After birth, all mothers have to contend with a postpartum belly, and if you’re recovering from a c-section, the road to restoring your pre-pregnancy belly can be a little more complicated.
Scarring at the incision site can lead to an overhang known as a “c-section shelf,” which can be hard to shift compared with a regular baby pooch.
Does C-section shelf go away? While the scar will fade, a c-section shelf may not completely go away on its own. The prominence of the loose skin and belly fat overhang, however, may be reduced over time with things like abdominal-targeted exercise, breastfeeding, a nutrient-rich diet, skin-firming massage, and other treatments.
It’s natural for this leftover tissue to leave you feeling self-conscious, but thankfully there are many simple and natural ways to diminish the appearance of your c-section shelf.
Let’s explore what options are available to you and when you can expect your belly pouch to disappear naturally. In addition, we’ll cover the most common c-section belly questions.
C-Section Shelf – What To Know
The appearance of your c-section scar can be disheartening at times, but don’t forget to give yourself grace and respect for your amazing body.
Here’s what you need to know about the c-section shelf, how it’s formed, and ways you can deal with it (if you choose to).
What Is a C-Section Shelf?
A c-section shelf refers to the protruding shelf-like appearance of abdominal tissue right above your scar.
Depending on how the scar and fat tissue heals on your body, you can be left with a portion of c-section overhang in the weeks after delivery.
What Causes C-Section Shelf?
As your c-section scar heals, the deep layers of abdominal scar tissue become stiff and restricted, and these layers can pull down on the scar, resulting in a shelf-like appearance right above the scar.
Unlike fat tissue, scar tissue is stiff instead of elastic, and as it forms a hardened layer at the site of your incision, it almost acts like a belt that is tightened around the looser fat tissue above and below the incision site.
This c-section shelf will also appear to protrude more if you have higher amounts of excess belly fat, though even women with a naturally flat stomach pre-pregnancy can end up with a little overhang.
Consider also that your belly skin stretched a heck of a lot to accommodate your growing baby, so after delivery, every woman will be left with a degree of loose, excess skin – making a c-section shelf more noticeable.
How a C-Section Shelf Can Impact Your Life
The physical appearance of a c-section shelf can inevitably impact your mental health, leading to negative body image and self-consciousness around your partner, especially during intimacy.
A c-section shelf can also cause you to feel physical effects in the weeks after delivery such as:
- Lower back pain
- General discomfort
- A tugging feeling at the scar
- Painful sex
- Tension and pain in your pelvic floor
- Bladder and bowel issues
The latter is especially common while your c-section scar is healing. This is due to the fact your scar sits over your bladder and the abdominal muscle group that extends to your uterus.
As a result, many women find that they have an increased urge to pee, cramping, and some incontinence.
Fortunately, these bladder-related symptoms and other physical issues associated with your c-section shelf and recovery can be improved with a few weeks of gentle physical therapy.
Does C-Section Shelf Go Away?
A c-section shelf may not go away completely, but there are plenty of ways you can help to diminish its prominence.
Jessica Holbrook, an ICU nurse and a writer at Wonder Baby urges moms to remember that all your body underwent during pregnancy “did not happen overnight. Your recovery will not happen overnight either.”
She goes on to say:
“For some women, a C-section shelf requires surgery to go away completely. Exercising regularly and maintaining a healthy diet can help to get rid of a shelf caused by extra fat, but plastic surgery will be needed to remove excess skin.”
Post C-Section Belly Overhang – Your Options
From healthier lifestyle choices to dedicated massage, there are a number of options open to you when it comes to targeting your c-section pooch. Here are some of the most effective methods to try:
Scar Tissue Massage
Gently massaging your scar for just 5 minutes each day gets the blood flowing, which can help with tissue mobility, leveling out the surrounding skin structure. Do it while applying your favorite body lotion.
A form of acupressure, “cupping” can be done as part of physical therapy or at home and involves placing a glass or plastic suction cup on your abdomen to lift the skin.
This is thought to help break up scar adhesions to the abdominal wall so there is less of a tight belt-like structure to the scar.
Healthy eating shouldn’t stop postpartum, so try to get more fruit and veggies into your diet, especially those rich in vitamin C and protein.
These nutrients not only have wound-healing properties, but they’ll also provide greater nutrients to your little one (if breastfeeding) and make you feel better!
Collagen-Rich Foods & Supplements
According to dermatologist Mohiba Tareen at Everyday Health, foods rich in protein, zinc, and vitamin C “supply the amino acids your body needs to produce collagen and maximizes collagen production. This gives your body tissues a toughness and rigidity.”
Collagen can also be taken in the form of powders and capsules, and some studies on oral collagen supplements have had promising results when it comes to recovery from surgical scars.
Stretching and giving your midsection a regular workout can not only help to trim down some of the excess fat around your pooch and build muscle, but it will also give your mental well-being a much-needed boost, increasing your self-confidence around your body image.
