Cesarean Sections & Safely Returning to Exercise

Cesarean Sections & Safely Returning to Exercise

When we’re pregnant, everyone tends to be very interested with how we’re doing. But once baby arrives, all that focus shifts away from us. Yes, our babies are mega important. But we’re still #1 when it comes to feeding, caring and nurturing our little ones. And when you start to settle into your new routine with bubs, you may be wondering how, wanting to and maybe even anxious about doing more for your physical and mental well-being…including returning to exercise.

The after-care instructions for the newly postnatal woman is fairly minimal. Medical staff will tell you things like when you can shower, how long before you can drive again and when your next check up should be.
But how are you to know when it’s safe to begin exercising, where to begin and what to do?
 And these questions are even more top of mind when you’ve had a Cesarean delivery.

Well we’ve got you covered in this guide to embarking on your next fitness journey post C-section. The typical response from doctors to the question “when can I start exercising” is very similar for women who have had vaginal (6 weeks) and C-section (6-8 weeks) deliveries. Keep in mind these time frames are the minimum and may not be so clear cut for everyone.

As a starting point, be sure you have your doctors approval to start exercising because they will be aware of your personal road to recovery and how the incision is healing. In our experience, we see ladies who have had C-sections entering our postnatal fitness classes around 3 months postpartum on average. Every woman will heal at a different rate so be patient and be kind to yourself. Your body is the ultimate temple and bonding with your baby is job #1.

Another thing to keep in mind is that even though the incision in the top layer of the skin may look like it has healed, a C-section is counted as major surgery and the deeper layers (fat cells, connective tissues and abdominal muscles) may not yet be healed enough to begin certain exercises. If that’s the case, then you can likely start with some basic foundational movements but will have to avoid abdominal-specific exercises for a little while. Seeing a pelvic floor specialist/physiotherapist is a great idea after having a C-section. Two to three weeks post-delivery is ideal. They may be able to help minimize scar tissue development and other treatments based on their assessment.

Considerations

Before beginning any type of exercise or activity there are a few points to consider:

1. Avoid any movements that cause you pain or unusual pressure, especially around the incision.
If you do feel pain, stop and talk with your doctor to get a clearer timeline for moving forward.

2. Due to the physiological nature of ‘building a baby’, regardless of the type of delivery you had, there are some exercises you should avoid immediately post-partum. These are to ensure no additional pressure or pain at the incision site, to avoid worsening or inhibiting the healing of diastasis recti (separation of the top abdominal layer) and to avoid excess pain and pressure in the lower back resulting from weakness through this area. Avoid exercises such as high impact movements (eg. Running, jumping), contact sports, heavy weighted exercises, crunches, sit ups or curl ups and full prone planks.

Getting Started 

Do you roll when you get out of bed? This is one of the most important movements you can do immediately postpartum. Lying on your back and trying to sit up straight is mega hard on the postnatal body and is essentially a ‘sit up’…one of the movements we do not recommend for postnatal healing. Rather, roll on to your side, let your legs begin to drop towards the floor, press your top hand into the bed in front of you and push yourself up using the muscles in your chest and arms vs. the weaker muscles of the core.

Breathing is obviously natural but when practiced correctly, can be extremely effective when pulling the mid-section back together. Start with 5-10 reps of diaphragmatic breathing a few times each day.

Pelvic Floor exercises are also great to begin to incorporate into your daily routine. You can do these once your catheter is removed and you feel ready. Doing these are beneficial for every woman after giving birth. Just because you didn’t have a vaginal delivery doesn’t mean you can skip strengthening this important muscle group. Baby has put pressure on this entire area for so long and you will want to build this strength back up for all sorts of reasons, including the prevention of incontinence now or later in life.

Light stretching is also highly recommended. This will help to alleviate stiffness in muscles and around the joints that have been (and still are) taxed throughout pregnancy. Incorporate raising of the arms over your head with a deep breath in to begin to test the healing at the C-section incision point.

As soon as you feel up to it, start moving around. Walking around the house is the best place to start. You can even go outside for a gentle walk and take advantage of the sun’s vitamin D-giving abilities. Start slow. 5-10 min twice a week may be just enough to begin. Then add a few minutes each week to build up your strength and stamina and work towards walk 3 to 4 times per week. The key here is to pay attention to your posture. When you walk with proper posture, your body will be aligned better and automatically will begin to engage muscles of the core.

Progressing

Once you have clearance from your doctor and you are pain free at the incision, you can generally move on to low impact exercises. Depending on the level of weakness you are starting back with, we usually recommend focusing on strengthening the muscles required to take care of baby and all the apparatus they come with (car seats, strollers, etc). These body areas include the back, shoulders, chest, abdominals and glutes. When you are ready for low impact resistance exercises, remember form is QUEEN!

Don’t rush or do something for the sake of doing it.
Invest mentally in your exercises and the benefit you receive will be huge. To know specifically what exercises are best for you, seek out the help of a Personal Trainer trained and certified in postnatal fitness instruction. They can assess your base level of strength vs. weak areas and guide you properly through the application of activities to ensure you are engaging what you need to, relaxing what you should and breathing optimally.

Overall, pay attention to how you’re feeling, before, during and after exercising and adjust accordingly. Always seek help if you are unsure. And stay positive. You’re a superwoman!

This article is not intended to be a substitute for informed medical advice. You should not use this information to diagnose or treat a health problem or condition. Always check with your doctor before starting a new fitness and/or nutrition regimen. Tamara Vahn is the owner of Body By You, a lifestyle fitness training and events company. She is also a certified Pre & Postnatal Fitness Specialist, former Miss Fitness Canada and mom to 2 little humans. Tamara is passionate about debunking the myths of working out while pregnant and helping women find motivation and perspective when it comes to living an active postnatal life. When she’s not running after or with her kids, you can find her leading confidence events at various Snuggle Bugz stores. Be sure to follow her on social media at @bbymomfitness.

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