Returning to exercise after child birth can be scary, especially if labour was complicated or didn’t go as planned.
However, returning to exercise postpartum is an important part of recovery. Exercise can help improve your strength and fitness, energy levels and assist with any mental health considerations. Regular exercise can also help to maintain a healthy weight range and return to some sort of “normality” and routine.
When considering a return to exercise, there are some things that need to be considered. Firstly, it’s important that you get the all clear from your Doctor or Obstetrician to start exercising. This typically occurs at the 6-week postnatal check up however it will be totally dependent on the type of birth you experienced.
How your body changes after pregnancy
It’s important to understand that your body changes during pregnancy and after birth. These changes need to be considered when returning to exercise.
When you’re ready to return to exercise, take it slowly to start with. Don’t jump back to what you were doing before pregnancy!
Some things to bear in mind include:
- Your abdominal muscles may have separated during pregnancy. If there is a separation you may like to speak with a Women’s Health Physiotherapist for exercises to help recover from this.
- Your ligaments and tendon can stay a little more “lax” than usual for up to 6 months post birth. Be careful if you feel a little more stretchy than usual and don’t overstretch. During pregnancy your body produces a hormone called “relaxin”, this makes your ligaments more lax to help with birth. This may put you at a greater risk for strains and injuries.
- Your pelvic floor – the muscles and ligaments that support the bladder, uterus and bowel – can be weakened after pregnancy. Again, a Women’s Health Physiotherapist can help with exercises to rehabilitation your pelvic floor to reduce the risk of a prolapse occurring.
Returning to exercise after vaginal birth
Returning to exercise is completely dependent on the person however you may be able to start gentle pelvic floor exercises days after your birth. Light walking at your own pace is also okay. If you feel any pain be sure to stop.
It’s wise to wait until your 6-week postnatal check-up before you go back to the gym and from there, ease back to things as your recovery and symptoms permit.
Returning to exercise after caesarean
A caesarean is a major operation and it will take at least 6 weeks to heal from the procedure. However, you may still be able to complete abdominal and pelvic floor exercises in the days after. After a caesarean, follow the directions from your Physiotherapist and Obstetrician in regards to returning to exercise as they will know your recovery timeline best!
During the first 6 weeks it’s important to avoid all heavy lifting because you will still be healing internally. After 6 to 8 weeks, you might be able to start light aerobic exercise and light weights. However again, you should be cleared by your Doctor first just to make sure it is safe.
Low-risk exercise for mums
Some exercises that are generally safe after pregnancy include:
- swimming and aqua aerobics (once the bleeding has stopped)
- light weight resistance training
For at least 3 months, try to avoid lifting heavy weights, sit ups and high-intensity aerobic activity that may impact your pelvic floor (this is to help reduce the risk of prolapse).
If you are ready to get back to exercise after birth, chat with your Obstetrician and make a plan. From there, you might like to seek help from an Exercise Physiologist who can provide a safe and effective exercise program for you to follow.