Returning to Exercise After Birth
We all know the importance of exercise after having a baby, but there are many misconceptions about how and when you should start. With today’s world of social media and celebrity mums who seem to bounce back to their pre-baby shape within weeks, there can be a lot of pressure on new mums to get back onto the fitness wagon. And while we don’t want you to forget to look after yourself as well as your new baby, there needs to be a safe and gradual return to exercising.
The First 6 Weeks:
Pelvic Floor Exercises
You can recommence your pelvic floor exercises a couple days after giving birth. It it common that initially after a vaginal birth, contracting your pelvic floor will feel different than before. This will improve as you practise. Focus on the ‘squeeze and lift’ technique, completing both short and long (10 second) holds. Ensure you aren’t holding your breath or squeezing your buttocks/thighs.
Transverse Abdominis (tummy) Exercises
During pregnancy, the connective tissue of the abdominal muscles stretch to allow the baby to grow. To assist with the recovery of a DRAM (diastasis of recti abdominis muscles), you can commence static activation exercises. This involves gently drawing the lower portion of your abdomen inwards (towards your spine). Avoid bracing or sucking in your stomach, or holding your breath. Try first lying on your back, then kneeling on all fours. Aim to build up to 10 second holds without compromising your technique.
Walking is a simple and great exercise which you can return to in the early stages after giving birth. It’s low impact, an opportunity to get outdoors and help your baby fall asleep. Start off gently and listen to your body. If you feel tired, don’t overdo it. Aim to gradually build up the duration by 10 minutes each week.
After 6 Weeks:
Once you have had your 6 week obstetrician check up and ensured you are healing well, you may commence other forms of cardiovascular exercise such as swimming and cycling. These are great low impact options. You may also recommence gentle strength training. Clinical pilates is a great way to safely rebuild your core strength under the supervision of a Physiotherapist.
Remember- not all ‘core’ exercises you have done in the past are appropriate to return to yet. Avoid stomach crunching style exercises, or doming of the abdominals. At this stage, it is best to seek advice from your Physiotherapist for a suitable program and monitoring of your abdominal separation.
Running and High Impact Exercise
At the very earliest, you should not consider returning to running or high impact sport until 12 weeks after giving birth. This is to allow time for your pelvic floor muscles to recover from the pregnancy and labour. And if you’re thinking: “but I had a Caesarian”, remember that your pelvic floor muscles still had to support the extra weight of a growing baby for 9 months, so don’t think that you’re off the hook.
A quick test you can do at home to see if you are ready for returning to high impact exercise is:
Repeat 10 star jumps with a cough on each jump and with a fairly full bladder. You should not leak when doing this.
Blog by Emily Shortal