Between 2000 and 2015, the rate of births by C-section increased from 24 percent to 32 percent, according to a 2018 article in The Lancet. Those statistics may not be that interesting to you, but you can take heart in knowing there are a lot of other new moms out there who are struggling to get back their pre-C-section tummies.
Just like moms who had vaginal births, C-section moms need to lose abdominal fat and tone the abdominal muscles to flatten their stomachs. However, they need to take more caution when returning to exercise because their stomach muscles are still healing.
Moderate-intensity cardio and total-body strength training help burn fat and flatten your stomach after a C-section.
Special C-Section Precautions
According to Rajiv M. Mallipudi, M.D., women who have had C-sections should wait at least six weeks before returning to exercise. Just as with any soft-tissue injury, the abdominal muscles need time to heal from the trauma of delivery. Resuming exercise too soon could result in the incision opening or cause a muscle tear or hernia.
Your obstetrician is the best person to tell you when it's time to resume activity and what type of activity is best for you. Dr. Mallipudi says that even when you begin exercising again, you should still avoid many traditional abdominal exercises and choose low-impact activities that don't place a lot of stress on the abs and pelvic floor.
Lose the Fat
Your first priority when you are cleared for exercise is likely to burn that shelf of fat over your incision. Changes during pregnancy affect where fat is stored, as noted in a 2013 study in Nutrition & Diabetes. More of it accumulates in the abdominal area as a particular type of fat called visceral fat.
That makes it all the more important to lose the belly bulge. Unlike subcutaneous fat, which sits just beneath your skin, visceral fat sits deep within your abdomen, surrounding your organs. It's been linked to serious health conditions such as heart disease and Type 2 diabetes, according to Harvard Health Publishing.
The good news is that visceral fat responds to exercise and diet just like subcutaneous fat. In addition to a calorie-controlled diet, increasing your cardiovascular activity and building muscle will help you burn the belly fat.
Just Get Moving
After six weeks of rest, you'll probably be raring to go. But don't lace up your running shoes right away. You'll still be healing, and should take it very easy in the beginning.
Walking is your best bet for cardio exercise after a C-section, and it's a great reintroduction to activity after being sedentary. While it's not the best fat-burning exercise, it does still burn calories. Depending on how fast you walk and your weight, you can burn between 240 and 500 calories an hour, according to Harvard Health Publishing.
So get out that baby stroller and get moving. Start out at a moderate pace on flat terrain; then increase your speed and add in a few hills. Walking up hills will help you burn even more calories and provide an effective toning workout for your legs and butt.
How Much Should You Do?
Try to get in at least 30 minutes of walking each day as you feel up to it. According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, all adults should get at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity cardio exercise each week to improve their health and maintain a normal weight.
But for even greater results, the Department of Health and Human Services suggests increasing the amount of cardio exercise to 300 minutes each week. That's a little less than 45 minutes of brisk walking each day. Of course, you should get your doctor's advice on how much exercise is right for you.
Increase the Challenge
The harder you exert yourself, the more calories you'll burn. Once you've been walking for a few weeks with no abdominal pain or other problems, and your doctor says it's OK, you can increase the intensity by either jogging, running, cycling or using any of the cardio machines at the gym.
Running at a pace of 5 miles per hour increases your hourly calorie-burning potential to 760 calories, as Harvard Health Publishing notes. Cycling burns between 760 and over 1,000 calories per hour, depending on your speed and your body weight, and using the elliptical machine at the gym can burn up to 800 calories per hour.
When you exercise more intensely, you don't need to do as much to get the weight-loss benefits. The Department of Health and Human Services says that 150 minutes of vigorous aerobic exercise each week is a good goal. If your body is ready and you have the time, you can also feel free to exceed that target.
Add in Strength Training
Another key part of exercise after a C-section to reduce your tummy is strength training. Building lean muscle not only makes you healthier and more able to tackle motherhood, but it also revs up your metabolism, so your body burns more calories even when you're not exercising.
Doing targeted exercises to strengthen your abdominal and pelvic muscles is important, but they should be part of a program that strengthens all your body's major muscle groups — arms, shoulders, back, abdomen, chest and legs. Start out with light weights or your own bodyweight at first. Prenatal and postnatal exercise specialist Jessie Mundell recommends doing a post-C-section workout that includes squats, side planks, split squats, band pull aparts and TRX suspension rows.
Mundell warns that certain exercises should be avoided, at least at first, including:
- Crunches, situps, leg raises and front planks
- Jumping and step-ups
- Heavy overhead presses
- Any heavily weighted exercise
- Any exercise that places direct downward pressure on the pelvic floor, such as the barbell back squat
Start out with two brief total-body workouts each week, doing one or two sets of eight to 12 reps. If, after a couple of weeks, you haven't had any pain, you can add sets and other exercises to your workout.
Stomach Exercises After Cesarean
Abdominal exercises after a C-section won't flatten your stomach because you can't spot reduce. Flattening your stomach is all about burning fat. However, these exercises are integral to regaining total-body strength and function. Fitness and transformation expert and mother of four Heidi Powell recommends including the following exercises in your early post-C-section workout routine:
Vacuums. Sit, stand or lie down on your back. Inhale fully into your lungs; then exhale deeply. When you have exhaled completely, hold your breath and draw in your abs, pulling your belly button in and up. Hold here for as long as you can; then keeping your abs drawn in, inhale slowly. Release and repeat up to 10 times.
Dowel rotations. Hold a dowel or a broomstick across your upper back. Perform a vacuum, drawing your abs in and up. At the bottom of the exhale, hold your breath and slowly rotate from side to side. Continue until you need to take a breath; then repeat for a total of five to 10 reps.
Heel slides. Lie on your back with your knees bent. Perform a vacuum and as you hold your breath slowly, slide your right heel out so your leg is fully extended; then draw it back in to the starting position. Inhale, exhale and then repeat doing 10 reps; then switch to your left leg. Do three to five sets of 10 to 15 repetitions on each side.
- The Lancet: Global Epidemiology of Use of and Disparities in Caesarean Sections
- Vixen Daily: Flatten Your Stomach After a C-Section With These Amazing Exercises
- Harvard Health Publishing: Abdominal Fat and What to Do About It
- Nutrition & Diabetes: Changes in Adipose Tissue Distribution During Pregnancy in Overweight and Obese Compared With Normal Weight Women
- Harvard Health Publishing: Calories Burned in 30 Minutes for People of Three Different Weights
- U.S. Department of Health and Human Services: Physical Activity Guidelines, 2nd Edition
- University of New Mexico: Controversies in Metabolism
- The PTDC: Returning to Exercise After C-Section Recovery (for Trainers)
- Heidi Powell: C-Section Solutions: How to Eliminate the Pooch and Reduce the “Tummy Shelf”