Many mums we speak to are confused about exercising after a C-section.
We’ve put together some tips on how to get started safely with gentle mobilisations, breathwork and a focus on reconnecting to your tummy and pelvic floor.
Once you’re confident and reconnected to your core you can start to introduce some more of these gentle restorative exercises.
What is a C-section and When Can You Start Exercising After One?
A caesarean surgery, also known as a C-section, is a surgical procedure used to deliver a new baby through incisions made through abdomen and uterus.
These incisions are typically done when a vaginal birth would put the mother or the baby’s health at risk or when a vaginal delivery is not possible or advisable.
Note that the surgeon manually separates the two strips of rectus muscle (that’s the rectus abdominis, or your ‘six pack muscle) at the midline to gain access.
This is important – your muscles have not necessarily been cut!
It is a very common major surgery for women in the UK, accounting for around 1 in 4 births.
But the fact that it happens frequently, shouldn’t downplay the physiological trauma your body has undergone.
It is a major invasive surgery requiring significant recovery. Giving birth, however we do it, is a huge achievement.
And exercising after your C-section needs to be appropriate and progressed gradually.
Exercising after a C-section: Where To Start
When it comes to exercising after a cesarean delivery you should start with gentle mobilization as soon as you can.
Your focus during the early weeks won’t be “working out” but rather foundational breathing and re-connecting your brain to your tummy and your pelvic floor.
The sooner you do this after any type of birth, the better.
You need to re-establish this reconnection so any exercise you eventually do will be truly beneficial. Especially in helping to resolve common post C-section symptoms like back pain.
Why is your core so important after having a baby?
You need your core if you want to stand up, sit, move, twist, pull, push, bend or turn- all of which are movements you are doing in everyday life.
Your core is connected (literally) to the muscles of your pelvic floor, which you need to prevent you from peeing or having a prolapse and in general want to be functional and healthy.
You also need a good connection and recruitment of your core muscles to help close diastasis recti or separation of your abdominal muscles postpartum and to ensure your core is supporting your body.
Your core is the foundation of your body!
1. Core engagement (breathing and pelvic floor contractions)
Proper engagement of your core is probably one of the most misunderstood muscle actions.
This simple breathing technique combined with coordinated pelvic floor contractions will reconnect you to your tummy and teach you how to engage your entire core system of muscles – whilst you rest and recover.
Practice breathing with coordinated pelvic floor muscle contraction a few times a day.
You can do this as you rest and recover or as you feed your baby. Take long slow breaths, exhaling with gentle muscle contractions, inhaling with a complete release and relaxation of the muscles.
How to do the core engagement breathing technique:
- Imagine your abdomen as a clock, with your belly button at 12 o’clock, your pubic bone at 6 o’clock, and your hip bones as 3 o’clock and 9 o’clock.
- Imagine you are slowly and gently drawing the hip bones, or 3 and 9 o’clock, together.
- It will also work if you imagine you are drawing them apart! Don’t worry that you can’t feel much happening for now. Go gently and do the movement on a long, slow exhale.
- At the same time, engage your pelvic floor muscles.
You will most likely experience numbness around your scar site, so feeling what is going on in your core can be hard.
The common visualisation of ‘gently drawing belly button to spine’ may be unhelpful as you may not be able to feel this movement.
If you need more guidance on how to engage your core go here – where we go into more detail on this technique.
Restorative Exercises For C-Section Recovery: Taking it a Step Further
Once you have gotten the hang of reconnecting to your core and pelvic floor you can start to add in some gentle restorative exercises. These are still safe for the early days postpartum.
Always be in tune with your body, nothing should cause strain or pain. These movements are slow, gentle, and controlled.
2. Banded Breaths
This simple exercise is to reconnect you to your diaphragm, core and pelvic floor.
The band will help you to connect to your diaphragm. You should feel your ribcage under the band expand with your breathing.
How to do banded breaths:
- Grab a band, towel or belt
- Wrap it around your rib cage and gently hold it there
- Exhale and draw your pelvic floor up
- Inhale release everything
- Repeat for a total of 8 breaths
3. Banded Clams
This exercise is to reconnect you to your glute muscles.
Weak glutes play a role in core and pelvic floor dysfunction. You need your glutes to be firing and working to support your body in daily movements and exercises!
How to do banded clams:
- Grab a loop band
- Wrap it around your knees
- Lie down on your side
- Exhale as you open your top leg focusing on using and feeling your glutes (bum!)
- Inhale and release glute engagement as you lower leg back down
- Repeat 5 times on both sides
4. Banded Pull Aparts
This exercise will help reconnect you to your tummy, core muscles and pelvic floor, which is especially important during your postpartum recovery.
Placing a hand on your core during the move can help that mind to muscle connection.
How to do banded pull aparts:
- Grab a loop band
- Wrap it around your knees
- Lie on your back
- Exhale as you lift your pelvic floor up and engage your core
- Pull your knees apart creating gentle tension in your band
- Inhale bring knees back together and release engagement
- Repeat for a total of 8
Resuming exercise after a C-section: Take things slowly
Remember that everyone’s recovery after a C-section is different, so it’s important to take things at your own pace and not compare yourself to others.
By taking care of your body, you can safely and gradually get back to functional movement and beyond.
Practice these breathing and muscle engaging exercises as you rest and recover, and as you feed your baby.
Take long slow breaths, exhaling with gentle muscle contractions, inhaling with a complete release and relaxation.
Remember to always roll to your side first as you get up from lying on your back, don’t sit straight up.
And totally avoid sit-ups or crunches.
Go for a walk outside as soon as you feel able, and try to make this a daily activity. Walking and fresh air will help your emotional health, as well as increase circulation to aid healing and scar tissue.
Diet and nutrition after a C-section
Lastly, the food you eat is massively important for your body’s ability to heal after a C-section.
Try to eat a diet rich in clean protein, with plenty of green and deep coloured vegetables, berries, essential fats and fibrous vegetables and fruits for good gut health.
Include anti-inflammatory foods such as garlic, green tea, turmeric and ginger.
Good hydration is vital. Drink lots of water, herbal teas and water-rich foods.
Stress, lack of sleep (I know.. unavoidable for new mums!) and inflammatory ‘comfort’ foods or drink like sugar or alcohol will slow healing.
So really, really try to…rest!
In the early days, massage, mobilise, find and focus on strengthening your deep muscles. Eat clean fresh food to recover and nourish your body.
But most important of all, relax, insist people rub your feet and bring you tea, get as much sleep as you possibly can and love your body. It’s achieved something amazing.
If you have just started exercising after your caesarean birth, please comment below and let us, and other MUTU Mamas, know how you are getting on.