Women's Health

How to safely return to exercise after a C-section delivery

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It’s a little-known fact that caesarean sections, or C-sections, are the oldest worldwide surgery performed in obstetrics. They have been around since ancient times and more recently, have been growing in popularity.

After a C-section, you’re likely to feel quite vulnerable. You have plenty of healing to do and a new baby to take care of.

Exercise can be a beneficial part of your C-section recovery — but it needs to be done carefully.

Here’s everything you’ve been wondering about how to approach exercise after a C-section.

Can you exercise after a C-section?

The very short answer is yes — exercise after a caesarean delivery is safe and even encouraged. However, you won’t be jumping in straight away.

The first few days after your operation you’ll still be in hospital, resting in bed. During this time, it’s a good idea to try a few deep breathing exercises and leg stretches that can help relieve pain and improve blood flow which lowers the risk of clots.

After one to two days, almost all patients are up and about for a gentle walk.

The next milestone on your list is waiting for your incision to heal. This can take up to six weeks and in some cases, even longer.

Once you’ve fully recovered from the surgery, it’s safe to resume low-impact exercises.

But, you should also get the green light from your doctor before embarking on any kind of postpartum workout.

Worried about your C-section recovery? Kin’s C-Section Recovery Kit has all the essentials to help you feel comfortable and supported while you heal.

The kit includes three products that will help in your recovery, including The Mesh Panties, which are soft, stretchy and provide comfortable support.

The Belly Band provides target compression around your incision and separated stomach muscles, while also supporting your core muscles, your upper body and helping to improve your posture. Rounding out the kit is The Nourishing Cream, which aids in the healing of skin and reduces the appearance of scarring.

You can also read our articles on mesh underwear and postpartum belly binding for more recovery tips.

The C-Section Recovery Kit includes all of the essentials you need to heal from a C-section delivery.

How long after a caesarean section can you exercise?

We mentioned earlier that exercise should wait until you’re fully recovered — so, how long is that?

Most women are ready to start exercising around six to eight weeks after a caesarean delivery; which coincides nicely with your postpartum check-up.

The person you really need to ask is your midwife or doctor. They can give you personalised advice which considers your healing process and individual health or fitness goals.

There are also a few general exercise tips you may like to follow, like:

  • Stretching exercises should be avoided until your incision has fully healed
  • In the first week, aim for very minimal activity — just personal care for yourself and taking care of your sweet new baby
  • After the first few weeks, many women are able to resume light household activities
  • From six to eight weeks, most women are resuming low-impact exercise

What if you had complications?

A C-section is actually a pretty major surgery and it comes with a range of potential complications, such as:

  • Heavy blood loss
  • Wound infections
  • Blood clots
  • Anaesthesia risks

None of this is meant to scare you, just prepare you for the fact that you’ll need time to heal.

If there were any complications during your C-section delivery, then postpartum exercise is probably off the cards and you may have to wait longer to resume your normal physical activities.

Your doctor is the best person to inform you of those options as your healing patterns won’t follow the typical timelines.

Can exercise after a C-section help with a faster recovery?

Your body changes so much throughout pregnancy and birth and it's understandable that so many new mothers feel the need to get back to their old selves quickly.

Firstly, we want you to remember that what you’ve just achieved is amazing. You deserve plenty of time to rest and soak in the beauty of new motherhood.

But secondly, there actually is some evidence that engaging in gentle exercises after a C-section can be beneficial for recovery.

Multiple studies have noted that women who exercise during their postpartum period are more likely to have positive moods, lower anxiety and depression and better energy levels. This was true whether they had a caesarean delivery or vaginal birth.

One study in Pakistan found that gentle exercises after a C-section could improve mobility and help reduce pain. Breathing exercises were found to be useful for improving circulation and relaxing the abdominal area — which assists with pain. While physiotherapy exercises were beneficial for pelvic girdle pain.

Another study out of India noted that exercise after a C-section could help reduce the length of stay in hospital. There was also some relief of common gut issues, like constipation and bloating, that many women experience after a C-section delivery.

Do pelvic floor exercises after a C-section help?

One common symptom for women after birth is urinary stress incontinence; AKA accidental leaks. You might find some involuntary pee escapes when you cough, sneeze or later on when you exercise. The good news is that strengthening your pelvic floor muscles improves and eventually, eliminates this issue.

Pelvic floor exercises known as Kegels are good for this. The most common program is: 

  • Eight to 12 muscle contractions in a row
  • Hold each contraction for six to eight seconds, followed by a couple of little pulses at the end
  • Do these twice per day, three times per week

There’s some even better news — pelvic floor exercises are quite safe to begin early. For women who had a C-section, it’s typically okay to start them as soon as your catheter is removed.

You know what we’re about to say though, right? Make sure to double-check with your doctor before commencing pelvic floor exercises.

What is the best exercise to do after a caesarean section?

Your body has gone through a number of changes in the last few weeks so what you were doing mere days ago is probably not the best fit anymore.

It’s important to remember that a C-section is in fact an abdominal surgery. Your exercise plan after any operation has to focus first on recovery and second, on building fitness gradually. With this in mind, here are some of the best exercises to try after a C-section.

Gentle walking

Walking is the first exercise that many women try after a C-section. Early on, you won’t be doing it to break a sweat but rather to move your body and build up your stamina again.

When you’ve had the green light from your doctor to begin low-impact exercise again, you might like to pick up the pace.

