Recovering after a C-Section: Exercise
Congratulations on your brand new baby. Giving birth is a huge accomplishment to be proud of, but it’s likely you’ll also be feeling pretty wiped out, especially if you gave birth via caesarean section – it’s major surgery after all.
As a C-section can often be unexpected for many mothers, you may have a lot of questions afterwards, including “what is the best way to help your body recover from surgery?”, and “when will my body feel ‘back to normal’?”
When you’re still in pain the idea of exercising after a C-section will probably seem like madness, and don’t worry, no one is suggesting running a marathon just yet, but gentle exercise can help your body recover more quickly and reduce the risk of post-operative complications, such as back problems, weak abdominal muscles and bladder issues.
Gentle exercises to begin after your C-Section
In the first few days and weeks after your little one is born you’ll be focused on adjusting to life as a new mum and bonding with your baby. You’ll be given painkillers while in the hospital to reduce discomfort, but it’s likely you’ll still feel some pain, so gently does it is key here.
Restorative breathing - sometimes called ‘belly breathing’ - is a good, gentle exercise to begin after birth and requires no special equipment. Simply inhale deeply as you feel your ribcage and belly expand, on the out breath purse your lips and exhale gently to activate your pelvic floor and deep abdominal muscles, drawing your belly button towards your spine. As soon as you feel ready you can begin getting in and out of bed with care.
Rolling in and out of bed can help avoid putting too much pressure onto your scar and abdominal muscles. To get into bed first lie on your side, then roll onto your back. When getting out of bed, roll onto your side, then lower your legs off the bed, using your upper body strength to push yourself up to a seated position. You may need someone to help you with this to start with, but with practice your body will get stronger.
After the first few days – getting back to normal
As you heal from your c-section you can consider increasing the amount of exercise you are doing. Begin by slowly increasing the amount of walking you do around the house, and building up to a short walk outside. Monitor how you feel after each day and use this as your guide to whether you’re ready to do more. Your body has been through a lot, so be gentle with it.
When you feel ready you can also start practising pelvic floor exercises several times a day. To exercise your pelvic floor imagine you are stopping yourself from weeing mid-flow, squeezing and lifting the pelvic floor muscles. Hold each squeeze for 10 seconds and repeat up to 10 times. Then do the same again, but this time hard and fast.
At this point you should be able to move around more comfortably and lift your baby, but you may not be able to have sex or drive yet. Listen to your body and ask your midwife for advice on when you can resume these activities.
After the first six weeks – recommencing exercise
At six weeks after your caesarean you will have a postnatal check, at which point you can ask your GP about returning pre-birth activities such as running, swimming and strength training. Everyone’s body recovers at different a speed, so your doctor will advise on what’s right for you.
When you are given the green light to begin exercising again bear in mind that your body will have changed since giving birth. Your core and lower back muscles will be weaker than they used to be and it’s likely that your body will take longer to recover from exertion than before, so you’ll likely feel much more tired than your old self after exercise. Take it easy and slowly build up and ease back into your pre-caesarean section routine.
You may also find your back size and bra cup size has changed during pregnancy, so be sure that your sports bra is providing the proper support.
What to watch out for
It may be too soon to start exercising if you are still:
Having difficulty walking
Finding it hard to do pelvic floor or lower tummy exercises
Still have pain 12 weeks after giving birth
Remember, you’re rebuilding from major surgery, so don’t rush your recovery! Be sure that you’re recovering emotionally as well as physically, get the top c-section recovery tips from our professionals and mums and if you’re thinking of conceiving in the future, get up to date with all you need to know on VBAC (Virginal Birth After Caesarean).