Having a baby places enormous stress on your body - which starts long before it’s time to give birth. From the moment that baby starts developing, your centre of gravity starts to shift putting different stresses on your joints. A surge in hormones means you grow more flexible over time so the position of your joints shifts (including your feet becoming flatter!) - and your gait changes as you accommodate everything happening in your body.
After the birth of your little one, many of these changes are still very much present and will be for some time - so exercise will naturally look very different than what it did pre-pregnancy. You may also be facing additional challenges like incontinence, decreased strength, organ prolapse, muscle pain - and even abdominal separation.
If you’re wondering if exercise is even a good idea after giving birth, the answer is absolutely. It has significant benefits for women, including:
To help you know where to start and what to expect, we’ve put together 5 tips on returning to exercise after pregnancy.
Simply put, you should only start exercising in the postpartum period when you have been medically evaluated and cleared to do so - meaning that it’s safe for you to resume. This is as each birth is different, with different complications and birth techniques. This means that traditional ‘six-week wait’ does not apply to everyone. If you start too early, you may risk further damage to your body that is doing its best to try and repair, heal and strengthen.
Even if you’ve been cleared by your doctor, if you feel pain, significant discomfort or that something is wrong when you start exercising - stop. Other warning signs include in bleeding, dizziness & chest pain. Listen to your body - it knows exactly what it needs (and doesn’t need!). Rest when you need to, and see your doctor or physio if you have trouble getting back into exercise comfortably.
Postpartum exercise is not a race - and if you treat it like one, you’re likely to lose. Going too hard too fast is a sure way to leave you vulnerable to overuse injuries or even set your postpartum recovery backwards. Setting unrealistic goals - like running 10km’s on your first day back will not only add to this injury risk but may affect your mental health, too. We know it’s super cliche, but your body has been changing for 9 months - don’t expect it to be back at full capacity in just one to two months. Ease into exercise and gradually increase your distance, speed and weights over weeks and months - not days.
Don’t forget about the essentials of exercise. Have a good warm-up and cool-down routine to assist with your flexibility and blood flow that will help reduce the likelihood of injury, wear appropriate clothing (including a supportive bra and nursing pads, especially if you’re breastfeeding) and keep your hydration to a maximum. Even things like controlling your breathing technique and your posture may need work - so stay mindful of your safety basics!
It doesn’t matter whether you gave birth vaginally or via caesarean - your pelvic floor has been through a lot while accommodating your growing baby and the muscles will be much weaker than they used to be - which can make exercise much more difficult. Make actively working on your pelvic floor a priority and your pelvic floor will help support you in a number of exercises too.
If you’ve developed any pains or problems throughout your pregnancy - whether it’s your back, your feet or something else - make sure this is actively being managed before you return to exercise. Many problems only become exacerbated and worsen when the body is placed under strain from exercise. Heel pain is a common example - with a damaged tissue progressing to a partial tear when placed under even more stress from exercise.
If you’re ready to start exercise but know you need a few niggles or pains checked before you do, we’d love to help. Our experienced physiotherapy team is all about helping you realise your full potential - and getting you to safely and effectively nail your exercise goals!