If an inability to shed your shelf is severely impacting your body confidence, you could consider surgical procedures such as tummy tucks and liposuction.
The former involves removing your entire c-section scar, though recovery will be similar to that of your postpartum delivery.
A less invasive tummy tuck, meanwhile, will remove excess fat but cannot eliminate the scar tissue or help reduce the appearance of loose skin.
C-Section Shelf Massage – How To Do It Correctly
After the c-section incision is closed and healed well, you can now begin using a gentle all-natural oil that won’t irritate the skin (vitamin E and coconut oil are good) and your fingers to apply comfortable (not painful) pressure to the scar site.
- Holding two fingers together to form a pad (your fore and middle finger), arch the fingers slightly and place your finger pad on the edge of your scar. Use the same two fingers on the other hand too.
- With each finger pad, gently stretch the scar ½ inch outwards, so finger pads are moving in the opposite direction from each other.
- Hold this stretch on the scar for 10-15 seconds and repeat this stretch in all directions (i.e., 10-15 seconds of outward, circular, side-to-side, up-and-down motions, etc.).
C-Section Pooch Workout
Following the 6 weeks of rest it takes your c-section scar to heal, it’s important to take things slowly.
Even if you feel up to running, “starting off with walking is best, as you can graduate from flat terrain to more challenging uphill walks” according to personal trainer Jody Braverman.
It’s helpful to combine increasingly long walks with strength training.
However, “be conservative in loading of exercises. In terms of resistance, prioritize bodyweight, resistance bands, suspension trainers, and light weights. Examples of beneficial exercises include side plank, squats, split squats, band pull-aparts, and TRX inverted row,” advises postnatal exercise specialist Jessie Mundell.
How To Avoid a C-Section Shelf
As every woman heals differently in recovery from a c-section, we can’t promise that a c-section shelf can always be prevented.
However, a popular method used by some women is a postpartum wrap or “belly binder.”
These are designed to be worn while your scar is healing to promote healing and reduce swelling at the incision site.
The compression is also thought to prevent your wound from re-opening which would make the resulting scar and “shelf” much more prominent.
Saggy Belly After C-Section – Is It Permanent?
Your saggy postpartum belly can appear less noticeable over time, especially with a change in diet and regular exercise.
According to many aesthetic surgeons, some women can find that their c-section pooch remains with them for years, while others experience a gradual flattening.
It’s important to be realistic about your c-section recovery and accept that every woman’s postpartum experience will be different based on things like pre-pregnancy weight, normal body fat, and hormonal imbalances.
How To Tighten Loose Skin After Pregnancy
Dealing with loose skin around your stomach weeks or even months after pregnancy can be very discouraging, but there are a few ways you can bring some elasticity back into your new mom belly.
Some effective firming methods include:
- Regular cardio exercise (swimming, brisk walks, jogging)
- Eating collagen-rich foods
- Trying strength training (weights, resistance bands, yoga, squats)
- Gentle massage of the scar tissue
- Skin-firming body lotions (with vitamin C, collagen, and retinoids in the ingredients)
- Spa treatment skin wraps (wraps using kelp and sea salt can help to temporarily tighten the skin)
How To Reduce Tummy After C-Section Naturally
Did you know that feeding your little one can burn between 250 and 500 calories a day?
The release of oxytocin during breastfeeding “aids contractions that shrink the uterus.” according to Dr. Pragnya Rao.
She also states that “It [breastfeeding] is one of the easiest methods of losing belly fat after a C-section.”
Get Enough Sleep
Inadequate sleep can lead to an increase in your calorie intake, and continuous poor sleep can increase the amount of abdominal visceral fat, so do what you can to get enough shut-eye each night.
Take it slow in the weeks after delivery, but try to get regular exercise in the form of weekly walks, and challenge yourself with longer sessions and low-impact workouts to keep belly fat down.
Why Can’t I Lose Weight After Having a Baby?
It’s very common for mothers to find it difficult to lose baby weight, and some studies found that only 20 percent of 985 women were able to return to their pre-pregnancy weight 3 months postpartum.
It takes time for your expanded uterus and overall body mass to shrink back to pre-pregnancy size.
Is Baby Weight Harder To Lose Than Regular Weight?
It can be more difficult to shed due to the fact that there is more than just adipose tissue (body fat).
Postpartum weight also includes the fluids retained and blood produced during pregnancy.
Hormones will also be out of balance, and your body may reserve fat to better nourish your baby during nursing.
To sum up, a c-section “shelf” refers to the unsightly bit of overhang left over as a result of your incision scar forming a tight band around your belly fat.
Getting rid of your c-section shelf shouldn’t be as important as learning to love your mom belly and having a newfound respect for what you and your body are capable of.
Understandably though, a c-section shelf can leave mental and emotional scars, so look to healthy eating, exercise, and massage to help improve its appearance.
Rebecca is a seasoned copywriter and researcher with over a decade of experience, specializing in parenting topics. With a passion for all aspects of raising children, from breastfeeding to potty training.