One of the most frequently asked questions comes from those women who gavebirth to their babies via c-section and want to recover their pre-baby body.
Having a flat tummy, and doing so in a reasonable amount of time, is often what new moms worry about. Answering such a complex question requires that we take a step back and think about what your body (as a new mom, or mom to be) has gone through, or will be going through.
In the 9 months that your body is nurturing a growing baby, your body also slowly changes to accommodate for your added precious cargo and prepare for birth.
Your organs are literally moving out of the way to make room, and even your ligaments and muscles are stretched and pulled to their limit to prepare for the amazing act of giving birth. By the end of your pregnancy, your baby will be roughly the size and weight of a watermelon – imagine that! A whole watermelon safely snuggled between your organs until the right time. That’s not something to scoff at; it is an incredible feat which your body performs during this time, with important implications.
Most available information about c-sections (the surgical act of delivering babies) notes that a small horizontal incisionis made
in your abdominal wall, allowing draining of amniotic fluid and delivery of the baby. Whilst this is true in theory, it is often easy to forget that a cesarean section is considered a very invasive surgery. In order to reach your baby, the incision that is made must penetrate through skin, subcutaneous tissue (fat), connective tissue like fascia (the tough stuff that helps bind our muscles together), abdominal muscles, the lining of the abdominal cavity (called the peritoneum which keeps your insides in place) and ultimately the uterus itself (which consists of another three layers of muscle). Not quite as simple as a small cut, is it? Cutting through muscle and connective tissue also has implications for recovery.
Recovery is easy enough when it’s one scar, or one wound, that needs to heal. With all the layers mentioned above that also need to be sewn back up, that implies a lot of healing has to take place.
If you think about how long wounds take to heal in spots that are moving all the time (like your hand or elbow),
imagine how hard your body has to work at healing up various layers whilst you are moving about. Even if you follow your doctor’s instructions to restrict movement, as a new mommy, you will most likely be on the move in any way. This means that healing will take time. Rushing it and pushing yourself into exercise before you are ready can, and will, result in painful tears that often mean more surgery, setting you back even further.
Other than cuts and wounds that need to heal back up, your organs also need time to move back to their original places. At the sametime, your hormones are trying to figure out what to do now that the baby has been born,
and the function of your body itself moves to prioritize sustenance and nurturing to your new bundle of joy.
We spoke previously about how your body is designed to move, and whilst this remains true, you – as a woman – also have a body that was designed to grow and sustain another human being. This is something to be proud of and to honor whilst we give our bodies some time to recover from the sometimes-traumatic changes during birth.
Getting back to the original question –
can I have a flat tummy after having a c-section?
Whilst everyone is different and each woman has a different response to this surgery,
the short answer is yes: it is possible!
In order to achieve this, here are some important tips to remember:
Don’t try to be heroic and start exercising before your doctor has cleared you and deemed it safe to start an exercise program. Start very slowly and listen to how your body responds;
take your time to build your strength gradually.
Even if you were a fitness fanatic before the birth, don’t jump headlong into it and go at full speed; doing damage to healing wounds at this point will only set you back further and could even cause longer-term damage. Start with the key areas that are weaker than usual – this would be your core muscles. Avoid sit-ups at this time, and rather start with planking and yoga to gradually build up strength and suppleness. Once your core strength has been re-established, you can add more challenging exercises to your program.
As your body is now functioning as a storehouse and production facility for your newborn, eating takes on a different purpose. You need to refuel, especially if you are breastfeeding. Your energy levels may be lower than normal, and thus cutting calories to “lose weight” will only drop these energy levels more and take away from the nutrients both you and your baby need. Instead,
feed your body nutritious whole foods to promote healing.
Avoid processed foods that harbor little nutritional value, and ensure you remain hydrated (but avoid fizzy sweetened drinks). If you feel unsure, or just confused by all the chaos, a registered dietician can help by developing an easy-to-follow meal plan for you.
Many women are worried about the appearance of their incision site. Massaging the scar as it heals will help it stay pliable and will allow the tissue around the scar to move without that awful pulling or tugging sensation. It is also said to help prevent or reverse sensitivity of the scar itself, although some sensitivity is normal (and even loss of sensation in some instances). If you have the option to request tissue-glue instead of stitches prior to the birth, this often heals a much neater and thinner scar that with stitches.
Having a flat tummy after a c-section is actually very similar to the basic principles needed to achieve a flat tummy in general.
Besides taking the healing into account, a flat tummy requires that you get the underlying structures to be strong: this means your core muscles must be strengthened, and once they are strong enough, more exercise variations can be added to tone. Diet plays a very important role too, and although it may feel that this takes longer than usual, there is a very good reason for that. As a post-birth body, yours needs to heal, reshuffle, produce food and figure out what it actually needs to do at the same time (all the while functioning on less sleep than normal).
A flat tummy can most certainly be achieved if we give our post-birth bodies the time they need to adjust and respond to our requests within a reasonable timeframe.