Since the 1990s, rates of cesarean section deliveries have been on a steady rise around the world. As of 2014, 18.6% of all births occurred by C-section, according to data collected from 150 countries all over the world. In North America, more than 30% of all births are C-section deliveries.
As common as cesarean sections have become, the procedure is still major surgery and must be treated as such. Like all other major surgery, the weeks following a C-section require plenty of time for proper recovery and healing.
Exercise after C-section delivery usually requires a longer waiting period than after vaginal delivery. Do not push yourself too hard, it can elevate the risk of infection and other complications that can make your recovery period more complicated.
If you’ve had a C-section delivery, wait to jump into your post-pregnancy exercise regimen until at least 6 weeks postpartum, and after you’ve visited your doctor. These two milestones need to be behind you to ensure that your recovery goes smoothly.
Even women in great shape who have gone through smooth deliveries need to be cautious with postnatal exercise. Childbirth and cesarean section deliveries are traumatic to the body by definition, and overexertion can cause all kinds of problems
If you want to get your body moving before your 6-8-week postnatal check-up, start with gentle, low-impact activity, like walking.
Once your doctor has given you the thumbs up for exercise after delivery, you can slowly ease yourself back into a regular workout routine over a few weeks or months. Postnatal exercise after C-section may look a lot different from your exercise regimen before pregnancy, but that is perfectly okay.
- Walking. As soon as you can get up and move around, venture out of the house and around the block a few times. It’ll probably feel great to get your body moving again.
- Pelvic floor exercises. You may have already been doing pelvic floor exercises throughout your pregnancy, and if you have, you know how important they are. As soon as the catheter is out, you can resume doing Kegel exercises to strengthen your pelvic floor muscles that support the bladder, bowel, and uterus.
- Practice good posture. Pregnancy, C-section, and breastfeeding are all things that can contribute to a stooped back and shoulders and a bulging belly. Practice sitting up with your back straight and your shoulders back. This will help you to strengthen your stomach muscles and support your back.
- Light stretches. Focus on stretching your neck, shoulders, arms, and legs with light stretches that do not put pressure on your C-section scar.
Even after you’ve gotten the green light to exercise after C-section delivery, it’s important to ease into strengthening abdominal muscles.
Before you do exercises to strengthen abdominal wall muscles, make sure you don’t have a condition called diastasis recti — when there is a a gap in the rectus abdominis muscles more than 2.7 cm after pregnancy. A gap in the rectus abdominis muscles is not considered dangerous, but it can cause you to look pregnant long after you have delivered. If you have diastasis recti, your doctor may recommend modified workouts.
If you’re specifically looking for exercises to reduce belly after delivery, focus on strength training exercises that engage the core, but don’t cause it to bulge out. Avoid doing crunches, sit-ups, and regular planks at the beginning.
These are some exercises you can do to strengthen abdominal muscles after you’ve been cleared by your doctor:
- Pelvic tilts. This is one of the safest exercises to start with to strengthen abdominal wall muscles after delivery. Lie on your back on a mat with your knees bent at a 90-degree angle, feet firmly planted on the floor. Tilt your hips toward your upper body and engage your core as you raise your butt about an inch off the floor. You should be closing the gap between the curve of your lower back and the floor. Hold the position for a few seconds, then release. Repeat 10 times.
- Modified or full side plank. The side plank engages your inner core muscles, but won’t cause your belly to bulge out. Start with a modified side plank with your knees bent on the mat as you lift your body into plank position on your side.
- Wall sit. This exercise works to strengthen quadriceps, hamstrings, pelvic floor muscles, and lower back. Stand with your back to a wall, one to two feet away. Lean against the wall and go into sitting position with your knees bent at a 90-degree angle. Engage your stomach muscles and pelvic floor muscles as you hold the position as long as possible. Repeat 5 times.
Undoubtedly some of the more important postnatal exercises you can do include those that engage the pelvic floor muscles. Don’t think that because you didn’t have a vaginal delivery these exercises aren’t as vital for you.
Pregnancy puts a lot of strain and pressure on pelvic floor muscles that support the bladder, bowels, and uterus. Furthermore, during surgery, your bladder was moved out of the way in order to safely deliver baby. Those tender organs and muscles took a big hit, so it’s important to focus on strengthening them.
Try these pelvic floor exercises for after a C-section delivery:
- Kegel exercises. They may not look like much, but they are a great tool to gain control back over those pelvic floor muscles. You can identify which muscles to engage by stopping urination midstream. The muscles that you use to do that are the same muscles that you contract to perform a Kegel. Contract and hold for 5 seconds, then release. Repeat 10 times a few times a day.
