Welcoming a new baby when you already have a toddler at home can require some adjustments. Likely you are balancing ALOT, your own recovery, newborn care, ensuring your toddler is adjusting, and much more. It’s a joyful, challenging transformative time. If you have had a C section there are some things you really need to consider to help you heal and still engage and love on your toddler. But you do not need to fear because we’re here to navigate this exciting journey together.
Your active and eager toddler might be craving those warm hugs and begging for you to “hold me, mommy.” With these tips we will discuss how you can be sure to prioritize your own healing as well as being there for your toddler.
- Why you need to prioritize YOUR recovery
- When can I pick my toddler up after C section
- Safe and effective strengthening techniques post C section
- Tips for Connecting with your toddler without picking them up
Table of Contents
When Can I Safely Lift My Toddler After Birth?
No mom’s recovery is going to look the same. There are so many changes that occur with our bodies during pregnancy and birth. The general guidelines after C section recovery is to wait 6-8 weeks before lifting anything heavier than 10-15lbs. That also includes your toddler.
You may be thinking…that’s impossible. How am I going to be able to resist pick up my toddler when my spouse/partner goes back to work? or whey they are begging me to “hold me”. It may be difficult, but it will be worth it to prioritize your healing.
Remember you just had major abdominal surgery, your pelvic floor muscles are weak, and your uterus is healing and contracting back to it’s normal size. There are major things going on inside your body that you cannot see. Rest is an absolutely necessity if you don’t want to have a lifetime free of life altering side effects.
Now during this time you won’t want to just lay around all day, although staying in bed most of the first week or two is a good idea. You will need to be engaging in some gentle physical activities, such as light walking and pelvic floor strength training to gradually increase mobility and to aid in the healing process.
The general time frame of 6 to 8-week allows your abdominal incision to heal sufficiently. This reduces the risk of complications, and ensures that your body has regained enough strength to handle the physical demands of lifting and carrying a toddler.
Remember that each woman’s recovery timeline may differ, and it is important to follow the guidance of your healthcare provider. They will consider your unique circumstances and provide the most accurate advice regarding when it is safe to lift your toddler after a C-section.
Here are some general guidelines to help you understand when can I pick up my toddler after C section:
Initial healing period
So as a new mother recovering from a Cesarean section why is it so vital that you avoid picking up your toddler for 6-8 weeks?
A C section is major surgery. They have cut through organ, muscle, and tissue. Your body and your incision need time to heal properly. Putting strain on those healing areas can slow down and impede the recovery process. Lifting your toddler can exert significant pressure on your abdomen and pelvic floor leading to major complications post operatively such as:
- reopening of the incision (dehiscence)
- delayed healing
- increase risk of infection
- increased pain
- development of a hernia
- Incontinence of your bowels or bladder (loss of control of urinating, passing gas or feces)
- sexual dysfunction
- pelvic organ prolapse
A toddler’s weight, coupled with their sometimes unpredictable movements, can put both you and your child at risk of injury. Your healing muscles may not be strong enough to support such activities, and attempting to lift them could lead to falls or injury such as:
- Back strains
- Muscle tears
The incision site is susceptible to infections, and as you already know toddlers are a breeding ground for germs. They constantly are touching everything (even the things they know they should not), may be resistant to hand hygiene, and somedays just do what they want. Carrying them around can increase your risk of infection. You will want to prioritize proper hygiene during the initial recovery phase to reduce the likelihood of infection and promote a healthier healing process.
Taking care of a new baby and recovering from major surgery can be exhausting. Lifting a toddler can add unnecessary stress to your body, hindering your own recovery and overall well-being. By avoiding lifting, you can focus on resting, healing, and bonding with your newborn. Rest, although hard to come by at this time in life, is vital to your postpartum recovery.
Gradual Increase in Activity
As your body heals you will gradually increase your activity levels. If you don’t know what that looks like contact your doctor about a referral to a pelvic floor physical therapist. They can be a great asset to help you strengthen your body from the inside out.
If the cost of a physical therapist might be too much for you and you are looking for a step by step, week by week guide by a trained pelvic floor physical therapist check out The Nourished Mama’s Guide to Postpartum. It doesn’t just cover physical recovery, but all aspects of your recovery including postpartum sex, nutrition, hormones, mental health, and more. I have personally invested in this course myself and found it to be so helpful for new and experienced moms who want a better postpartum recovery. I may receive a commission if you choose to purchase the program, but I personally stand behind this product as a consumer myself.
