Exercise After a C-Section, Part 1: Reconnecting With Your Core
I'll never forget the first time I tried to stand up after my first c-section. After three days of lying around in bed with ibuprofen to keep me from feeling the chasm in my abdomen, I was ready. After the nurse's pep talk I took my husband's arm, rolled to my side, and gently lowered my legs to the ground. First the right leg. Ah, what a wonderful sensation to feel the floor again. I sat up and lowered my left foot to the ground, slowly shifting my weight down into my feet. I got both feet on the ground, pushed myself up into a standing position, and promptly collapsed into my husband's arms.
I quickly realized that I couldn't even hold my own weight, let alone walk the halls. I panicked. I felt like the midsection of my body was missing. Where were my ab muscles? Was this normal? The nurse reassured me that it was and told me she would come back to try again later. And then I got back into the bed. I was humiliated and beyond disappointed. I had planned to give my daughter her bath that day and maybe even change her diaper a few times. I hadn't planned for my abdominal muscles to be MIA.
Before I go on, let me give a quick disclaimer: a cesarean birth can be an amazing and beautiful experience and it was for me, even despite the challenges. But personally, I was not prepared for the feeling of helplessness that I experienced during and after my first c-section. I share my experience in hopes that other women might find something helpful in it.
This article will explain some of the reasoning behind the new c-section recovery Mommy workouts that start today. If you've never had a c-section you might look at these 'workouts' with suspicion. Belly breathing? Leg slides? Meditation? That's a workout? Yes, for the mom recovering from c-section this is a workout. For her, it's probably even a challenge.
These workouts will take you through eight weeks of rehab exercises, or what I would call 'reawakening.' The point is not to increase your lift total, build endurance, or lose the infamous baby weight. The sole focus of this cycle of workouts is to get you in touch with your core muscles again, because like myself in the above description, you're probably wondering where they went. I've divided the workouts into four two-week phases:
Phase 1: Supine Exercises and Walking Focus
During this phase, most of the exercises you do will be in bed. The emphasis is on reconnecting with your transverse abdominal muscles. You'll also do a minimal amount of walking.
Phase 2: Walking Focus 1
We'll continue the supine exercises in this phase, but shift the focus on gradually increasing the length of your walks and the option to push baby in the stroller.
Phase 3: Upright Exercise and Stretching Focus
At this point we'll transition to upright exercises to start gently rebuilding strength, with gentle seated and supine yoga stretches as well.
Phase 4: Walking Focus 2
For the final two weeks we'll build up to one hour walks at a moderate to brisk pace, with the option to push baby in the stroller.
You'll notice an obvious emphasis on walking. I've had two experiences with walking after a c-section. My first daughter was born in Belgium and the experience was very different than it was in the United States. I didn't walk for three days after the delivery and had a very hard time with it, as I described above. The second time, I walked six hours after delivery. It certainly wasn't comfortable, but I was able to at least stand and walk to the end of the room and back. Maybe that's just because I knew what to expect, but studies do show that early ambulation makes for a faster recovery.
Another guiding principle in these workouts is minimizing diastasis recti that might have occurred during pregnancy. Although my diastasis was minimal after my first c-section, it was huge after my second and took a long time to heal. By taking the time to slowly reconnect with your core muscles and heal, you will prevent problems in the future.
Finally, throughout the entire cycle I have included brief meditations for each day. Life with a newborn is a huge adjustment, whether you're a first time mom or have a whole pack of kids running around. Fortunately you don't have to go retreat to a cave to have a fruitful meditation practice. Devote five minutes to meditation each day and I guarantee you will notice a difference. Ideally, it helps to meditate in a quiet room with no distractions.
Here's the good news about that first c-section I described: within four weeks I was walking about 6 to 8 miles a week while pushing a stroller. I got the green light to exercise and did so with no complications. My incision healed beautifully and I lost my baby weight within the first 9 months. I even wore a bikini that summer. It wasn't always comfortable and there were some challenges along the way, but that's motherhood isn't it?
If you have recently had a c-section or anticipate one in the future, rest assured that you can regain your strength. If you need proof look at amazing moms like Lauren Brooks and Valerie Voboril we've featured here at Breaking Muscle. It takes dedication, patience, and time, but it's possible and achievable.