"How to speed up your C-section recovery" - PART 3
There comes a time when a C-section mama will ask the question...“When can I return to exercise?”
If you’re anything like me, exercise was my go-to for feeling great, feeling strong and pushing the limits. It’s how I’d let out frustration, process stress and big emotions.
However after my C-section things changed. I was trying to follow all the hospital guidelines to make sure I healed well. I whole heartedly understood the importance of following these guidelines to help with my recover.
And yet I felt trapped because I was unable to use exercise in the way I had become accustomed for so long. I don't know if you've ever been in a plane stuck in a holding pattern waiting to land - your destination is so close and yet so far away. That's how I felt waiting this apparent magical moment at 12 weeks post C-section where I could return to whatever exercise I liked.
So I faithfully walked everyday. Gradually building up the duration. Initially post C-section it was to the bathroom and back. In the coming days it was to the letter box and back. After a few weeks it was a slow gentle stroll around the block and in time a good hour walk.
But there comes a point when walking just doesn’t cut it. When you crave a little variety. When something like a burpee or goblet squat with a heavy kettlebell would have just helped me feel a little more human. The temptation to just try can be huge.
So, when recovering from a C-section when is the right time to return to exercise?
When is it safe to do a burpee, goblet squat or lift my toddler for that matter?
If we do too much we can jeopardies our recovery and injury ourselves. But if we do nothing it can also negatively impact our recovery.
So where is the sweet spot between doing too much or doing too little in my recovery?
The more I grappled with these question over the years - the more I came to see that maybe we could have our cake and eat it to. Hmmmm cake.
Surely there was a way to be able to begin to train our bodies to be ready to return to exercise as we know it
AND at the same time,
Honor the guidelines that are given from medical professionals.
So after a heck of a lot of study, seeking wisdom, guidance and advice from health care professionals: midwives, women's health physios, pelvic floor specialists, scar therapists and many C-section mamas, I’ve finally come to an answer.
When is the right time to begin exercise?
Not what you were expecting?
Well it is technically as soon as the doctor gives you the ok to get out of your hospital bed post c-section.
So, before you run out and grab your skipping rope or kettlebell - STOP and please hear me out.
Exercise defined by the dictionary is:
Any bodily activity that enhances or maintains physical fitness and overall health and wellness.
I think the struggle I had for a long time was that my reference to exercise were movements like the barbell deadlifts, box jumps and squat thrusters. You know those movements that leave you hot and sweaty.
But these movements were in no way going to enhance or maintain my physical fitness, over health and wellness post C-section. They would instead be detrimental to my recovery.
Here’s my thought -
What if, instead of taking our own context of what exercise looks and feels like,
we instead take the dictionary’s definition of what ‘exercise’ is.
We could therefore be more proactive in our recovery and begin our return to ‘exercise’ sooner than might have been expected.
It is with this in mind that my approach for the Birthmark Sisterhood recovery program has become taken shape. The dream to empower woman in their recovery. To remove the frustration and confusion of what is and isn't ok. The give clear instruction and guidance on each step to take to heal, restore and strengthen their bodies.
With this approach in mind - let's move onto that question that had me stumped and frustrated navigating my own return to strength after my C-section six years ago.
So what exercises are safe for me to do?
Firstly a couple of questions to ask yourself about what you are currently doing?
- Is my current approach ENHANCING my recovery?
- Is my current approach MAINTAINING or ENHANCING my physical fitness and overall health and wellness?
In my line of work I find too many mamas trying to get back to more advanced exercises too quickly. If you’re exercising at a level that causes pain in your incision or back, an increase in blood, prolapse symptoms or incontinence then stop. That is your bodies way of communicating that what you have done is too much for where you currently are at in your recovery.
Yes the journey is most likely slower than desired. But it is essential that you progress slowly and gently back to your former level of training after C-section.
How can I begin straight away?
The reality is the reason why you can begin straight away is that we can start by laying the foundations that will lead to the exercise that we dream of.
Have you ever watched a baby go through the incredible process of learning to walk. There are certain milestones that they need to reach before progressing. From being able to simply lift their head to in months and years time, crawl, walk, run and jump. It’s incredible.
