still experiencing a burning, stinging pain beyond 8 weeks postpartum.

Other less common symptoms that could indicate a blood clot and require urgent attention include:

  • Swelling/redness in your lower leg
  • Breast pain
  • Heavy vaginal bleeding/discharge
  • Chest pain or difficulty breathing
  • Permanent numbness around or near the scar

Stages of Recovery Following a C-Section

  • Hemostasis Stage: Immediate post-operative phase focused on stopping bleeding and ensuring blood clot formation. This typically occurs during the first few hours after surgery.
  • Inflammatory Stage: This stage lasts for about 3-5 days post-surgery and is characterized by redness, swelling, and pain around the incision site as the body initiates the healing response.
  • Proliferative Stage: Begins around day 5 and lasts up to 2-3 weeks. This stage involves the production of collagen and the formation of granulation tissue, which helps close the wound.
  • Remodeling Stage: This can last for several months to a year. Collagen fibers mature and reorganize, and the scar tissue becomes stronger and more elastic.

C-Section Recovery Week by Week

Everyone’s recovery will be slightly different, so it’s important to take the process week-by-week and report anything out of the ordinary to your doctor.

Here’s what you can expect:

Week 1

In the inflammatory stage, you may need to stay in the hospital for up to 4 days post-delivery in case of heavy bleeding.

Your incision will appear swollen and red/pink, and you’ll find that it hurts to laugh, cough, sneeze, and take a shower.

Weeks 2-3

Nearing the proliferative stage of your recovery, white blood cells will begin to guard your incision against infection.

Your wound will still feel sore at this stage, and the muscles surrounding the incision can feel weak.

In the third week, collagen starts to form at the wound to strengthen and pull the tissue together.

Weeks 4-6

At the remodeling stage, your scar will become thicker and change color from pink/red to a dark purplish shade as new blood vessels start to form.

By week 6, you can begin using tampons without risking infection, but please speak to your doctor before doing so.

After 6 Weeks

Shortly after this time, your c-section incision should have healed up completely, allowing you to comfortably resume normal activities such as exercising, driving, sex, etc.

Some women can experience incision or muscle pain for several months following delivery, and having a c-section “shelf” is common.

You might struggle with urinary incontinence due to a weakened pelvic floor.

Your doctor or midwife may refer you to a physical therapist to aid your long-term recovery.

C-Section Recovery Tips

  1. Rest as much as you can: Rest whenever the baby sleeps, and ask loved ones for help so you can grab naps!
  2. Take gentle walks: This helps reduce the risk of blood clots and heart issues and maintains good mental health.
  3. Ask for breastfeeding support: C-sections are linked to higher risks of difficulties when breastfeeding, so speak to a lactation consultant if it’s painful/difficult to feed your little one.
  4. Wear loose, comfy clothes without waistbands: Floaty, freeing clothes prevent fabric from rubbing against or irritating your scar.
  5. Clean your wound properly: Your doctor/midwife will instruct you on wound aftercare. Washing and then drying the incision promptly will reduce your infection risk.

C-Section Incision Itching

As c-section wounds heal, an itching sensation at the incision site is very common.

Itching occurs due to damaged nerves in the area becoming very sensitive, but it can also be caused by the regrowth of pubic hair in that area.

Apply a cold compress, and avoid scratching as this can lead to infection.

When Your C-Section Incision Feels Hard

Thicker, firmer scars — known as hypertrophic scars — appear slightly more raised than normal c-section scars due to a complication during the healing process in which excess collagen is produced at the incision site.

It’s normal for these scars to thicken for up to 6 months before improving.