Wondering how you can help your body with c-section recovery? Find useful tips and exercises in this post. Note: This post contains an affiliate link. Find more info here.
As some of you may know from previous posts, I am a full-fledged C-section mama. My first pregnancy ended in an emergency C-section, much to my dismay. And because of the way my first pregnancy progressed then later ended, I am 95% sure that this pregnancy I am in now will also result in a C-section. (I’m 22 weeks in when writing this!) Update…I did have another c-section and wrote more about it in this post.
Are you pregnant? Read about finding cute & affordable maternity activewear here.
That means that by the time I am done having babies here in a few months, I will be quite the C-section recovery expert.
I worked with a personal trainer starting about 8 months postpartum with my first baby. Somewhere between then and now (about 3 years) I decided I wanted to be a personal trainer myself. So I am currently working on my certification while pregnant with baby #2, and I have hopes to open a small boutique training facility serving women only. More specifically, I want to target struggling moms after experiencing my own c-section and severe postpartum depression.
I plan on creating a very specific c-section recovery plan for my fellow moms soon. It will be tested by my own c-section recovery experience and include information learned while obtaining my personal training certification. Until then, however, I’m eager to share what I’ve already learned as both a mom and c-section vet.
According to the U.S. Center for Disease Control, 32% of pregnancies resulted in a C-section in 2015. (See source.)
That means that a substantial chunk of the mom population has had a c-section or will have one. Now I am not here to argue about how natural births are better than c-sections or do any mom shaming. (I prepared for a 100% natural birth and it didn’t end well, so don’t preach to this choir!)
I am simply here to support women who have had a c-section. If you haven’t had one, this may be a waste of your time.
I know first-hand how tough and disappointing it can be to plan on a normal, vaginal birth (medicated or not) and not get it. It can be scary. But us moms do what we have to do for the outcome we all want: a healthy baby. We can’t always control what happens but we do what we can.
My C-Section Story
As I mentioned, my previous pregnancy resulted in an emergency c-section. I had written out a natural birth plan to give my providers, and loaded my phone with relaxing birth affirmations & native American music. I even did a ton of research about how to avoid a c-section.
Psst! Find seven tips & tools for easier c-section recovery in this post.
But little miss was 7 days late when I was induced. I thought there might still be a chance for a semi-natural birth. But after having my water broken, having a Foley bulb placed, and trying Pitocin, little girl still wouldn’t budge. I was 40 hours in without ever having dilated past 2 cm when baby’s heart rate began to dip. It was over. It was time to let the tears roll down and get her OUT.
I remember the doctor’s having to give me some sort of medication to calm me, as I was nervous and shaky from everything that had happened. Deep breaths were necessary as the anesthesiologist stuck his needle in my spine. What a mess. But baby was out of my belly in less than 20 minutes and she was healthy and sassy.
The huge mess that was “giving birth” was all a blur in the moments to follow. With my baby in my arms a little while later, everything was worth it.
My c-section moms know what I mean. Anyway, onto the reason you came here.
What to Expect After a C-Section
Firstly, expect to let yourself heal a little longer than you might in a regular birth. My doctor said no driving, vacuuming, or going up and down stairs for 8 weeks, which was difficult. Doctor’s normally clear patients for exercise after 6 weeks given a vaginal birth, but 8 weeks is the standard for c-section recovery. This may or may not be the case for you. I know moms who were running 3 weeks postpartum and moms who didn’t do anything but walk for 3 months. Bottom line: Check with your physician and do your own research.
(I ended up writing a whole post about unexpected things that happen for c-section mamas. Find it here.)
Otherwise, expect strange “twinges” of pain or itching sensations around your incision. Expect a hard feeling beneath the incision where you have scar tissue. Expect to have to take pain killers for up to several weeks post-surgery. Expect to sponge bathe for awhile. And expect to “go with the flow” until your body says it’s go time. (Assuming you’ve been cleared for exercise.)
Exercises to Avoid
After any pregnancy, it’s important to focus on regaining your core strength in a gentle way. You may have had diastasis recti (abdominal separation) or not. Either way, with a c-section, it is important to be gentle as your body forms scar tissue and heals itself over the coming months.
Your core muscles are engaged during most forms of exercise, but you should avoid the following motions or exercises in the months after a c-section:
- Twisting motions in any plane
- Excessive jumping or intense HIIT workouts
- Heavy lifting before an extensive stabilization/rehab program
- Any exercises that put direct pressure on your incision area
Exercises for C-Section Recovery
Other than walking, yoga, swimming, and gentle cardio, there are some exercise types you can do at the 8 week mark. The following exercises are recommended for regaining your core strength and normal muscle lengths:
- Bodyweight squats
- Alternating leg extensions
- Quadruped leg & arm extensions
- Side lying knee abduction
I have also created a core-strengthening program called Restore The Core! It’s a four-week home workout program designed for people who are returning to exercise after a break. It’s not for women with diastasis recti, but it’s great for people who have fully recovered from a c-section and are ready to move on to more rigorous exercise!
C-Section Shelf Massage
Remember that hard scar tissue we talked about? It can tend to create a “shelf” or pouch of belly skin/fat around the incision. Your whole tummy could be flat save for that little pooch right above your incision.
One way to help the scar tissue heal and get rid of that pouch is to improve the circulation in the area. This can be done with massage. While I have my own techniques and theories surrounding c-section “shelf” massage, I am not an expert. I am sending you over to Fit2B for a technique video made by a professional, but I want you to know that massage can be very helpful in your C-section recovery.
My Favorite Postpartum Girdle & C-Section Life-Saver
After my first c-section, I was super paranoid that my incision would reopen. I was afraid that I’d brush up against something and rip open my stitches and my guts would fall out (seriously). It was an irrational thought but I still felt the need to protect the area, which is completely rational.
I found this amazing postpartum girdle that supported my weak core and covered my c-section incision. It helped me fit back into jeans and it adjusted to my slowly shrinking belly, which I loved. (I missed jeans.) It just held everything “in” so that I could feel better and walk around without feeling super frumpy and gross. It helped me regain proper posture and remember to use my core (not back) to lift if necessary.
It was worth every penny and since I kept it, I’ll definitely be using it this time around. So if that’s something that you’ll be shopping for with a planned c-section or if you just had an unexpected c-section, be sure to check out the Bellefit Dual Closure Girdle.
What was your c-section experience? Let me know by commenting below!
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