When Should I Start To Exercise After My Pregnancy?

Wednesday, July 29, 2020

It's no secret that caring for a new baby is overwhelming and frankly, exhausting. However, there are countless benefits to exercising as a new mum including:

  • More energy
  • Improved mood
  • Better recovery from birth
  • Strengthened pelvic floor
  • Weight loss
  • Increased fitness

However, pregnancy puts your body through a lot and it's important not to overdo it. Here, we're exploring why pelvic floor exercises are important, how to safely return to exercise after birth, and guidelines for returning to exercise post-pregnancy.

What Happens to Your Pelvic Floor During Pregnancy and Birth?

Your pelvic floor is responsible for supporting the pelvic organs and creates a seal for the urethra and rectum to prevent incontinence. So, what happens to your pelvic floor during pregnancy and birth?

For starters, your pelvic floor will stretch up to three times its normal size during vaginal birth. Having a baby is, by far, the biggest load your pelvic floor has ever experienced so it makes sense that you'll likely see a 25-35% decrease in its strength afterwards.

For these reasons, it makes sense that working your pelvic floor after childbirth proves to be an important part of the recovery process. Strengthening your pelvic floor puts you at a lower risk for developing tension in the ligaments that support your pelvic organs. It also helps prevent prolapse, which is when your pelvic organs actually drop, putting more added strain on your already weak pelvic floor.

The good news is, there are exercises you can do to strengthen your pelvic floor. And doing so is a requirement of returning to exercise after your pregnancy.

Returning to Exercise After Vaginal Birth

After a vaginal birth, you can start gently exercising right away. Try some pelvic floor exercises a day or two after your baby is born to work on strengthening those muscles that have been through a lot.

If you feel any pain, however, definitely don't push through. Take it slow and go at your own pace. When you feel ready, you can start going for walks with the pram but after vaginal birth, it's best not to try any strenuous exercise for at least 12 weeks.

Returning to Exercise After a Cesarean Birth

If you had a cesarean birth, your body will require more time to heal before returning to exercise. Just like any other major surgery, you'll likely need at least 6 weeks before you're even able to walk or do other low-impact exercises without pain.

However, you can start to do pelvic exercises safely as early as day one. Abdominal exercises will be trickier after a cesarean versus a vaginal birth since it puts pressure on your scarred area, but if you've started to heal, it's OK to try some low-impact exercises like swimming or cycling after about 8 weeks.

Again, if you feel any pain or if you experience any bleeding, stop. It's so important to take things slowly. After 3 or 4 months, you should be able to return to more strenuous exercise but be sure to consult your doctor or physiotherapist first.

Safe Exercises for New Mums

The safest, most low-risk exercises you can do after having your baby (even in the first few days after birth) are pelvic floor muscle exercises such as kegel exercises and pelvic tilts as well as abdominal bracing, which is deep breathing while tightening your abdominal wall on the exhale.

Pelvic Floor Exercises

Kegel exercises strengthen the lowest part of your pelvic floor and vagina by activating the muscles you use to hold a wee. Hold for a count of 8 and relax for a count of 8, repeating 10 to 12 times.

To do a pelvic tilt exercise, lie on your back with your feet flat on the ground and knees facing the ceiling. Flatten your lower back against the floor as you tilt your tailbone toward your feet. You'll feel your pelvis start to rotate as you tighten your abdominals. Release the position as you allow your back to arch and your pelvis returns to its neutral position. Repeat this exercise 10 to 12 times.

When Should I Start To Exercise After My Pregnancy?

Source - Redefining Strength

Other Low Impact Postnatal Exercises

Aside from pelvic floor exercises, there are other ways to gradually start incorporating exercise into your life after having a baby. Some low-risk postnatal exercises include:

  • Walking
  • Foot and ankle circles
  • Swimming
  • Postnatal Pilates
  • Postnatal yoga
  • Low-impact aerobic training
  • Weight training with light weights
  • Cycling

Please note that exercises such as sit-ups, curl-ups, planks, hovers, and mountain climbers are not recommended for postnatal mums. A full pelvic floor physiotherapy check should be completed before returning to these types of exercises.

Guidelines For Exercise After Childbirth

Every woman's body is different and the amount of time you'll need after giving birth before returning to exercise will vary. However, it might be a quicker turnaround than you'd expect.

A good rule of thumb before you begin any high-intensity exercises is to either cough or jump with a full bladder. If there is any urine leakage, you're not ready to do any intense exercising as your pelvic floor isn't quite strong enough yet.

If it's been three months since having your baby and you're still having issues with the strength of your pelvic floor, call your GP or make an appointment with a physiotherapist.

To give you a starting point on your postnatal exercise journey, here are some general guidelines to follow. Again, be sure to consult your doctor before returning to exercise or sport after giving birth.

  • 0-3 weeks postnatal: Walking, pelvic floor exercises, abdominal muscle bracing
  • 3-8 weeks postnatal: Low-impact aerobics or other postnatal workouts, swimming, light weights (anything you can do without holding your breath)
  • 8-12 weeks postnatal: Gently increase weights, gradual progression of your abdominal muscle bracing
  • 12-16 weeks postnatal: Visit a physiotherapist for an abdominal and pelvic floor check before returning to more intense exercise.
  • 16+ weeks postnatal: Return to previous activity levels provided your pelvic floor is strong and you don't have any back pain, vaginal heaviness, or urine loss during or afterwards.

While exercising is certainly safe in most cases for new mums, it's important to work with a physiotherapist who can give you peace of mind about how and when to start exercising after giving birth.

Strengthening your pelvic floor and reintroducing your body to an exercise routine will take time and working with a physio can help you stay motivated and healthy.

Other useful resources

Pregnancy 101 – How your body changes during pregnancy
10 ways to decrease pelvic pain in pregnancy
Back pain during pregnancy. How to ease you pain.  

Ready to start your postnatal exercise journey? Book an appointment with one of our experienced physiotherapists either at one of our convenient clinics or let our mobile physio services come to you!

This article was originally written by Jonathan Moody from Physio Inq

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