This is a common misconception we hear daily in clinic. “I don’t want a C-section as I want to recover more quickly”. The length of time it takes to recover from birth depends on a multitude of factors and having a vaginal birth doesn’t mean you bounce back quicker.
There are straight forward and complicated C-sections. There are straight forward and complicated vaginal deliveries. In a nutshell, recovery from a C-section can be quick or slow. Recovery from a vaginal birth can be quick or slow.
During a vaginal birth, the pelvic floor has to stretch to 2.5 times it’s resting length which is pretty incredible when you think about it. No other muscle in the body can do this without failing. Afterwards, it’s important to get horizontal rest little and often throughout the day in the early weeks to allow the muscles and tissues to recover. Even if you don’t have any pain and feel like superwoman, doing too much too soon can cause issues to persist long-term:
- It doesn’t allow for this tissue healing and the pelvic floor can stay lengthened, increasing you chance of developing or worsening a prolapse or incontinence.
- An abdominal separation of the six pack muscles doesn’t get the chance to come together.
- It is common to need stitches after birth and doing too much can cause them to breakdown and become infected. This will cause you to feel sore and immobile for much longer.
Following a C-section you are likely to feel sore in the early weeks so putting your feet up may feel more natural to do.
If you had a long labour that led to an emergency C-section then your recovery may feel slow, but it could feel quick after a straight forward or elective C-section and you might be pain free after 2 weeks.
Regardless, it is important to rest because:
- It allows for tissue healing and reduces your chance of getting a wound infection.
- It allows an abdominal separation of the six pack muscles to come together.
- Pregnancy alone causes lengthening and weakening of the pelvic floor and the effects of pregnancy hormones like relaxin last for a few months keeping your ligaments and soft tissues stretchy. Doing too much doesn’t allow for tissue recovery and could increase your risk of developing or worsening incontinence, a prolapse or back pain.
The advice for returning to exercise is the same, no matter how you delivered your baby:
Lots of horizontal rest and pelvic floor exercises
Week 2 — 6
Continue pelvic floor exercises and rest when you can. Gradually build up walking from 5 mins a day the first week, 10 mins the second week etc
Week 12+Providing you have strengthened your pelvic floor and abdominals and been cleared by a pelvic floor physio, you can start to gradually introduce high impact exercise and heavy lifting.
Every birth is different and your recovery will be unique to your friends. Your body has done an incredible thing and it deserves a chance to recover. So, no matter how you gave birth, make sure you rest as much as you can in the first 6 weeks, which is a very short period of your life when you think about it. Life gets hectic when you have kids and there won’t be many opportunities to slob in front of the tv and binge watch a series. So put your feet up, you deserve it mama!