How to Recover from an Unplanned C-Section: The Only Thing I Didn’t Research!

January 25, 2012 Leave your thoughts



I was a researching fool throughout my pregnancy. I was fastidious. From exercise to nutrition to symptoms of early labor to recommendations for the birth and delivery, I basically got a bachelor’s degree in “pregnancy for the active woman.” I truly enjoyed the entire pregnancy, even the two weeks of limbo after my due date before I was induced. I was good to my body. I was incredibly healthy. I was prepared for just about every possibility – except for the one that happened. An unplanned, emergency cesarean section.


Assuming I had experienced a vaginal birth, I was prepared for my lowest level of fitness to be the last few weeks of my pregnancy. After the birth, I thought I would enjoy minimal recovery time before “getting my body back” one step at a time. I imagined that within a few weeks I would be able to start swimming, cycling, hiking, and running at an easy, introductory level. However, as it turned out, my fitness level could indeed decrease even further, as dictated by the unplanned c-section.


A cesarean section is abdominal surgery, plain and simple. It’s not arthroscopic surgery where they extract the baby through a minor incision. The medical team literally makes a large incision (5-6 inches in my case), cutting through layers of skin, muscle, and of course, the uterus so they can safely bring the baby into this world.


The night of the surgery was a blur, softened substantially by pain medication. I was also in a euphoric state which could be attributed to having a gorgeous, healthy baby girl. The next few days were a different story. As the adrenaline of having our little Wilder wore off and the reality of the c-section sank in, I realized that the surgery had a few unanticipated side effects such as:

  • I couldn’t sit up on my own.
  • I needed help to reach anything farther away than the length of my arms.
  • Laughing, coughing and sneezing hurt like a mother!
  • Getting up to care for Wilder was a stretch. This is when the strength of my husband, Tim, came in handy. I only changed one diaper in the first 3 days of her life!


Upon leaving the hospital, these were my marching orders:

  1. No stairs (or at the least, minimal stairs – 1 or 2 trips per day)
  2. No lifting anything heavier than our 6 pound 1 ounce Baby Girl
  3. No twisting, torquing or otherwise straining my abdominal area


Because the hospital staff was focused on my short-term health, no one filled me in on what I could expect in regards to recovering my fitness. And for the first couple weeks, I couldn’t even think about it. I spent my days caring for Wilder and managing some crazy postpartum mental and physical changes. But it’s been three weeks now and my body is starting to feel better, so I think it’s time I figure out what I can (and can’t) do.


I reached out to my friends who have been there before me. They all agreed that the most important thing is that I give my body a chance to recover from the surgery, from the inside out. Even if the outer incision looks and feels good, there are many layers underneath that still need to recover. The rule of thumb is 6-8 weeks of recovery before slowly returning to an exercise routine.


The only exercise that is recommended for 6-8 weeks is walking. I can handle that. Walking is cool. I will become the neighborhood walker-stalker!


But then what? I need some sort of gauge to manage my expectations. I have lost over half of the weight I gained, but when will the rest come off? In six months? A year? Never? I want to do a really cool half marathon in September. Is this too ambitious?


If you’ve been there or if you’ve seen other women go through this, chime in and let me know what I can expect. No matter what, I’m committed to a slow, healthy recovery, so I won’t be blogging about my postnatal exercise routine for at least another month or two (unless you want to hear about all my great walks). In the meantime, please help me manage my postpartum expectations so I can maintain some level of sanity!




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