Whether you scheduled a C-section or ended up with an unplanned surgical intervention, getting your body back to its pre-pregnancy state is a process of healing and recovery. Exercise can play an important role in restoring your physical well-being after a C-section. Understanding the phases of post-partum recovery will help you plan an exercise program geared to the pace of your internal healing.
Many changes take place in your body during pregnancy, including increased weight, postural changes, stretched muscles and ligaments and changes to your cardiorespiratory system. According to the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, it can take four to six weeks after a normal vaginal delivery to restore the body to its pre-pregnancy state. Recovery from a C-section can take even longer because the site of your incision must heal completely. ACOG recommends you allow a minimum of six weeks to recover after your C-section before returning to regular exercise.
Out of the Gate
While you will need to postpone vigorous exercise, you can begin light physical activity within a week or two after your surgery. Illinois Northwestern Lake Forest Hospital offers an exercise program for post-C-section mothers that includes gentle exercises and movements geared to reducing pain and adhesions from your surgery, improving posture, strengthening the muscles of your pelvic floor and strengthening your abdominal muscles. During this early postpartum stage, physical therapist Ela Lewis, MSPT, recommends deep breathing exercises, pelvic tilts, hip lifts, pelvic floor strengthening exercises and walking. She notes that exercise should be pain-free.
Green Means "Go" -- Slowly
After six weeks of recovery, your body should have healed sufficiently for you to progress to a regular exercise routine that includes aerobic exercise and resistance training. However, before you begin, consult your physician to confirm that your body is ready for increased activity. Once you get the green light, begin slowly. Gradually increase the duration and intensity of your workouts, and listen to your body for signs of discomfort and pain. ACOG recommends you build up to the the American College of Sports Medicine guidelines of 30 minutes daily of moderate-intensity activity, plus two weekly resistance training sessions. If you are breastfeeding, ACOG advises you nurse your baby immediately before exercise to reduce discomfort and minimize the influence of lactic acid on milk acidity.
Ramping It Up
Regaining your pre-pregnancy fitness level is a process that takes time. The IDEA Health and Fitness Association notes that it may take between two to six months or longer for you return to your pre-pregnancy state. Colleen Fitzgerald, M.D., medical director of the Rehabilitation Institute of Chicago Women’s Health Rehabilitation, explains that a well-designed exercise program during the first six months postpartum is key to maximum recovery. If you have gradually increased your exercise frequency, intensity and duration by six months postpartum, you should be able to engage in vigorous exercise and sports and enjoy a wide range of recreational activities.
- American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists: Exercise During Pregnancy and the Postpartum Period
- British Medical Journal: Guidelines of the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists for Exercise During Pregnancy and the Postpartum Period
- IDEA Health and Fitness Association: Pregnancy And Postpartum Exercise
- Mayo Clinic: Weight Loss After Pregnancy: Reclaiming Your Body
- Northwestern Lake Forest Hospital: Post C-section Early Exercise Program
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