Exercises to Strengthen Muscles After C-Section

Having a baby is traumatic and stressful on your body. If you underwent a c-section, you have even more to recover from. A c-section consists of major abdominal surgery, which results in pain and tenderness in your abdomen and leaves you with noticeable fatigue. It will take time and patience but there are several different exercises you can do to strengthen your muscles and return to pre-baby form after your c-section.

A woman is doing a plank. Credit: undrey/iStock/Getty Images

First Things First

Don't stress and get carried away with the thought of reaching your pre-pregnancy size -- it will take some time to get back where you started. Take it slow and listen to your body. Your incision will remain tender for up to three weeks and if you develop scar tissue you may feel discomfort for months after surgery. Keep this in mind when choosing exercises, any activity causing pain should be avoided. A structured exercise program should wait until after you've had your postpartum checkup with your OB or midwife.

The First Few Days

Although it's probably the last thing you want to do, movement immediately or shortly after your c-section is one of the best things you can do to begin to strengthen your muscles. The American Council on Exercise notes that walking as soon as possible helps minimize muscle wasting, increase circulation and improve healing. It may be uncomfortable at first, but rising to a standing position several times throughout the day will also help get you going in the right direction. If you weren't doing Kegels during pregnancy, start them now. They will help strengthen your pelvic floor muscles, which were weakened during pregnancy and will help lay the foundation for a strong core.

The First Few Weeks

As your incision heals and your strength returns you can begin to add in more challenging exercises. Deep breathing, abdominal compression and pelvic tilts should be done throughout the day to recondition your abdominal muscles and strengthen your transverse abdominis muscle, which plays an important role in supporting your lower back. As these muscles become stronger, you should notice back aches diminishing.

When You're Ready

After a couple weeks with the basic strengthening exercises, you're likely ready for more advanced exercises. Incorporate abdominal bracing, in which you draw your naval inward and contract your abs, with other movements. For example, abdominal bracing with arm movements, heel slides or toe taps are all exercises you can try. When performing heel slides or toe taps begin with one leg at a time then gradually use both legs as your strength improves.

After Your Checkup

Once you have seen your OB or midwife for your six or eight-week postpartum checkup and are given the green light to begin normal activity, you can introduce more traditional strengthening exercises into your workout. Planks, front and side, are an effective exercise for regaining hip, back and abdominal strength. Bridges, ball crunches and bicycle crunches are also suitable choices. Be aware that some exercises may pull uncomfortably on your c-section scar, this may fade with time or be something you'll have to work around.

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