There are nearly 1.3 million cesarean births every year in the U.S. alone*. And, far too many moms are experiencing a distressing range of symptoms afterward. Symptoms can include:
- pain and numbness of the scar
- belly hardness and bloating
- significant digestive and urinary changes
- painful sex
- pelvic and other pain during daily movement
- and more.
Unfortunately, too often, post-cesarean symptoms are not fully addressed. When that happens, moms are left feeling that there’s nothing that can help them feel better. Nothing could be farther from the truth.
No matter how long it’s been since your cesarean birth (two months or two decades, or more) you can make significant changes to the health and comfort of your belly. Along the way, you can bring ease and recovery to your belly and pelvis.
Every birth is a big deal. Manual therapy and massage can help you recover.
Even without the major surgery of a cesarean birth, the body’s normal responses to pregnancy and birth (diastasis recti, hip or pubic bone pain, changes in urinary continence, etc.) can feel overwhelming – especially when they don’t resolve on their own! The good news is that these symptoms can be relieved in a natural way. Full recovery from even a traumatic birth experience is possible.
Of course, every mother’s healing journey is different. And, in my experience, the most reliable relief from post-cesarean pain or distress comes from hands-on manual therapy or massage.
Now, as much as we’d all like to get a full-body massage and have our troubles resolved, that’s not the kind of massage I’m talking about. To get the relief you’re seeking, you’ll need a more direct form of massage. That doesn’t mean it has to be painful. In fact, I’m giving you a gentle exercise below to start with.
My guiding principle is to practice and teach work that is both safe and effective. One without the other is no good to me or my clients.
Do-At-Home Exercise for Cesarean Scars
One of the hallmarks of any surgical scar is that people who have them usually don’t want to look at them or touch them. The idea of touching your scar might bring up feelings of nausea, revulsion, or good old fashioned crying jags. I encourage you to embrace this part of the process as best as possible, and then touch your scar anyway.
When is it safe to do this exercise?
Be sure it has been at least six weeks since your surgery. It is best to talk to your provider at your six-week follow-up in order to be certain it is safe for you to massage the area. Six weeks is the bare minimum guideline. Please feel free to take longer to start but you will get the easiest results if you can start within the first 2-6 months after your surgery.
Do not do this exercise if your scar is still producing fluid, has not fully closed, or you have not talked to your provider about massaging the area.
The single biggest fear I hear is: What if I accidentally rip open the scar? As long as you are following the guidelines above (and have your doctor’s go-ahead) you will not be able to rip open the scar with any technique I teach. In fact, I can’t imagine it would be possible to do so with any technique, unless the scar isn’t actually closed.
The body is a healing machine and the collagen fibers that create your scar are extraordinarily strong. It is much more likely that the scar will do too good of a job binding your tissues back together, creating a form of abdominal adhesions. Again, there is nothing to fear here, even if you have developed other abdominal adhesions.
The beginning cesarean scar massage technique
Once you have read the guidelines above . . . then take as many days as you need to build up through doing all of the steps below.
- Choose a position that is comfortable for you. It’s fine to stand, sit, or lie down – just make sure you can relax for about three to five minutes wherever you are.
- Give a few seconds to noticing your breath. If it is very shallow or restricted, try to let it flow a little more deeply into your chest and belly.
- Lay your hands on an area of your belly that feels safe. This could be up on your low ribs or over on the sides of your belly. This can even be on your upper legs. Take a few breaths to feel what it’s like to have your hands here.
- Carrying that sense of safety with your hands, gently lay them over the area of your belly that you feel is most problematic for you. This may be over your scar, it may be somewhere else that is uncomfortable for you.
- If you can, lightly (with no extra pressure) circle your hands over the difficult area. If you need to, go back to the safe spots and lay your hands there again.
- Once you have done the circling for a bit, let your hands return and rest in your safe zone for a few moments.
- Go back to your scar or problematic area, now using your fingertips to gently press into the top-most tissues of the area. This is a light engagement and we’re not looking for depth yet. Please notice how much resistance you feel in the tissues under your fingers. If you’re directly over or around your scar, it is normal to initially feel hardness or restriction under your fingers.
- With your fingers gently in place, start to “drag”the tissue up and down in micro-movements. THIS SHOULD NOT BE BIG OR DEEP PRESSURE. In fact, it should start just with the skin and teeny-tiny movements. The idea is to see what kind of mobilization you can get (maybe none, to begin with) through these top-most tissues.
- After you’ve done the micro-movements, take just a moment to press down on your scar or other tissues with just a bit more pressure. Again, this is not a depth exercise, this is only about mobilizing the top layers of tissue on or around your cesarean scar.
- Once you have done the gentle press-down, lightly sweep your hands over the entire area, noticing anything that has become activated or changed in any other way. Notice your breath again. When you are done, drink some water and move around a little.
This exercise is just the beginning and can be very powerful in bringing the injured part of your body into your awareness not as a “problem”but as an area that you are able to help. Try it multiple times and see what arises for you.
*From Centers for Disease Control and Prevention “Births – Method of Delivery”; https://www.cdc.gov/nchs/fastats/delivery.htm