Baby, C Section: Will I Ever Look Good Again?
I have trained many women before, during, and after their pregnancies. I have to say this is one of my favorite special-training situations to work with. The whole process is so incredible to watch—and no matter how many times people witness the process of pregnancy and birth, we are always amazed by it.
The best part about being a professional exercise instructor and personal trainer is seeing the results of highly specialized training for pregnant women. When I get the clients back from their required exercise break of six weeks, they practically look as if nothing has happened after giving birth.
Recently, I was amazed at the triumphant return to exercise of one of my clients after her second C-section—just 19 months after her first C-section. I have been working with this client on and off for years. I trained her before, during, and after her second pregnancy.
This client worked out four times a week—doing everything from lifting light weights to Zumba and running until she was about eight months along — including an hour-long, weekly session with me. She was cleared for exercise about six weeks after the C-section, and at our first post-baby session, not only did she look amazing, but she had very little pain. This shows just how very powerful exercise is.
Most people who have a trainer during their pregnancies are total workout fanatics. Most of my job with clients like these is to make sure they are staying safe while exercising. It is super important to drink plenty of water, and not overdo it while working out during this time. (Read more about it in my blog posting Exercise and Pregnancy: What you should know.)
Some women are just looking to not have a totally destroyed body after having a baby. Pregnancy can be very hard on the body. Not exercising at all and eating too much can make things even harder. The average American woman gains 10 permanent pounds per childbirth. This doesn’t have to happen if you watch what you eat and keep active. Pregnancy and nursing require an extra 300 calories per day. That is one more healthy small meal or large snack per day than you were eating before you got pregnant.
C- section recovery is like any other surgery as far as exercise programming is concerned. When a client needs surgery I target the area that they are getting operated on (provided that the area is not injured and requiring repair through surgery). This is to make sure that the area is as strong as possible before getting cut and traumatized. I have learned through experience that everyone who’s trained this way before their operations heals at a very rapid rate.
Having all of the muscles as strong as possible and properly stretched means the area can better withstand trauma, and will be able to get enough circulation after the surgery. Proper circulation to an injured area brings the best amount of oxygen and nutrients to the injured area, facilitating faster healing.
To prepare for a C-section I do deep-core training, and lower back, gluteus (butt), and hip exercises. I recommend a lot of drawing-in maneuvers and bridges (bringing the belly button inward, toward the spine, and holding this pose as long as you can). I also recommend Kegel exercises for the pelvic floor, and tons of squats and 3-D lunges. I also train pregnant clients to do a lot of side kicks with and without resistance.
Now, let’s talk about the most important part of your pre-childbirth exercise program: Rest. If an exercise move hurts, don’t do it. End of story. Pain during exercising while pregnant and after childbirth is a sign to stop. “No pain, no gain” is not for the childbearing times. Even if it is your favorite workout, and you have done it a thousand times before, if it hurts when you are pregnant and/or just gave birth, STOP.
Here are a couple of other rules to keep in mind:
1. Never, ever work out before six to eight weeks after giving birth or having a C-section. Nothing, not a Kegel, not even a bicep curl with a light weight. DO NOT work out after a C-Section without a doctor’s approval. A C-section can take longer to heal depending on your age, having twins, complications from the surgery, etc. It is extremely dangerous to work out too early after having a baby. I met a woman who worked out two weeks after childbirth and destroyed her abdominal muscles permanently. She will never have her abs back due to the fact that she was obsessed with looking perfect after having a baby. It’s not worth it to work out even a month after childbirth even if you feel up to it.
2. Give yourself time. We all want to look great. You may look at yourself in the mirror and wonder if you will ever look the same after the baby comes. Several things need to happen in order to look the same again. Your uterus needs to shrink back to its original size. It expanded greatly during your pregnancy. This is the reason you can still look pregnant for a week or so after giving birth. Your uterus will shrink naturally, especially if you nurse (nursing helps release hormones that bring the uterus back to its normal size). Your muscles also stretched and need to shrink back. If you stay in shape and exercise during your pregnancy this will take a little less time. How long should it take? About six months. So, if you are still not happy with the way you look after six months, you can take another look at your exercise program and eating habits.
3. Don’t compare and despair. I often hear my post-baby clients say things like, “But such and such Hollywood celebrity looked amazing six weeks after giving birth…I saw it in a magazine.” Well, guess what? Such-and-such celebrity is Photoshopped and wearing Spanx. No one really looks the same after six weeks!
4. Consider nursing. If there weren’t already enough benefits to nursing your infant, consider this one: Nursing helps you take weight off more quickly. How fast, however, depends on your body type. For those of us who have a high metabolism and lose body fat quickly, the weight will come right off. For those of us who tend to collect body fat, the hormonal changes that take place during pregnancy and nursing tell your body to keep a few extra pounds on. You may need to wait until you are done nursing to lose all of the body fat you want to lose.
5. Don’t be alarmed if your body looks different. “Oh no, my tits! They were so great and now look at them!!”If this sounds like you, you’re not alone. Pregnancy and nursing can make your breasts look different, even saggy. The good news is that having a toned chest and good muscle tone in the chest can provide a little lift and good natural support for your breasts. I do the chest press, chest fly, and pushups to prevent any sagginess. I believe that good nutrition, and not gaining too much weight, can help keep your breasts in good shape.
6. Age can be a factor. I’m talking to you, 40-plus moms! Many of us are choosing to delay childbirth these days. In fact, the number of women having their first child at age 40 has nearly doubled in the last 20 years. So if you are a new mom in her 40s, it may take an entire year to get back into your original shape. As we age the cell-renewing process just takes longer. Exercise can help, but it will still take up to a year. Still, being older brings patience, so just try to be patient with getting back into pre-baby shape if you are an older mom.
In the end we may never look quite the same after having our babies, but we get to be moms and have wonderful families. Still, we can sure look great if we exercise, eat right, and give our bodies the proper time to recover, even with out Spanx and Photoshop!
Check out the great links from the March of dimes below:
Source: March of Dimes Birth Defects Foundation
Related MedlinePlus Page: Cesarean Section