More than 30% of women giving birth in the Western world will have their babies brought earth side via caesarian section. Some will be planned but many will be via emergency caesarian.
The implications of this can be great, on both a physical and emotional level. While every story is different, how can we, as yoga teachers, support c-section mamas in their postnatal recovery?
The way a woman is supported at this very fragile time can affect the way she copes as a new mother. This includes her bond with her infant and the start of her journey into motherhood. When working with new mothers always seek help from the plethora of birth and postnatal professionals (e.g. midwives, doulas, lactation consultants, psychologists and physiotherapists), and do look to the end of this article for further resources on this ever expanding subject.
The first six weeks
During the first six weeks women need to rest as much as possible. 90% of a mother’s healing, no matter how she gave birth, occurs in the first month. So the more rest a mother gets now, the better she will feel over the next two years.
After a caesarian birth—what I affectionately refer to it as a “belly birth”— a mama’s movements will be further restricted due to her healing from the surgery. If her partner can’t take much time off work and there’s limited support nearby, you can encourage her to consider a postnatal doula who can provide both physical and emotional support.
She may be struggling emotionally, or experiencing birth trauma if she feels her birth wasn’t as she hoped. If you are in contact with a woman during this time and feel she’s struggling to heal emotionally, it can be helpful for her to share her birth story. If she needs more support you can put her in contact with a postnatal doula / professional who understands birth trauma and may also be able to offer a ‘Closing of the Bones’ ceremony.
If a woman appears anxious or depressed, put her in touch with a counsellor or psychologist specialising in Birth Trauma or Postnatal Depression (PND). Remember that as yoga teachers we are not counsellors, so building a network of trusted professionals in your area is a great resource. Bliss Baby Yoga guest teacher, Doula Trainer, Counsellor and Spiritual Healer, Anna Watts, specialises in this field, and has shared about healing birth on her Celebration of Birth blog.
It’s important to remember that yoga is not only about asana. Post c-section is a time when relaxation, pranayama and meditation can be extremely helpful. Positively, the first six weeks can be used to nurture the bond between baby and mama, and also to encourage deep relaxation. Providing women with a recorded relaxation can help them achieve this – practicing when their baby is sleeping (which is up to 22 hours per day in those first six weeks!) They might rest with baby on them, skin-to skin, which is wonderful for bonding and for building baby’s microbiome or immunity.
Bliss Baby Yoga Creator and Director, Ana Davis, has shared a beautiful Yoga Nidra that will help guide mamas into a deep state of relaxation, allowing their bodies and hearts to heal.
Pranayama is another safe and powerful tool for healing from a c-section birth. Uma Dinsmore Tulli, in her book “Mother’s Breath” shares some beautiful techniques that can be used postnatally, in particular The Healing Breath that energises and strengthens the abdomen and the lower back. This breath extends from the full yogic breath to include the use of mula bandha or pelvic squeeze on the exhalation.
Nutrition is important for all new mamas, so encouraging those caring for her to keep up nutrient dense foods and bone broths (the book “The First 40 Days- The Essential Art of Nourishing the New Mother” is wonderful for guidance). Suggesting the family keeps a basket close by, with water, healthy snacks (nuts, bliss balls etc.) and perhaps a book can be helpful whilst she’s unable to move, and also supports breastfeeding!
It’s important that women have their physician’s ok to start any physical exercise. Once given the go ahead, gentle pelvic floor and stabilising movements can be helpful. Dr Oscar Serralach, in his book “The Postnatal Depletion Cure”, outlines the pelvic tilt to help reconnect the lower back and pelvis and strengthen the abdominals in a very similar way to the Healing Breath. We also emphasise the beneficial healing and toning effects of pelvic-tilting-movements in our Online Bliss Baby Yoga Postnatal Yoga Teacher Training, which includes sample Postnatal Restorative Yoga sample class videos within the course materials – suitable for new mums looking to move toward some gentle restorative poses that they can practice at home.
From 6 – 8 weeks
Women will often have another check with their doctor around this time. As we advise in our our Bliss Baby Yoga Postnatal Yoga Teacher Training Course, if all’s going well with their postnatal recovery and wound healing (the wound having healed completely), they may be able to join a post-natal or Mums and Bub’s yoga class.
You will already be encouraging new mothers to practice with awareness and to listen to their bodies. This may seem obvious but it’s important to remember that many women will not have practiced yoga with their babies before and may need more gentle guidance back to their own bodies.
