It’s natural to want your flat stomach back after delivering your baby. It is important to approach your postpartum fitness routine with caution, especially if you’ve had a C-section.
A C-section is major abdominal surgery and your body needs as much time as possible to recover.
Firstly it is important to get confirmation to exercise from your doctor. Ask for recommendations on how to approach your return to fitness as they know your medical history.
After nine months of pregnancy your stomach will take time to get flatter naturally.
If you gave birth via C-section then you need to be confident in your recovery and in your ability to return to exercise safely and strongly.
The healing process is not complete at six weeks. Even though your scar may appear healed, the deeper tissue layers inside still need time to recover.
Usually it takes at least six weeks to heal from a C-section to resume exercise. In order to achieve an enviable post baby body you must be patient. Pushing yourself will not speed the healing process or a flat stomach. It will put you at risk for damage to your pelvic floor or abdominal muscles. Heavy lifting and intense exercise can not be performed until you are cleared. You will risk rupturing your scar and delay healing.
Ready For Exercise And Healed In Six Weeks?
Your doctor may have cleared you for exercise at six weeks but this means light and gentle exercise.
The types of exercise that will be beneficial at this time are:
- Core restoration
- Body weight exercises
The types of exercise that will NOT be beneficial at this time are:
- Heavy weight training
- Leg raises
- Traditional “ab” exercises
When it comes to postpartum fitness, slow and steady is the most beneficial. Begin your return to fitness with walking and light stretches. This will help break up scar tissue that can contribute to a pouch or overhang of extra tissue at your c-section site.
- Plow pose: Lie on the floor and reach your arms and legs above your head.
- Sphinx pose: Lift your chest and head just a few inches from the floor while lying on your stomach.
- Bridge pose: Lie on your back, bend your knees and press through your heels to lift your lower body and back off the ground.
All of these moves stretch your stomach and strengthen your pelvic floor without being too aggressive. If they hurt then stop immediately.
Cardio burns calories so you lose excess baby weight that contributes to a round stomach. You will have to work your way into it, even if you were active for much of your pregnancy. This is because of the time off you had to heal from surgery.
Brisk walking, as well as swimming or cycling are examples of gentle, low impact cardio. You can only do 10 to 15 minutes at a time due to your stamina, do several of these short blocks throughout the day.
With several months of dedication, you can work your way up to longer sessions of cardio and even add high intensity, this helps you burn fat faster.
Try a workout one to three times per week that involves cycling at a fast, intense pace for one to two minutes and then pedalling easy for one to two minutes. Include a warm up and cool down to complete a 30 to 45 minute total workout.
These moves themselves will not get you a flat stomach because they do little to burn calories or reduce scar tissue, but they do help restore abdominal and pelvic floor strength.
Depending on your healing process, you may begin core restoration exercises. There is no date of when you should begin adding in more activity, this is because everyone heals at their own pace.
- Hold a modified or full side plank to work the internal abdominal muscles and those along your spine to help support your back. Work up to holding a side plank for about 30 seconds each side.
- Perform heel slides by lying on the floor with your knees bent and feet placed hip distance apart. Slowly slide one leg out until it’s parallel to the floor then bring it back in to the original position. Repeat on the other side. Work up to 20 on each leg.
- When you feel stronger you can add in the the double straight leg stretch. Lie on your back with your hands cradling your head and neck. Raise both legs up to the ceiling above your hips. Squeeze the legs together then lower them toward the ground, as far as you can without feeling an arc in your lower back. Slowly return them to the starting position. Aim for 20 repetitions.
Strength Training After A C-Section
Return to more traditional strength training after your six week clearance and a check with the pelvic floor physio, you will want to allow your body plenty of time to adapt to the increase in movement. You will also need a good deal of recovery time between exercises. If you have any bleeding or pain (scar, pelvic, back) at all during or after exercise, seek medical advice and reduce your intensity when returning to your exercises.
Start with two workout sessions per week of 15 minutes duration to strengthen all the major muscles, increase your proportion of lean mass, raise your metabolism and encourage fat burn. Slowly increase your workout duration by five minutes weekly.
Keep your workouts between 30 to 40 minutes and aim for three to four sessions per week.
Start with just one set of 8-12 repetitions of moves such as squats, chest presses, rows and lunges. For the first several weeks or months only body weight exercises are appropriate. Only add dumbbells or other heavy weights once you feel stronger and your doctor has confirmed it is safe.
Returning to strength training you will want to use your body weight as resistance. Resistance bands, suspension trainers and light weights can also be incorporated once you are recovered. Include abdominal exercises during your strength training sessions to rebuild the muscles.
Beneficial exercises are:
In each of the exercises above, you are keeping your body in a neutral alignment. This means that your spine is kept in a long, straight line. You need to have a small arch in the lower back and a tall upper back. Always have the ribs over the hips, as you want your rib cage right over your pelvis.
Exercises to AVOID:
- Crunches, Sit ups, Leg raises, Front planks
- Running, Jumping, Step ups
- Heavy overhead presses
- Heavily weighted exercises
- Anything with direct downward pressure on the pelvic floor, such as a barbell back squat.
Pay attention to how your body feels during and especially after exercise. Move in ways that make you feel safe and energised during and after exercise.