Returning To Exercise After A C-Section
On today’s blog, I wanted to discuss cesarean sections. When we think of a woman giving birth, we will automatically refer to vaginal births as being the “normal” choice of delivery. Understandably, our bodies were physiologically created in a way that vaginal births are natural and more often than not, very safe. However, births are unpredictable, uncontrollable, and just plain REAL (right mamas?). In labour and delivery, a cesarean section can either be scheduled or considered an emergency. I want all c-section mamas out there to know, that whichever reason is the cause of your c-section, it is OK!!! You have not failed as a mother, you are not a weak person, your body isn’t incapable of a natural childbirth, sometimes things happen we can’t control. At the end of the day, the goal is for a healthy baby to enter this World, and for a healthy mama to recover and be able to take care of this baby, bottom line! Be proud of your accomplishment, you just gave birth to a tiny human! The stigma surrounding labour and c-sections needs to stop! Mamas are mamas, whether giving birth vaginally, through c-section, through surrogacy, adopting, fostering, etc!
What is a C-Section?
Let’s have a small refresher of what takes place during a c-section without going into too many details. During a c-section, the OB/GYN makes a small (few cm in length) incision, usually horizontal, just above the pubic bone. Now, to get the baby out, this incision needs to go through 5 layers of skin, tissue and muscle. Since the incision is small, the OB/GYN will have to...manoeuvre, his or her way to the uterus to pull the baby out. Even though c-sections are common, this doesn’t mean it’s a small procedure. It is SURGERY.
How does this affect your recovery?
Since the abdominal muscles have been separated and tissues have been sewn back together, there’s a lot of scarring that occurs where the incision took place. Scarring can prevent the muscles to glide and contract properly during exercise which can cause weakness and lack of stabilization through your core; which can lead to pain and discomfort for years to come. Note that once your scar is healing well, begin some gentle massage work around your scar to maintain good blood flow to the area. *
Women who’ve had c-sections tend to believe their pelvic floor is fine. Unfortunately, that’s not the case. Pregnancy, in itself, increases your chances of pelvic floor dysfunction. The pelvic floor muscles and your core have had a lot of stress the past 9-10 months. They’ve stretched and have become a little too relaxed. It’s important to slowly strengthen these muscles to ensure proper alignment and encourage a proper functioning of the pelvic floor *.
* (Pssst, call your pelvic health physiotherapist)
Your doctor will advise you to stay clear from driving, any lifting, and any vigorous exercise for the first 6-8 weeks. These guidelines are very important to follow to ensure you recover well from this procedure. C-sections, just as vaginal births, require a recovery period. I can’t stress enough to take the time your body needs to heal and by “time”, I mean this will take months. Although you may have been cleared by your doctor to start exercising after 6-8 weeks, this does not mean you have the green light to perform all types of exercises. Please refer to an exercise specialist or pelvic health physiotherapist to determine what is appropriate according to your healing progress.
So now what?
The good news is that even though c-sections are a serious surgery, there are certain exercises that will help progress the healing. Below are some exercises I recommend doing once you gain comfortable mobility, even before your 6-8 week follow-up. They are gentle, yet effective to help the abdominal muscles and pelvic floor reconnect and strengthen, while permitting your body the time it needs to heal from the inside out. It’s also great for your mental and emotional health.
1- Belly breathing
It is both a relaxation technique and a core exercise which will surely help you stay in a positive mindset while gaining strength.
Perform this exercise lying down, with knees bent
Take a deep breath through your nose, letting your belly expand and rise.
Exhale through your mouth while pulling your bellybutton in toward your spine
Repeat 5-10 times; 2-3 times per day.
The oh so popular Kegel exercises are great to slowly start connecting the pelvic floor muscles. They are gentle enough to perform after delivery, both for c-sections or vaginal births, and require no equipment, no athletic wear… I mean you can do them ANYWHERE!
Get that blood flowing to all areas of your body. Walking is a great exercise to perform after delivery and stimulates blood flow and heart rate which helps with preventing blood clots, a side effect of surgery. Make sure to slow down your walking pace to adjust to your comfort level. It’s important to listen to your body and prevent increasing the intensity too fast, which in consequence, could lead to more problems. Start with a slow walk around the block with baby in tow to see how comfortable you really are. Pay attention to your incision when you do so.
IMPORTANT TO KNOW… when lying down or getting up, remember to always roll to your side and push yourself up with your arms. Going from laying on your back to sitting puts a lot of strain on your incision scar and your abdominal walls.
* Listen to your body and only perform these exercises if they do not trigger pain to your incision. Do not hesitate to ask questions to your physician, postpartum exercise specialist, or pelvic health physiotherapist regarding your recovery. If you see an increase in bleeding, fatigue, or inflammation of the scar area, stop all activities and speak to your physician.