Post-C-section, many women can handle a 25 to 35-minute walk a few times per week and the ‘talk test’ is a good method for deciding intensity.

This involves being able to carry on a conversation while exercising. If you can't continue talking while walking, you're probably going a little too quickly at this time.

Another huge benefit of walking is that you can bring your baby along. Pop them in the pram and get that fresh air and vitamin D.

Deep breathing exercises

Pregnancy puts a lot of pressure on your diaphragm muscles, so in postpartum recovery, you can use deep breathing exercises to help retrain these muscles. Here’s how to do them: 

1.     Lay on your back or sit with one hand flat on your belly

2.     Take a deep breath and try to push your hand off your belly with your abdominal muscles

3.     Try not to shrug your shoulders

Pelvic floor exercises

We just had a good chat about these above, so we’ll use this time to reiterate our points. Pelvic floor exercises are generally safe, easy and can be started soon after your operation. Kegel exercises are a super popular option.

If you're having trouble with your pelvic floor exercises, you might want to consider reaching out to a pelvic floor physical therapist, who specialises in helping women rehabilitate their pelvic floor muscles.

Ab exercises

Your deep abdominal muscles help maintain good posture and back support, so it’s a great idea to try abdominal exercises after a C-section. But, you won't be engaging your core muscles in sit-ups or planks like you might have pre-pregnancy.

Postpartum core exercises involve gentle squeezing and engaging your abdominal muscles to retrain them. The Royal Women’s Hospital has a number of helpful recommendations for training your core muscles after a C-section. Here's an example:

  1. Lie on your back with your knees bent and feet flat on the ground
  2. Take a deep breath in
  3. As you breathe out, gently tighten your low abdominal muscles by pulling your belly in towards your spine. Try to keep your upper abdominal muscles relaxed throughout.
  4. Hold for three to five seconds and breathe normally
  5. Repeat six to 10 times, up to four times per day

Low-impact sports

Once you have your doctor’s approval, you might like to try some low-impact sports like swimming, yoga, Pilates and low-resistance gym work.

You might also like to work with a postpartum exercise specialist if you feel worried about getting back into regular exercise.

Taking it slow and steady with exercise after a C-section is incredibly important.

Exercises to avoid after a C-section

We’ve said it before and we’ll say it again; you’ve just had surgery. You’re a smart cookie which means you know that makes some exercises out of reach for the foreseeable future.

You'll have to wait at least 12 weeks postpartum before engaging in high-impact exercises and your doctor or midwife will be able to advise on the best timing for this.

Examples of common high-impact exercises include aerobics, running, resistance and weight training as well as strenuous core exercises.

Before you get back into high-impact exercise, it can also be helpful to test the strength of your pelvic floor muscles. You can do this by coughing or jumping with a full bladder — if there's no leakage, then you're ready to go.

Can you do squats after a C-section?

Squats are actually considered a safe exercise after a C-section but don't try these too early.

And, keep in mind that you shouldn't add any weights to your squats for quite a while. Why? Because weights can put too much pressure on your abdomen, which can stop your wound from healing or even lead to a hernia.

Squats help strengthen your legs and pelvic floor muscles, as well as build core stability. Once you have doctor approval (probably six to eight weeks postpartum), squats are a great exercise to begin again. Here are a few tips for postpartum squats:

  • Have something to hold onto for support, just in case you wobble
  • Don’t go all the way down to start with — try and ease into it
  • A low-impact option is a box squat — this involves sitting down on a chair and standing back up, with support if needed

Is it normal to experience C-section scar tissue pain after exercise?

Even after your C-section scar has healed, some women experience feelings of numbness, pain or aches for months afterwards. This is normal and may occur after you exercise too.

It may be normal, but it doesn’t mean you have to put up with it.

Scar tissue concerns can actually show up in many ways; from back or pelvic pain to digestive issues and uncomfortable or painful sex. If any of these are an issue for you, massage therapy may be useful.

Your doctor may be able to recommend a massage therapist or physical therapist who specialises in C-sections and can help with scar tissue discomfort.

Alternatively, you can also perform a C-section massage on yourself. We recommend using our Nourishing Cream to do this as not only does it make the massage easier but it contains a number of ingredients, including vitamin B5, that aid in skin healing and helps reduce the appearance of scars and firm up postpartum skin.

If a C-section delivery was not your choice, you might find it difficult to touch your scar and that’s totally okay. An option here is to seek out counselling or psychological support so that you can begin healing from the difficulties of your experience.

While the C-section journey is different for every person, taking your time to ease back into exercise is the best way option. Your body has been through a huge undertaking and now is the time to treat it as kindly as possible.

References

https://journals.riphah.edu.pk/index.php/jiimc/article/view/1024/592

https://www.ijcne.org/article.asp?issn=2230-7354;year=2019;volume=20;issue=2;spage=144;epage=148;aulast=Thakur

https://www.researchgate.net/publication/10685853_Exercise_in_the_postpartum_period_Practical_applications

https://ranzcog.edu.au/womens-health/patient-information-resources/caesarean-section

https://www.tommys.org/pregnancy-information/giving-birth/caesarean-section/when-and-how-exercise-after-c-section

https://postpartumtrainer.com/can-i-do-squats-after-giving-birth/

https://jennadalton.com/exercise-after-a-c-section-4-things-you-need-to-know/