April is Caesarean Awareness Month, and Mamamade has teamed up with Dublin-based women's health physio Helen Keeble who's written this week's guest blog on returning to exercise after a C-section.
When can I start exercising again after a caesarean birth?
This really depends on what one defines as exercise and the type of exercise. The first 6 weeks after a c-section (or any type of birth for that matter!) should really be focusing on all the R's; Recoil, Repair, Resting, Recuperation and Recovery. A C-section is major abdominal surgery and your body needs time to heal from this.
In the first few days and weeks your body may be sore, you'll have a newborn to look after and you'll be sleep deprived. With this in mind, your body will thank you for focusing on deep breathing and pelvic floor squeezes only and gradually building up to short walks when you feel ready. There is no rush and everyone is on their own time frame, so try not to compare yourself to others.
Build up gradually
By six weeks your C-section scar should have fully healed. When it has done so you can start thinking about the next 6 weeks and what you'd like to achieve (if anything!). Impact exercise such as running, jumping etc is not recommended before 3 months postnatal so you can use weeks 7-12 to bridge the gap between reconnecting to your core and impact work.
You can start building up your stamina by taking longer or quicker walks or cycling or swimming. You can also begin some strengthening work too with light weights and gradually building them up.
This is a rough timeline for returning to exercise following a C-section:
Weeks 0-6 post-C-section
Core connection - daily deep breathing & pelvic floor squeezes. Short walks.
Weeks 7-12 post-C-section
Increase stamina, endurance and add in light weights.
Weeks 12+ post-C-section
Continue to increase cardio based work and begin low-level impact if ready.
Please note these are the shortest time frames to work to and just an idea. Some women are not ready for impact until 6 months after having their baby or longer, work with what feels right to you and book yourself in for a postnatal check with a pelvic health physio if you can.
How do I know if I'm ready to start exercising again after a C-section?
If you're thinking about getting back into exercise but not sure if you're ready yet, then consider the following questions:
- Do you want to start exercising again? If the answer is yes, then this is a good start.
- Are you at least 6 weeks postnatal? Remember don't rush it - 6 weeks is usually the minimum amount of time you need for recovery before returning to exercise.
- Do you have any spare energy to start exercising again? Be honest with yourself about whether you have the physical and mental capacity to return to exercise.
- How sleep-deprived are you? This is relative - of course, all new mums are usually sleep deprived! But is it manageable, or do you need to save your energy for looking after your baby and yourself?
- Do you have any pain on or around your C-section scar? Your scar and the area around it is a good indicator of any problems - listen to your body.
- Can you feel your pelvic floor working when you do some squeezes in standing? It's a good idea to reconnect with your pelvic floor before returning to exercise. If you're having issues with this area then do contact a pelvic health physio.
- Do you have any leaking? This is common shortly after childbirth, and pelvic floor exercises should be able to help this.
- Do you feel any heaviness in your vagina? This can be an indicator of prolapse, so if you feel a heavy sensation then see a pelvic health physio.
- Have you had your tummy muscles checked for midline separation (diastasis)? This is very common postpartum and can impact core muscle strength.
If in doubt, please have a check with a pelvic health physio!
What are the best types of exercise post-C-section?
Pelvic floor exercises (you can start these straight away)
This is just as important for caesarean birth mums as it is for vaginal delivery mums! Aim to do 10 short and 10 long squeezes (aiming for 10-sec hold), 2-3 times per day for at least the first few months. It's crucial to do a deep breath in between every single rep to make sure the muscle fully let’s go again before starting the next one (flexibility is as important as strength) and aim to work up so that you can do these all in standing (this can take a few months).
Abdominal and core muscle exercises (early days, 6-12 weeks)
Start with bridges, pelvic tilts and pelvic floor exercises as these are connected to our tummy muscles. You can then progress onto exercise such as walking, cycling or swimming (this uses our tummy) or you can progress onto specific abdominal work if that's what you want, such as leg lifts and sit-ups.
Choose an exercise you enjoy, be in tune with your body and choose an exercise that's suitable to the stage you are in the healing process. Once your body has healed from the surgery and you feel ready to get back into exercise there is no particular activity that should be avoided and I would be wary of anybody who says otherwise!
It is totally possible to make a full recovery from a caesarean birth and to get back to whatever exercise you enjoy doing most.
ABOUT HELEN KEEBLE
Helen has been a pelvic health physiotherapist since 2008. She is also the clinic lead of a prestigious pelvic health team pH physiotherapy and the co-founder of Umi Health. Helen loves working out and keeping fit, especially through Crossfit style workouts and has recently become mum to a cheeky little boy!
You can follow Helen on Instagram: @helenkeeblephysio