In your first week at home you should spend a majority of your day laying in bed. It is good to get up and go to the bathroom, to shower, or general washing. Keep items you need close to the bed such as: bassinet, diaper utility cart, breast pump, breastfeeding supplies, and small toys or activities for your toddler to entertain themselves.
Getting up and going to the bathroom as needed is important to increase blood circulation to support your overall recovery along with preventing blood clots postoperatively.
You can also begin with simple core strengthening exercises to restore your weakened pelvic and abdominal muscles. Here are a few simple exercises to start with:
- Belly Breathing
- Pelvic Floor Tilts
- Transverse Abdominis Contraction
I recommend checking out Nancy Anderson’s Ab Rehab for specific guidance on safe ways to engage your abdominal and pelvic floor muscles in the early postpartum period. This is the program I personally used after my first child was born to start strengthening my body immediately postpartum. These are simple, safe, and can be done before being cleared for physical activity by your doctor.
Engaging Your Toddler
So how do you engage your toddler when you are laying in bed most of the day? It’s time to get creative. Your child just wants to spend time with you. This is a scary time for them as they may see this new baby as a threat to their needs to survive and be loved.
Show them they are safe and help them see they are an essential part to the family team. Some ideas for engagement include:
- Give them a job: “can you get me a diaper for the baby?”, “Mommy is healing can you help daddy make a snack for me?” Show them they have valuable ways to help you and this new baby.
- Use physical touch to connect: snuggle up in bed while the baby is sleeping. Watch their favorite show, read a book, etc. You might both just fall asleep for a much needed nap.
- Activity boxes: create small activity bags or containers that they can play with you on the bed. You and your partner can put them together before the baby is born or have your partner do it for you postpartum.
- Let your imaginations run wild: let them build a fort with pillows, hide under the blankets and pretend you are camping, play charades by acting out animals/characters from their favorite book. There are so many ways you can connect and engage in the comforts of your bed.
- Seek help: Ask your partner or other healthy family members/friends to pick up the toddler or baby when needed and bring them to you on the bed. You can even have them put a step stool next to the bed so your toddler can climb up to the bed on their own.
This week you can increase your activity by spending some time in other areas of your home. You can also spend more time sitting up if it is comfortable. If you handle those activities well try getting outside and enjoying the sunshine. This will improve your mood and help with your newborn’s sleep patterns.
Continue with some strengthening exercises such as:
- Belly Breathing in a sitting position
- Side Lying hand press
- Pelvic Floor Tilts
Engaging Your Toddler
Although you may be more active this week try to be cautious in your movements. Continue the suggestions from week one. This week you may also engage with your toddler by spending some time in the backyard while they play independently and continuing to foster healthy bonding with their new sibling.
- Foster Bonding: Encourage them to read books to the baby, play safely with the baby, or hold them with your supervision
- Give them ownership: use words like “our baby” or “your baby”
- Ask for their advice: “do you think the baby needs a new diaper”, “What do you think they baby wants to wear today?”
- Let your toddler still be a baby: just because you had another child doesn’t mean they have to be a big girl. You don’t want them to feel like they have been replaced
- Teach them baby care: show them how to provide simple baby care tasks and allow them to practice it
Weeks 3 + 4
Your spouse or partner may need to return back to work. At this point you may be thinking all is about to go out the window. Your priority is still to care for your newborn and rest/recover. This is when it is really important to ask for help. If your mom, sister, mother in law, or other family member have been wanting to come and help now is the time to enlist them. If you don’t have that luxury consider hiring a postpartum doula to aid you in the daily tasks while still prioritizing your recovery.
Check out this post about how a postpartum doula can help and how you may be able to get your insurance to pay for it.
Continue your strength training exercises and add in some:
- Threading the needles on your hands and knees
- Child’s pose
- Belly Breathing on your hands and knees
You may also want to start slowly including some low impact walking about 5-7 minutes to start (preferably outdoors- this helps with your postpartum mood). Go slowly and watch your bleeding. If you experience an increase in bleeding, your pelvic floor feels heavy or like it may fall out, or you are too tired afterward you may have done too much too quickly. Stop and rest the next couple days.