While Pranayama and relaxation will still be an important part of your class, you can start to introduce some more physical movements such as Cat/Cow (pictured below), Right-Angle pose and Pelvic Tilts against the wall, Gomukhasana (Cow Face pose) or Bridge pose (pictured below) – both fluid and held. There are a plethora of gentle movements that may be used (see Bliss Baby Yoga’s Online Postnatal Yoga Teacher Training Course for inspiration and guidance) but make sure your students avoid those that encourage strong abdominal toning. Welcome mums to step back from postures that create discomfort and to take care with stronger back-bending movements.
Pelvic floor practices are helpful, even though there hasn’t been a vaginal birth, as a mother’s pelvic floor muscles will have been bearing the weight of baby throughout pregnancy and may have also undergone strain if birth progressed as far as second stage. Also, the changes of hormones like relaxin have an effect on softening the tone of the pelvic floor. And of course, include Restorative poses since they allow mums to replenish their depleted energy stores.
If a mother can’t get to class (which can be a huge barrier for a new mum, especially if her wound has only just healed), feel free to direct her to the online options including Bliss Baby Yoga’s Online Postnatal Restorative Yoga Classes.
From 3 – 6 months
Many mums will be gaining back energy around this time, although it’s a delicate balance with sleep deprivation and other demands!
If healing has gone well, stronger Asana can be introduced including poses that gently strengthen the abdominals such as plank pose and kneeling balances. Continue to help women strengthen the pelvic floor and include Restorative and Pranayama practices. As mums progress they will have more energy for stronger held Asana and more energetic sequences.
As mothers move toward participation in a general class, encourage them to continue their own self-care and home practice. This will ensure a strong, elastic pelvic floor, good posture and better circulation – all essential for wellbeing. Maintaining relaxation and / or meditation will also help support their emotional health as they move into the later stages of the post-partum period.
Supporting mothers after a c-section delivery can be such an honour. Emotional integrity, empathy and awareness are key in providing the support they need. It’s always important that as yoga teachers we don’t overstep our areas of expertise, so again if you feel out of your scope of practice always refer on or seek help (we’ve listed a few resources below).
Above everything, encourage mums to be mindful and work with what feels right for them. Relaxation and pranayama might be all they feel they can do for the first six months after birth. Mums may also explore baby massage as a part of bonding with their baby and healing themselves.
Every woman, every birth, every baby is different.
If you haven’t completed it already, we highly recommend our Bliss Baby Yoga Online Postnatal Yoga Teacher Training to understand safe asana for postnatal yoga.
- Anna Watts (Birth Trauma Support) https://www.celebrationofbirth.com
- Uma Dinsmore Tulli https://umadinsmoretuli.com/
- Dr Oscar Serralach and the Postnatal Depletion Cure http://oscarserrallach.com/
- “The First Forty Days The Essential Art of Nourishing the New Mother” by Heng Ou, Amely Greeven, Marisa Belger (Nutrition in the post-partum period)
- Pelvic floor health and diastisis recti check https://fit2b.us or https://www.beachespelvic.physio/
- Lauren Tober (Perinatal mental health) www.laurentober.com
- La Leche League International (Breastfeeding support) https://www.llli.org/
- To find a doula internationally: https://www.dona.org/ or https://www.doulanetwork.org/ in Australia
- Importance of skin on skin contact for establishing the microbiome www.microbirth.com
If you are passionate about nurturing women during pregnancy and postnatally, and offering holistic yoga classes with safe, appropriate and nourishing practices designed specifically for pregnant women and new mothers, you may be interested in our Bliss Baby Yoga Online Prenatal & Postnatal Yoga Teacher Training course. We also offer Online Extension Modules to enhance and further your learning in this area, covering topics including Perinatal Nutrition & Ayurveda, Prenatal & Postnatal Anatomy and Physiology and Pelvic Floor Anatomy and Physiology for Women’s Health.
Nadine O’Mara is an experienced prenatal and postnatal yoga teacher, doula, and our Bliss Baby Yoga Online Course Content Manager and Co-Director, who also runs her own business, Conscious Life Yoga Conscious Birth. She shares her wealth of knowledge through contributing and editing content for our Bliss Baby Yoga online courses and social media, including being a co-facilitator of our Online Level 2 Restorative Yoga Teacher Training course. Nadine also provides doula support, yoga and birth education to women and their partners in Northern Sydney, as well as offering self care and restorative yoga workshops for mothers, mother’s circles, family yoga and retreats for women and/or families.
Illustrations by Sophie Duncan www.deerdaisy.com
Further Reading related to this topic:
- 3 Keys to Postpartum Pelvic Floor Recovery with Lisa Fitzpatrick
- How Yoga Can Support Postnatal Mental Health (Including Three Simple Practices) by Maria Kirsten
- The Sādhanā of Motherhood: tips for integrating yoga into daily life by Nadine O’Mara
- Self-Care Tips for New Mamas by Star Despres
- Dr. Lauren Tober discusses Postnatal Depression