Exercise After C-Section: What You Should & Shouldn't Be Doing

mom exercising with baby

Having a baby is no easy task, mentally or physically. Whether you have a vaginal birth or a C-section, there is a great deal of recovery afterward that can interfere with your regular functioning. When you have a C-section, the nature of the procedure itself can present specific challenges when it comes to getting back into the swing of things physically. Given the fact that it is a surgical procedure, your recovery is not simply from the process of labor and birth, but from the surgery and incision itself.

According to Sara Reardon, Doctor of Physical Therapy and Women's Heath Clinical Specialist, "C-sections are major surgery, and not only do women stay in the hospital for a few days before returning home, but they are also given very little guidance on how to heal physically". She notes that women have address stresses, such as being "tasked with how to care for a newborn baby (and any other children at home) during that recovery process."

Portrait of a beautiful mother with her newborn baby in the bedroom
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Exercise After C-Section- The Do's:

- DO Take it easy for the first few weeks after birth

-DO Avoid heavy lifting

-DO Take small walks

-DO Listen to your body

-DO Consult your doctor before starting any exercise program

Reardon, who is also the owner of Nola Pelvic Health and runs the online platform The Vagina Whisperer, advises that when it comes to exercise after c-section it's important to take it easy. She states "Pain or an increase in bleeding are signs you need to scale back, it can take months or even a year to feel like you are back to your previous fitness level - it takes time so be patient with yourself." She also notes the importance of recognizing the role that hormones have in the recovery process. "Breastfeeding plays a role- hormonal changes mean your abdomen and pelvic floor may take longer to heal."

So what should you be doing after c-section to get back into the swing of things? According to Reardon "The first few weeks after a cesarean birth are all about rest [and] recovery." She notes that walking is the first key component of exercising after the procedure. "Walking is key the first few days (even if its just a few minutes) and the walks can increase in length of time over the next several weeks. Your incision and your body need time to heal."

As time goes on after the procedure, you may be able to get medical clearance from your physician to take on a bit more when it comes to exercise. According to Reardon, "Around 4-6 weeks I recommend checking in with pelvic health physical therapist who can guide you on some gentle abdominal and pelvic floor strengthening exercises. These may seem simple but after 10 months of pregnancy and major surgery, you need to rebuild the foundation of your house first."

In the initial weeks after the procedure, light activity is about all that you should be pursuing so that you don't wind up having post-surgical complications. According to Dr. Kendra Segura, MD, an OBGYN in Southern California, in the first few weeks after surgery, you can perform light tasks while you wait to recovery more fully. She states "You can walk, do normal household chores, [but] lift nothing heavier than y0ur baby." Taking things slowly is very important, Dr. Segura notes. "You need time for [the] body to heal and prevent abdominal hernias, [or] wound break down." She suggests that women can still do pelvic exercises and kegels during this time.

Millennial Hispanic mother holding her newborn son close to her chest, head and shoulders, close up
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Exercise After C-Section- The Don'ts:

-DON'T do any heavy lifting

-DON'T do any intense high-impact exercise

-DON'T start a program without being cleared by your doctor

According to Dr. Segura, 8 weeks is the usual recovery time from a c-section, although you must get clearance from your doctor before getting back to any exercise program. She notes, "You have to listen to your body and have a gradual start to weightlifting and aerobic exercise. If you have surgical complications, you cannot return to exercise unless you are medically cleared from post-operative period"

As far as what you shouldn't do? Dr. Segura  warns against getting into intense exercise routines without your doctors blessing. "Do not start any intense exercise regimen until getting cleared post-operatively from your doctors. For example cross fit, power lifting."

When it comes to recovery from a c-section, the most important thing is to go slow and listen to your body. The first couple of months after birth is such a small period of time in the grand scheme of things, and it is better to be safe than sorry. Eventually you will be able to get back into your regular routine, but for the first few weeks, try to focus on rest, recovering, and spending time with your little one.

READ NEXT: 10 Reasons Why You Should Never Fear A C-Section

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