Try to avoid pushing a stroller or baby wearing by asking someone to come on the walk with you (say a fellow mom friend, family member, or neighbor) to reduce the load on your pelvic floor. It still needs more time to recover.
Engaging Your Toddler
If your partner has gone back to work consider reaching out to friends and family members to spend some quality one on one time with your toddler. I know my toddler loves her dates with grandpa to Home Depot. It usually ends with some ice cream, which is the way to her heart.
You can also:
- Make a Scavenger Hunt: create a list of things for them to look for on your walks such as: leaves, bugs, rocks, flowers, cars, or animals.
- New Toys/Games: Get a few new toys that they can play with when you need to do something to care for the baby.
- Carefully get on their level: You may be able to sit on the floor or lay on the floor next to them. Have them bring you toys and books to play together on their level.
Weeks 5 + 6
Your baby is now a month a month old. Can you believe you have made it 4 weeks without picking up your toddler! It may have felt impossible before, but with a little help, tools, and a focus on your WHY you are doing it. In these weeks you want to continue your strength training efforts to support your abdominal muscles and pelvic floor. You will advance your activities as your body tolerate it.
Here are some more advance exercises once you are ready:
Engaging Your Toddler
Think about what your toddler needs. Are they having more behavioral issues? Do they need more of your attention? Try to find little moments where someone else can care for the the baby. At this point they could probably use some special one on one time with mom.
Try setting aside 10-30 minutes of time that you can give them 100% of your attention. If you don’t have someone to watch the baby you could plan your one-on-one time during one of the baby’s naps.
Some 1-on-1 activities:
- Get outside and play with some bubbles, what toddler doesn’t love bubbles?
- Sit down and do some arts and crafts (coloring, gluing small pieces of paper, etc)
- Make some lactation cookies together or even some unhealthy cookies, everyone deserves to splurge once in a while
- Go for a walk together
- Head to the library and pick out some new books
- Build some giant Lego towers
These are just a few ideas, but really could just ask them what they want to do. They might have some brilliant ideas of their own.
Week 7 + 8
These weeks will look different for every mom. Some may be ready to do more and some may need to scale things back. Where ever you are embrace it. You just created a life and brought them into the world. That is an amazing accomplishment. It’s not a race to healing. Take your time and focus on what your body truly needs.
How Can I Safely Lift My Toddler When Appropriate?
Once you have gotten the OK from your healthcare provider to safely resume normal activities it is important to follow proper lifting techniques. This will help reduce the risk of injury and minimize strain on the body.
Use Proper Body Mechanics
When lifting your toddler stand with your feet shoulder width apart to keep a steady base. You may also put one foot slightly forward. Bend at your knees instead of bending at the hips. This takes the strain off of your lower back. Engage in your core and lift the child up while holding them close to your body. Avoid any twisting or jerking movements. Lift slowly and smoothly to avoid injury.
Use your legs rather than relying on the strength of your back or arms. Try to keep your back straight and avoid rounding or hunching of your shoulders.
If you feel pain or discomfort you have done too much. Put your child down slowly and take a break. In this situation you may not be fully healed and ready to take on the added weigh of your toddler. Consider using a stroller, carrier, or other assistive device to carry your toddler until you have given your body more time to heal.
Don’t forget to ask for help. We are not meant to do this alone. Mothers in other cultures and in the past raised their children in communities where grandparents, cousins, siblings, friends, and neighbors all stepped in to help. Motherhood looks much different today, but there are still many people that would love to help. You just need to stop being afraid to ask.
Bringing home a baby with a toddler is another trial by fire. It has some of the most sweet tender moments, but there are also those disastrous moments that we don’t need to talk about. In my house that means we will all be crying by the end. However, for any post C section mom you now have the tools to navigate it safely. You have positive solutions to strengthen your core and connect with your toddler without picking them up. You are empowered with the knowledge and tips of someone that has done it. And guess what, you can too! By prioritizing yourself and investing in your own personal healing you are on the road to a better postpartum experience.
Check out the Nourished Mama’s Guide to Postpartum for more comprehensive postpartum recovery guidance!
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Jess is a registered nurse with over 6+ years of critical care experience for patients young and old and is the mother of two small children. After having her own children she felt inspired to provide mothers with real actionable guidance and education to make informed decisions throughout their pregnancy and postpartum experience.