Understanding the C-Section Recovery Process
The process of delivering a baby through a C-section can be physically demanding. Your body has already been stretched and examined for nine months, followed by a major surgical procedure. It usually takes a minimum of six weeks before you can start exercising again. However, it is important to listen to medical professionals and pay attention to your own body to determine when and how to begin.
When your obstetrician-gynecologist (ob-gyn) gives you the go-ahead, there are safe and effective exercises that can assist in your C-section recovery and help you regain core strength. Remember, it took many months to shape your body after giving birth, so be compassionate with yourself as you rebuild your strength and fitness.
To help you start, we provide a breakdown of the C-section recovery process, offer exercises for rebuilding core strength, and share tips for safely and effectively exercising after childbirth. We also include one writer’s personal experience with C-section recovery and postpartum fitness.
Understanding the C-Section Recovery Process
The timeline for recovery after a C-section varies for each person. According to the American College of Obstetrics and Gynecologists (ACOG), immediately after the delivery, you will need to spend some time in bed and will require assistance when you are allowed to get up. It is normal to experience soreness at the incision site for several days. After a C-section, most patients stay in the hospital for two to four days, depending on the reason for the procedure and individual recovery time.
Once you are back home, it is important to follow your doctor’s instructions and limit physical activities. Inform your family and friends that you will need extra help for a few days or weeks while your body heals. ACOG emphasizes that you should contact your ob-gyn or healthcare professional immediately if you encounter any post-surgery complications, such as fever, chills, leg pain, leakage or discharge around the incision, heavy bleeding, increased pain, or difficulty breathing.
Safe and Effective Exercises After Childbirth
If you are generally in good health, your doctor may approve exercise approximately six weeks after a C-section. It is crucial to start slowly and listen to your body. The initial exercises that are considered safe after a C-section include focused breathing, walking, and light core strengthening, followed by gentle cardiovascular and bodyweight exercises. It is important to consult with a healthcare professional before beginning any exercise routine after a C-section.
Exercises for Rebuilding Core Strength
“First and foremost, be patient and respect your body as you reintroduce exercise, and of course, only do so with the guidance of your doctor,” advises Kathleen Sand, a Ph.D. in biomechanics and the senior director of operations for CorePower Yoga’s Southern California studios.
If you don’t have access to a yoga studio or gym, Sand suggests trying these exercises at home to strengthen your core.
Restorative or diaphragmatic breathing is highly recommended shortly after a C-section.
A. Stand, sit, or lie down on the floor, couch, or bed.
B. Inhale and observe your rib cage, abdominal muscles, and pelvic floor expand.
C. Exhale and witness a subtle activation of the stomach and pelvic floor.
D. Maintain for 5 seconds.
Perform 3 sets of 5-10 breaths.
Pelvic Floor Exercises
A. Sit on a bench with feet positioned shoulder-width apart, place hands on hips.
B. Engage your pelvic muscles, as if attempting to cease urination in the middle, and rise.
C. Hold the Kegel and return to a seated position on the bench, then release.
Perform 1-3 sets of 10-20 repetitions.
A. With your back facing the bench, stand one foot in front of the bench seat and bend elbows to clasp hands in front of your chest.
B. Lift your leg straight in front of you, raising it a few inches off the ground, and bend your right knee to briefly sit on the bench while performing a Kegel.
C. While keeping the left leg elevated throughout, promptly stand up, releasing the Kegel and exerting pressure through the right heel to straighten the right leg.
Perform 12 repetitions. Switch legs and repeat.
A. Lie on your back with bent knees, feet flat on the floor, and arms beside you.
B. Activate your core and contract your buttocks to raise yourself off the ground, pressing your heels into the floor.
C. Perform a Kegel at the pinnacle of the bridge, hold for three seconds, and slowly lower back down to the floor.
D. Release the Kegel at the bottom of the bridge.
Perform 1-3 sets of 10-20 repetitions.
A. Place a resistance band around your knees.
B. Push your knees in the opposite direction while lifting and lowering your glutes.
Modified Side Plank
A. Lie on your right side with your right elbow resting on the floor directly beneath your right shoulder, extend both legs towards the left side, and stack your knees.
B. Bend your right knee at a 90-degree angle so that your right foot rests on the floor behind your body. Keep your left leg straight, with the inside of your left foot touching the floor. Place your left hand on your left hip.
C. Engage your core, grounding through your right elbow, right knee, and the inside of your left foot, and lift your hips off the floor. Look forward and maintain a straight line from your head to your heels.
