General guide to help you safely return to exercise after childbirth
Most women are very keen to return to exercise and sport after childbirth, and it’s even better if you can bring the bub along while doing so! However, it is difficult to know what exercises will be best to start with. It is important to be aware that while there many exercises that will help you improve your core and pelvic floor strength and control, there are some that may make it worse and cause longer term problems such as bladder and bowel problems or pelvic organ prolapse.
We’ve put together a general guide to get you safely back to exercise after childbirth –
Weeks 0-3 postnatal:
* Begin with gentle, short walks (15-30 minutes). Where possible, try to go without the pram or carrying your new bub as it is extra load on your body.
* Pelvic Floor Exercise, these involve a ‘squeeze and lift’ action, try to aim for 2-5 seconds initially. You may feel the contraction feels different compared to before, particularly if you have had a vaginal delivery. Try to engage the pelvic floor muscles before you cough, sneeze or lift.
* Gentle abdominal bracing, pulling bellybutton in towards spine in lying or on your hands and knees.
Weeks 4-8 postnatal:
* Begin increasing your walks each week by 10 minutes, being sure to listen to your body. You shouldn’t feel any downward pressure through the vagina or have any leakage.
* If comfortable, you can begin exercising on a stationary bike, as this doesn’t put too much pressure through the pelvic floor, just avoid standing up on the pedals!
* You may begin some swimming or gentle water-based exercises (once bleeding as stopped and wounds have healed!)
* Abdominal bracing and specific exercises – if you have abdominal muscle separation, it is important to check you are using your abdominal muscles correctly.
* Low impact post-natal class – our post-natal programs begin 4 weeks postnatal.
* It is recommended to wait until your 6-week post-natal check before starting a general group exercise program or returning to the gym.
Weeks 8-16 postnatal:
* You can now gradually increase the intensity of your workouts, you may want to try gentle bodyweight exercises or light weights under professional supervision.
* Begin adding short interval training while swimming or on a stationary bike (30 rest sprint, 60 sec rest).
* Progress your abdominal bracing exercises and ensure you use these muscles while lifting. Your abdominals should remain flat whilst bracing.
After week 16 postnatal:
* You can slowly build up to your previous activity levels (including light jogging) if your pelvic floor muscles have regained their strength and control.
* A quick test to check if your pelvic floor is ready is to try 15 x star jumps. You should be able to do this without experiencing any feelings of vaginal heaviness/dragging, back pain or loss of urine with exercise.
* It is suggested you have your abdominal and pelvic floor muscles checked by a women’s health physio if you have any concerns with returning to exercise.
Most importantly, remember to listen to your body after having a baby. Most women find they are fatigued due to interrupted sleep, the new demands of motherhood and breastfeeding. What you can each day may vary. While it’s important to ensure your body is strong at this time, fatigue and over-exertion may increase the risk of injury.
If you have any questions, our Women’s Health specialist Rhyannon Spring can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.