Let’s not beat around the bush here… having your abdominal muscles cut is pretty damn painful. In fact, if you’ve ever had a caesarian section or any form of abdominal surgery, often the main sticking point or memory is the pain.
We use our abdominal muscles every day for all sorts of things. They help us to stay upright, they assist with deep breathing and are also involved in coughing, sneezing or laughing, something you won’t soon forget once they have been cut. Our abdominal muscles also help us to move around, for example, simply changing position from lying to sitting and sitting to standing engages your tummy muscles.
Because it can be particularly painful (and because you’re probably shattered from new mum duties) many women are reluctant to move much after a C-section as it can be particularly painful.
Most people assume that hurt = harm.
However, gentle, regular movement is the key to recovery after a C-section. And in fact, not moving at all can do more harm than good. If you don’t move regularly, your joints will become stiff and new blood does won’t be circulated around your body as efficiently. This means the area that needs to heal does not receive any of the nourishment which is so vital to its recovery.
Of course that doesn’t change the fact that moving around after a C-section can be both nerve-wracking and slightly painful… what’s a woman to do?
Here are my top ten tips to help aid recovery following a Caesarian section. These are based on my own experience of having a C-section and my knowledge as a physiotherapist to aid movement post-surgery.
- Get moving
Movement – however small – allows new blood to nourish and repair your abdomen muscles as it circulates, making this the most important thing you can do to aid C-section recovery. Try moving little and often, the aim is not to stay still in one position for too long – moving from one end of the sofa to the other counts, as does a gentle amble to the kitchen for a cuppa and a well-deserved biscuit. You’re advised not to perform any heavy lifting during the first six weeks as this will not help your scar to heal, which give you the perfect excuse to avoid the laundry and ironing. Like-wise high impact exercises should be avoided for at least twelve weeks, this includes sit ups, aerobics, circuit training and spinning, not that you’ll have the energy anyway!
Going on short, gentle walks, and performing circulatory and small range of movement exercises will help you get moving in the first few weeks following your surgery.
- Take your pain relief
Pain killers are your friends. There’s no way of avoid that facts: having your abdominal muscles cut is painful and they take time to heal. Because your abdominal muscles help you to function and move, pain relief is absolutely essential to allow you to start returning to normal, so if you get some, take them. If you need to move about, try to take your painkillers about 20 minutes before so that the pain relief has taken full effect, allowing you to move easier. If you are really struggling with pain, do not suffer in silence. Tell somebody – your midwife, health visitor or your GP. There are stronger pain relief medications you can have post birth, don’t be ashamed to ask for them.
- Do circulatory exercises
Keeping your circulation moving around your body even though you are not as mobile, is key to helping you avoid getting a DVT (deep vein thrombosis) post-surgery. Try to perform these two simple exercises every hour:
- Circle your ankles ten times in both clockwise and anti-clockwise directions.
- Point and flex your ankle ten times to keep your circulatory pump working in your lower limb.
- Pace yourself
Your recovery will take time and as a new mum you’ve probably got a lot on your plate right now. Pace yourself and listen to your body and its needs. Allow it time to heal by being kind to yourself. Slow and steady wins the race following abdominal surgery! If you need to make three trips to carry something from one room to another then take your time and accept that you’re simply doing the best you can. If you really need to carry several items over a fair distance, try using a back pack with two straps that will distribute the weight evenly over your shoulders.
- Protect your scar
Your scar will be sensitive to touch in the early days of healing so try and wear loose, comfortable clothing that doesn’t cause any rubbing. Skinny jeans are out for a bit longer I’m afraid! My top tip to avoid your scar rubbing against your clothing is to place a sanitary pad in your knickers that lies in line with your scar to cushion it; glamourous no, but certainly effective! Avoid chaffing at all costs as this will slow down your scars healing process. Once your scar has fully healed, massage it regularly with a little oil to improve the scar tissue and your sensation around it.
- Delegate heavy housework
Of course there are always upsides to recovering from major surgery… hoovering, ironing and even lifting heavy piles of washing can all split your stitches. In fact, I know friends who have hoovered within the first two weeks of their surgery and split their stitches or caused problems with their scar healing. It’s not worth it. I know everyone wants their house clean and tidy for all those visitors dropping by unannounced, but honestly, ditch the housework and delegate those heavy jobs. Walk round in sunglasses so you can’t see the muck if you need to but leave it. You will not die because your house is messy.
- Use your arms and legs to aid movement
The stronger your arms and legs are, the less work your tummy muscles have to do. For this reason, it’s really important to try and remain fit and active during pregnancy so that your muscles can help you out post-delivery of your baby. Working your bicep/tricep and quads/hamstring muscles regularly will really aid your recovery following abdominal surgery.
- Support coughs and sneezes
Having abdominal surgery is ten times harder for smokers. When you cough you create an increase in intra-abdominal pressure so the muscles contract, hard. This is involuntary – you can’t stop it. Following surgery, it is inevitable you will likely need to cough or sneeze at some stage and when you do the pressure created in your tummy can be painful if these particular muscles have been cut. It is so important that you support your cough using a towel or your hand to apply pressure to your tummy muscles from the outside to counteract the pressure caused from the cough on the inside. This is not pain free by any means but hurts a lot less.
- Don’t lean onto shopping trolleys or prams
Leaning forwards onto things after a C-section is a bad idea. You might get into that position ok but trying to get out of it will be super hard work and your tummy muscles will not thank you for it. Get your shopping online or take someone with you to the supermarket to push and steer the trolley. If you are out walking your newborn get a friend or family member to push your pram – people love doing this one for you so delegate the job and take things easy, you deserve it.
- Little and often should be your new mantra
This is so important. Slow and steady definitely wins the race. Break down tasks into chunks and do them little and often. For example, folding the washing; don’t do it all in one go, start with half and see how you feel. Doing something and not nothing is of equal importance. Listen to your body but rest as much as you can.
If you would like more information and visual images to assist you with the exercises recommended you can get your copy of my free ‘The Caesarian section survival guide’ which is available via my website www.thepilatesphysio.co.uk.