This article was originally posted in 2013.
Having a c-section, let alone four of them, was never in my birth plan. In fact, the day it was discussed in my childbirth class I honestly wasn’t listening because I assumed that was just something that happened to other women. I planned on having a natural delivery and would only consider using an epidural as a last resort. My mother gave birth to five children naturally and I assumed I would take after her. I might have been naive but I thought surely someone who has run a marathon and could handle pain could manage having a baby. I quickly learned that the two are very different and when it comes to delivering a baby there are no guarantees.
After a long 18 hour labor and pushing for almost 2 hours, I had to face the obvious- my daughter wasn’t budging and we needed to get her out as soon as possible because her heart rate was dropping. I had an emergency c-section and my husband and I didn’t even realize when she was born because we couldn’t hear any crying. She wasn’t breathing and it was the scariest few moments of my life. She was rushed out of the operating room and put on oxygen. My husband and I were behind the curtain and had no idea what was happening until a nurse updated us on the situation. I am so thankful that within the hour everything was much better. Suddenly how I had her did not matter at all. At the risk of sounding morbid, I am pretty sure that if we had live 100+ years ago one or both of us would have died during childbirth without the use of modern medicine.
When I was pregnant with my second child, my water broke before my scheduled c-section date. Labor seemed to be progressing quickly and I begged my doctor to let me try to VBAC (Vaginal Birth After Cesarean). I knew firsthand how hard the recovery was after a c-section and I thought if there was any chance to avoid it I would try. My doctor agreed to let me try to VBAC, so long as my son’s heart rate stayed strong. After pushing even longer with him I knew it wasn’t going to happen. I could not push a baby out no matter what position I tried and I just needed to accept it. My son was born via c-section and when we immediately heard his cries we were very relieved.
With my third and fourth children I planned on a c-section from the start. I had made peace with my body and how I have babies. Having a healthy baby is the goal.
Recovering from a c-section (at least in my opinion) is hard and takes time. In a c-section, the abdominal wall is cut open and organs are moved to the side to get the baby out of the uterus. It takes time for these muscles to heal. I was determined to nurse my babies which only added to the challenge. Besides the usual nursing issues, the entire abdominal area is unbelievably sore and sensitive. The first two days I needed assistance getting into a nursing position and then I needed someone to hand me my baby. My husband was right there to help me every step of the way. I also needed assistance walking to the bathroom; taking a shower- you name it those first few days. A nurse told me after my first c-section that every day you will feel 100% better than the day before and I found this to be true. The first day or two can be so painful but it helped knowing that tomorrow I would feel stronger. The first week I took the pain pills my OB prescribed. At first it was around the clock but after the first few days I spread it out longer and longer. I never take regular pain medication in day to day life and I know some argue against it but when I’ve had a c-section and I’m in excruciating pain- hand me the pain pill. I’m not trying to be a hero. I’m just trying to survive. When I was able to wean myself a little I switched to Tylenol for a few days and within two weeks I was able to function fine without anything.
Most doctors recommend waiting 4-6 weeks to start any form of exercise after a c-section. Yes, the recovery is much different from a vaginal delivery. I have known women who resume running within 1-2 weeks after a regular delivery. I was able to jog a slow mile when my youngest was 4 weeks old. With my others I might have waited 6 weeks. The c-section area felt fine while I was jogging but afterwards my stomach muscles felt a little sore. This is normal. They just need to strengthen.
As far as ab exercises- I never felt ready to even attempt them until my baby was at least 3 months old. I found this area to be so sensitive and sore that any ab exercise put too much strain on the muscle. When I did start back I would do some light crunches and simple knee planks. After my fourth child I was more anxious to get back in shape and tried to do too much too quickly. This led to a sacral stress fracture which temporarily put a stop to all forms of exercise. Once my pelvic bone healed I was determined to strengthen my core so I started a simple push-up and sit-up routine. I started this when my youngest was 5-months-old and I know it helped tremendously.
To be honest, it took almost a year for the c-section area to feel completely healed and back to normal but I was able to do exercises that first year that felt safe and made me stronger. I ran my first post-baby marathon a few days after my son’s first birthday. I had planned to run one much sooner but the stress fracture threw everything off and my body needed time to heal. This injury taught me to rebuild my running base slowly. I think it is important to note that everyone is different and what one woman is able to do might not work for you. It can be very dangerous and counterproductive to compare yourself to other new moms. I remember reading a few running blogs by new moms and I felt like I was really behind. My baby weight was taking its sweet time coming off and I felt extremely out of shape.
Have patience. It takes time. Start with a small goal. For me it was to start a simple 10 minute routine every night. In my case I did girl push-ups and some ab exercises (leg lifts, crunches, etc.). I kept it simple and doable. I knew that if I tried to do too much it would have overwhelmed me and I wouldn’t stay with it. I kept working on my core 10-15 minutes a day and I increased my cardio slowly.
When I first heard about someone doing a five minute plank I was intrigued. How hard could it be? Then I tried to do it and within 30 seconds I felt like I was dying! I managed to make it to one minute before collapsing to the ground. Immediately I got discouraged and quit planking all together for a few months. When my youngest was about two I decided to try this challenge again but this time with a starting goal time of one minute. Start with baby steps. If it’s been a while since you have done any ab work you might want to start with 15 seconds or 30 seconds. The important thing is not the time- it’s the fact that you are starting. Every few nights I would increase my time by 15 seconds. Another planking tip- I like to keep my phone or iPad handy to watch something on Netflix while I’m planking. It helps keep my mind occupied a little. I’m warning you- these will be the longest seconds and minutes of your life!
It took about two months but I finally made it to five minutes. I did this twice and then I took a few months off planking to do some other core exercises. I repeated the five minute plank build-up the following summer. I like to change up my core routine and the five minute plank goal is something I try to work in once or twice a year. (It tends to takes 2-3 months for me to build up to reaching the five minute plank goal.)
If you are trying to get back in shape whether it be from childbirth, injury or for any reason be patient and set reachable goals. It’s ok to have a big goal but I think it helps to have smaller more obtainable ones along the way. I know this helped me. Do not assume your best is over so what’s the point in trying. I have had my best running times (including multiple sub 3 hour marathons) after my four c-sections and after my stress fracture injury. It has not been an easy journey and there have been quite a few road blocks and bumps along the way but I’ve learned from it and it’s made me stronger for life.
Also, remember- your baby is only a baby for a short time. Don’t be in such a hurry. You’ll blink and they ‘ll be grown.
*It is important to note that before undertaking any new exercise regimen, please consult your physician.