There is a process. Each development prepares the body for the next challenge. But it takes time - and a bit of frustration along the way.
If we try and force their bodies to do something they’re not ready for, it is detrimental to their development.
The same goes for your recovery. Push too hard, too soon and your recovery can regress.
But here's the good news if you give your body time, the correct movements, gentle repetition, and in time, progressively more challenging movements. Then you can enhance your recovery and move closer to having a strong body once again.
So where can I begin?
I’ve been working hard for the past few years to answer this question. What helped me was to work backwards.
eg: If I had a mama who wanted to return to running after her C-section, then I would say yes let's prepare your body to run. But would I have her running laps? No. I would first lay the foundation - I would introduce her to the correct level of exercise for where her body is at.
For a mum that’s just had her C-section, this would be as simple as -
1. Doing gentle stretches and movements that can improve our alignment and posture.
Posture: that is the position someone holds their body when standing or sitting.
It's funny when anyone talks about posture people tend to sit taller and not slouch so much. Did you do that on reading this?
Our bodies are like a pile of toy blocks. When stacked well, they can sustain a lot. However when these blocks are not stacked well, it can tumble over easily. In our case causing poor posture.
A mums life can be full on. It can be easy to rush, trying to make things happen and usually we are one of the last priorities. So good alignment and posture goes out the window. Muscles get tight and shortened while others muscles weaken from not being effectively used. And over time we develop dysfunction in our bodies resulting in poor posterior, our bodies not functioning correctly or effectively and potential injuries and unnecessary pain. Then you add onto that have a C-section delivery - our body is vulnerable.
So lets take action now.
Whether you’re sitting or standing. I want you imagine a puppet string pulling you up from the top of the back of your head. Elongating your spine. Rib cage down. Ears over shoulders. Shoulders over hips. Hips over knees. Knees over feet. Breathing into your belly rather than your chest. It takes intentional effort. Check out THIS VIDEO to start with some basics.
In 2006 a study from the American academy of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation showed that our poor slumping posture produced the worst lunge capacity and expiratory flow compared to normal sitting and a posture designed to mimic standing spinal alignment. The reduction in lunge capacity was as much as 30%. So it's not just about how our body looks but the way our posture can impact how our body works.
Another huge focus would be:
2. learning how to correctly breathe.
(It sounds simple right?). Yet when done right breathing can play a huge part in strengthening our core and pelvic floor AND impact every exercise we do in the future. Inhale - belly rise. Exhale - belly falls. CLICK HERE to check out this incredible article which goes into more depth. And check out this video where I take you step by step to learn correct breathing technique.
Did you know that the abdominal fascia regains 50-60% its original strength at 5-6 weeks; 73-93% at 20 weeks. And even then it’s only after five months that your abdominal fascia is closer to 100% strength. Healing and strengthening takes time.
Therefore a considered, intentional and progressive approach will be needed till this point.
Laying the right foundation takes time.
Laying the right foundation is essential for building a healed, restored and strong body.
Laying the right foundation is worth the effort.
So what was your ‘normal’ exercise before your C-section?
Were you a runner? Weight lifter? Did you play sports or just love a great bootcamp session with others? Were you into hot yoga, rock climbing or just a great walk with a good friend. Or were a gym bunny like I was, discovering new ways to test your limits.
Whatever your ‘normal’ used to be - it is possible to get back there again.
The questions to ask yourself would be:
- Have you laid the right foundation first?
- Do you have good alignment and posture?
- Has your incision healed well?
- Have you learnt how to master the art of breathing?
- How effective is your core and pelvic floor connection?
When you have your C-section, there is a powerful decision that you can make.
We can choose to either leave our recovery to chance OR we can take simple but powerful steps to enhance our recovery. Only one of these leads us to a healed, restored and strong body.
Getting back to regular exercise is important for our physical health as well as our mental health. The key is to take it slowly.
The Birthmark Sisterhood is all about guiding C-section mamas from a physically vulnerable place and guiding them to a place of strength and confidence.
I used to think that a gentle approach to training was weak.
But now I know first hand that a gentle approach is not weak.
It is wise and more effective in healing, restoring and strengthening the body.
Go gently and listen to your body.