- Squats. To perform a squat correctly, stand with your feet slightly wider than shoulder-width apart. Bend your knees and squat down with your hips pushing back, like you’re about to sit in a chair. Once your thighs are parallel to the ground, hold the position. Your weight should be in your heels. Straighten your legs and repeat 15-20 times.
- Bridge. The bridge is a great exercise for the gluteus muscles and pelvic floor muscles. Start by lying on your back on an exercise mat, knees bent at a 90-degree angle, feet planted firmly on the floor. Push through your heels, raise your hips off the floor, squeezing your gluteus muscles and engaging your pelvic floor muscles. Your body should form a straight line from your shoulders to your knees. Hold for a few seconds, then release. Repeat 10-15 times, then rest for one minute and perform another set of 10-15.
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Pregnancy and delivery can put a lot of strain on your back. On top of all that, the pregnancy hormone relaxing has caused relaxing, softening, and shifting of the ligaments in the lower back and pelvis in preparation for childbirth. Whether you delivered vaginally or not, your body is feeling the effects of this hormone.
These are the best ways to protect and strengthen your lower back after pregnancy:
- Avoid lifting heavy objects and stay away from weighted exercises for a good while after delivery.
- Focus on strengthening core and pelvic floor muscles to better support your back.
- Pay attention to your posture — sit straight with your shoulders back.
- Avoid sleeping on your back. Instead, lie on your side with a pillow between your knees to maintain a neutral position in your spine.
The pelvic tilt exercise and the bridge exercise, both mentioned above, are ideal for strengthening the lower back without putting too much pressure on it.
For another lower back exercise, do the lower-back twist. Lie on your back on a mat with your knees bent at a 90-degree angle, feet planted flat on the floor. Extend your arms out to your sides. Lower your knees to one side until they are stacked on the floor, making sure to keep your shoulders on the floor. Hold the position for 30 seconds, return to starting position, and then repeat on the other side.
You can do all the abdomen toning you want, but you won’t manage to reduce your belly after pregnancy without cardio. This is an essential component of any post-pregnancy exercise regimen.
Start out with low-impact cardio workouts for the first four to six months after C-section delivery. Try these exercises:
- Water aerobics
As your stamina and strength build up, slowly increase the intensity of your workouts.
Compression garments are a good way to protect your C-section scar and wound as it heals. They come in the form of tights, shorts, and corsets, and the pressure aims to support your stomach muscles, lower back, and increase blood flow as you heal from surgery.
Compression garments are not meant to “hold you in” or make you look thinner. Their purpose is purely medical. Compression stockings are also a great idea throughout pregnancy to prevent or slow the progression varicose veins disease.
Postnatal exercises are a crucial part of recovery. When done right, they help to speed healing by providing support and strength to your muscles and bones. Regular exercise also helps to boost energy, so while it may be the last thing you feel like doing after caring for a baby all night and day, a brisk walk may be exactly what you need to feel refreshed and rebalanced.
Your mental health will also benefit from postnatal exercise. Many new moms struggle with postpartum blues and postpartum depression. Exercise can combat those feelings by fighting off depression and promoting better sleep.
Just make sure not to push yourself too much, as overexertion after C-section delivery can have serious consequences such as wound infection or injuries.
Your body needs a good few months to heal before you reintroduce vigorous, high-impact activity and certain abdominal exercises. Avoid the following workouts for a few months after having a C-section delivery:
- Abdominal-strengthening exercises that cause the stomach to bulge out, such as sit-ups and crunches, as well as ones that put a lot of stress on the abdominal wall, such as front planks, leg raises, and bicycles
- Exercises that involve jumping such as jumping rope, squat thrusts, jumping jacks, and plyometric exercises
- Sprinting or running
- Strenuous exercise classes such as body sculpting, Zumba, kickboxing, etc.
- Any exercise that pulls at or puts pressure on your C-section scar
- Any exercise that causes pain.
This is not the time to push through the pain. Focus on no-impact and low-impact workouts for the first few months following a C-section delivery, and if you’re not sure, then just avoid it.
Postpartum exercise is very important for your physical and mental health, but it’s even more important to make sure that you’re healing properly before getting into your post-pregnancy exercise regimen.
If you are struggling with walking or experiencing pain on or around your C-section scar, make an appointment with your doctor and hold off on exercising until after you have been cleared.