C-section births are extremely common in many developed countries. In fact, in 2015, 32 percent of babies in the United States were born via Cesarean delivery . This accounts for well over a million births.
What is astounding about this fact is that, in the majority of cases, moms are only given minimal information about the procedure or how to recover optimally from it.
This comes to the detriment of many moms. Moms are often left wondering how to care for their body, how to return to exercise, and, unfortunately, assume many of their post-surgery aches and pains are normal.
Let’s bust three myths about C-sections that can potentially cause harm to moms.
I couldn’t disagree more with this statement. In fact, I think it will help most women’s recovery process to begin gentle stretches and basic exercises in the early weeks after surgery.
Unfortunately, most C-section mamas are left to their own devices when it comes to seeking out quality rehab information after their procedure. This is particularly frustrating as it typically isn’t the case with patients recovering from other types of surgery.
Case in point: my grandmother recently underwent major knee surgery, and was not only seen by the physiotherapist in the hospital soon after the procedure, but was also referred to see a physiotherapist three times a week, and given specific daily exercises to perform at home.
Meanwhile, women must seek a physiotherapist on their own after undergoing a C-section — we highly recommend a pelvic floor physiotherapist, who will be best qualified to help with this specific recovery — not to mention trying to find quality C-section core rehab advice on the Internet, while also caring for a newborn!
As a general rule, starting around the two- to three-week postpartum mark — or whenever the mom feels comfortable enough to lie flat on the back and in the side-lying position — I recommend my clients begin doing a mini circuit of gentle bodyweight exercises for five to 10 minutes, most days of the week.
The exercises included in this circuit should focus on breathing, stretching, as well as activating the glutes, pelvic floor, and deep abdominal muscles. They will also help retrain the body for good alignment and posture. This is very beneficial after such an intense surgery, not only for the physical body function, but also for mental and emotional health.
When performing any exercise in the weeks and months after a C-section, do be cautious and avoid unnecessary moderate and heavy lifting in the early weeks (and even months) after the procedure. My general advice is that, whenever possible, you avoid lifting anything heavier than your baby for the first six weeks postpartum. You don't want to overexert yourself, and shouldn't perform anything more strenuous than daily household work. Remember that you underwent a serious abdominal surgery, and therefore should remain on the safe side while your incision is healing. Of course, if you have other children at home or need to carry the groceries in from the car, you’re going to have to lift heavier objects than your baby. Ensure you do so with good alignment and by using supportive breathing techniques.
Cue yourself to “exhale on exertion”, meaning that you begin your exhale right before you lift and continue exhaling throughout your lift. As you lift the load, you can do a kegel action with your pelvic floor, in which you try to scoop the pelvic floor muscles upward.
More specific stretches and exercises can be seen here:
3 Exercises You Must Do Immediately Post Pregnancy
Returning to Exercise After a C-Section
If you did not birth your baby vaginally, this doesn’t automatically mean that the pelvic floor will not require any re-training of its muscle function. Pregnancy is no joke; it causes stress on the body, regardless of how “easy’ your pregnancy was and how your birth occurred.
Carrying a baby through pregnancy can result in pelvic floor muscle weakness or excessive tension or tightness in your pelvic floor muscles. Both weakness and high tension in the pelvic floor can cause issues such as incontinence, pelvic pain, frequent urination, or low back pain.
Plus, the downward pressure of your baby on your pelvic floor muscles can stretch muscles and their connective tissues, leaving them more lax than normal. Additionally, pregnancy and postpartum hormones in and of themselves will cause the connective tissues of the body to soften, which can affect the strength or speed of the contraction of the pelvic floor muscles.
Although the risks of some types of pelvic floor muscle dysfunction may be more likely in women who gave birth vaginally rather than through a C-section, this does not mean that women who had C-sections will not experience incontinence, and in fact, research shows that, "Caesarean delivery is not associated with a significant reduction in long term pelvic floor morbidity compared with spontaneous vaginal delivery .”
If you are experiencing any leaking or feeling like you are having difficulty or discomfort with bathroom trips, be sure to see a pelvic floor physiotherapist. Most moms can really benefit from some attention and re-training type exercises that focus on pelvic floor function.
Moreover, the incision healing process itself from a C-section can potentially affect the pelvic floor function. One way this often shows up for people is during intercourse. Many moms will report pain, burning, or stinging in the lower abdomen with vaginal penetration or clitoral stimulation.
This can be a product of the healing C-section scar, as scar tissue is laid down and adhesions to tissues in the abdominal wall are created. Once your scar is healing well (a month to six weeks postpartum), be sure to begin some gentle massage work around and over your scar, in order to maintain good blood flow to the area.
NO! NO! NO!
There are so many equally wonderful ways to birth a baby, and this includes C-sections.
Emergency, scheduled, a few minutes of labor or many hours of labor preceding your C-section — it’s all good. C-section is giving birth. You gave birth. You have every reason to be proud of your accomplishment.
Try to avoid “birth boxing” yourself, i.e. believing that one type of birth is the best and only way to successfully give birth. There is nothing better or worse about an unmedicated vaginal birth at home, compared to a scheduled C-section. Furthermore, as C-sections can often occur in emergency circumstances, they can be coupled with a lot of difficult-to-process emotions.
Birth is unpredictable, raw, and uncontrollable. Yes, you can plan, prepare, and have preferences, but babies are born how they need to be born. I highly recommend speaking with a therapist, counselor, or coach that works with traumatic birth experiences if you’re finding yourself having difficulty processing your birth.
Do allow yourself to feel whatever you need to feel mentally and emotionally after your birth. It’s OK to be disappointed, confused, or left wondering why things happened the way they did. However, don’t think for one second that you did something wrong, or that your body let you down. You did amazing and your body did exactly what it was supposed to do.
Birth is birth is birth. There are different ways to birth babies, just as there are different ways to have a body!
85% of women will have a baby at some point in their life. If you work with women, you work with pre- and postnatal women.
Whether your clients are currently pregnant or have already had their baby, they’ll have questions about everything — how to exercise safely in each trimester, which foods they should and shouldn’t eat, how to exercise the right way post-pregnancy.
And they’ll look to you for the answers.
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