**This is the first in an ongoing series where women email perintatal fitness expert Kathleen Donahoe their questions about pre and postnatal exercise. Have a question about working out during your pregnancy or as a new mom? Email your questions to Kathleen@ohbabyfitness.com**
Dear Kathleen- I am having a scheduled C-section, so I already know that my post-delivery recovery time will be several weeks. When can I expect to be able to really exercise again? When will I be able to just go on a walk around my neighborhood? Any tips for recovering my pre-pregnancy shape as soon as healthily possible? What’s the best way to deal with getting my belly back to its normal size? – Erin, 37 weeks pregnant
Woohooo! Congrats on your upcoming delivery! If your experience is anything like mine was you are fully OVER IT right now and ready to not be pregnant- I hope the next weeks speed by for you.
The thing about C-section recovery is that there is so little information about it, and what little exists is mostly of the “Be sure you rest!” variety. While that is good advice, there will obviously be a time when you are done resting and will be ready to get your body moving. Here’s a rough timeline of how to approach recovering from your surgery and getting back to exercise:
– Stage 1: REST, but think of it as “active” rest
For the first 3-4 weeks, become a professional rest-er. (You will also become a professional baby swaddler, feeder, and shush-er during this time. It’s a lot!). Set up a few “stations” around your house so that you have a change of view as you rest. Think pillows, water bottles, and cords to charge your phone. Here’s the thing: I want you to try whenever you move from one place to another to do two things before you move: 1- lift your pelvic floor by doing a Kegel exercise, and 2- pull your belly button to your spine. As you stand up, think about lifting from the base of your core (your pelvic floor) and keeping things pulled in with your abs (abdominal muscles). In the first few days after a c-section you’ll likely be instructed to press a pillow into your stomach as you move—that’s good. But, after those first few days, rely on your ABS to do that work— that’s their job. I’m going to tell you it’ll feel really weird at first- jiggly and uncomfortable as your abs work around that incision, but it’ll put you in a good place for the next step of recovery. Again, REST, but make your rest more actively by engaging your pelvic floor and abs whenever you move around your house.
– Stage 2: Transition from active rest to gentle activity
After a few weeks you are going to start to feel ready to move a bit. This happens for most people around 10 days to 3 weeks after a c-section. Especially if you’re an active person, this is going to feel like a VERY long 10 days. When you do start to get the itch to move, start to think about is as gentle activity, NOT exercise. What does resting activity look like?? Chest stretches. More Kegels. Stretching your lower back. Download our Mom & Baby Exercise app—it has a ton of great gentle, safe exercises to start with. And some walking around the neighborhood, like you said.
– Stage 2.5: Pulling things together (literally)
Around this time I’d recommend you do a little reading about abdominal separation/diastasis recti, and check yourself. I recommend you check yourself BEFORE your postpartum OB visit so you can ask your doctor any questions. If you are experiencing a significant split (2+ fingers) go ahead and get a postpartum belly wrap and do as much transverse ab work as possible. The wraps can be uncomfortable and expensive, but they are so helpful. You don’t have to wear it all day- lots of women just sleep in them and they help. You uterus is going to shrink down on it’s own, but the wrap can help with diastasis, which will help your belly start to look a little more like what you remember from before pregnancy.
– Stage 3: “Real” exercise may look really different for a while
Once you’ve made it through those first weeks of rest, and gentle activity (hopefully combined with healing from diastasis), you’ll likely feel pretty ready to move. This is good. But, save any exercise (as opposed to gentle activity) for after you’ve seen your doctor. (Lots of people think this is an arbitrary thing, but your doctor is going to check for some conditions that you might not know you have that exercise can make a LOT worse. Just wait until after the appointment). After you are cleared (usually at 6 or 8 weeks), it can be hard to know exactly how to start. I’d (obviously) recommend finding a postnatal class in your area- it’ll give you a chance to work out with your baby and be around other moms doing exercise you KNOW is safe. If you don’t have a class in your area you may have to get creative- DVDs are good. Our Mom & Baby Weekly Workout app is good. Walking is good. Pilates is good. But know that it’s okay if you thought you’d be going crazy on exercise and you just…don’t…feel like it. It’s very hard to walk away from some good baby snuggling to go to the gym. Exercise might need to take place in your home (or in a postnatal class) for a while. The good news is babies LOVE pushups and watching mom jump around.
Mostly, good luck! Report back and let us know how your recovery goes! (And enjoy those baby snuggles. They’re the best).