D. Hold for 10-15 seconds.
Repeat this process 3 times, then switch sides.
A. Lie on your right side with your right elbow resting on the floor directly beneath your right shoulder, extend both legs towards the left side, and stack your feet. Place your left hand on your left hip.
B. Engage your core, grounding through your right elbow and the side of your right foot, and lift your hips and knees off the floor.
Look ahead and uphold a vertical alignment from the top to the soles of your feet.
A. From a standing position, raise your arms overhead, join your palms together, and interlock your thumbs.
B. Inhale as you reach upwards, exhale, and then bend towards the right. Keep both feet firmly planted, keep your hips and chest facing forward, and elongate the left side while curving your spine to the right.
C. Keep both arms strong as you reach towards the top right corner of the room.
D. Maintain this position for 3 to 5 breaths.
Switch sides and repeat.
Elevated Half Lift
A. Stand with a slight bend in your knees, then bend forward and align your spine parallel to the floor. Place your fingertips or palms on the front of each thigh.
B. Engage the muscles in your core by pulling your belly in and upwards, and lengthening the space between your hip joints and armpits.
C. Hold this position for 3 to 5 breaths, then release the pose by either folding forward or reaching your fingers towards the ceiling.
Common Concerns After a C-Section
After pregnancy and delivery (whether vaginal or cesarean), many patients experience abdominal separation (diastasis recti) and issues with their pelvic floor. Diastasis recti is a prevalent condition that occurs in approximately two-thirds of pregnancies and persists for 30-60% of those during the postpartum period. Breathing exercises, bridges, toe taps, and heel slides can all aid in the recovery of diastasis recti. Pelvic floor issues are also common in pregnancy due to the additional strain placed on the muscles that support the bladder, bowels, and uterus. The most effective exercises for strengthening these muscles postpartum are Kegels and bridges.
One Writer’s Journey: How I Regained My Core Strength After a C-Section
I was never a fan of planks and crunches. But boy, I had no idea how frequently I relied on my core in my everyday life – standing on the subway, getting out of the bathtub, picking up objects – until I had my first child. That’s when everything changed: I underwent an emergency C-section, and let’s just say I couldn’t even sit up to feed my newborn afterwards.
Pregnancy already takes a toll on your core, but C-sections are a legitimate surgery.
It necessitates trimming or relocating the fascia and segregating your stomach muscles to access the womb (and ultimately the infant). When you harm these muscles, it diminishes their power and their extent of movement.
All the layers require time to heal,” suggests Emily Prouse, M.D., of Metropolitan OBGYN in Denver, who recommends approximately six to eight weeks of recovery time (no heavy lifting, light strolling). “After the six-week threshold, you can escalate the intensity of physical activity and commence lifting a little weight,” she notes.
For me, strolling was the initial stride to reviving those muscles. And once I had recuperated from the incision, I recognized it was the moment to endeavor to restore my core potency in a more targeted manner. However, when your abdomen feels like gelatin and your midsection is feeble from the tension of pregnancy and surgery, it can be challenging to get back into the rhythm.
Here’s what I gleaned from losing — and regaining — my core potency.
Feebleness isn’t eternal.
I understand it appears as though you’ll never regain strength, but you will recuperate. By the time my incision mended, I was already growing stronger and commenced to find it easier to stroll, lift lighter objects, and stand for lengthier periods to rock my baby. And in a sense, since I required significant assistance, it coached me to be more patient with myself. Subsequently, this allowed me to exhibit more forbearance towards motherhood in general. Gradual and consistent progress is perfectly acceptable.
Refrain from judging your postpartum abdomen.
Your post-pregnancy abdomen is unlikely to promptly recover. I was taken aback by the fact that I still appeared pregnant a couple of weeks after giving birth. The uterus necessitates time to revert to its pre-pregnancy proportions, but what seems endearing with a baby inside it doesn’t feel as appealing once your child is born. I comprehend. I’ve experienced it. Nonetheless, it’s crucial not to assess yourself based on other postpartum parents or what you witness in Hollywood.
I commenced with the “simple” Core 1 class at my local CorePower studio, which encompasses an assortment of plank variations. I attended roughly three classes per week, then engaged in a sequence of planks, gentle abdominal contractions, and balance exercises at home on the remaining two or three days. Eventually, I initiated participating in barre sessions as well, which further amplified my core stability.
If you possess any apprehensions regarding your recovery following a C-section or inquiries about exercise, communicate with your healthcare provider. Here are a few supplementary resources that may also provide assistance.