How to Return to Exercise Safely after Childbirth

May 06, 2019 at 8:22 AM

One of the most common questions new mums have for me is "When can I return to exercise?"

Unfortunately, there is no simple answer to this. Everyone's body is different. Just like every pregnancy and birth is individual, so is the recovery time.

Factors that may affect your ability to safely return to exercise include:

  • Pregnancy - pelvic girdle pain or back pain, multiple births, long labour

  • Birth - caesarean, the use of forceps, perineal tearing

  • Weakness of pelvic floor before and after childbirth - prolapse and/or incontinence

  • Fatigue from looking after a new baby plus older children

  • Fitness and activity levels before, during and after pregnancy

Besides returning back to exercise safely, these factors also determine how quickly you may be able to return to exercise.

Participating in sport, running or other high-impact activities soon after childbirth may actually reduce pelvic floor muscle strength and cause long-term bladder and bowel problems or pelvic organ prolapse. You can minimise the risk of these developing with some careful precautions. Below are some suggestions to minimise these risks during each stage of pregnancy*:

0-3 weeks post-natal

  • Gentle walking

  • Pelvic floor activation exercises

3-8 weeks post-natal

It is recommended in this time that you see your GP and Women's Health Physiotherapist before increasing your exercise intensity or returning to the gym. Your physiotherapist will be able to assess your abdominal separation (rectus diastasis) and pelvic floor, and provide you with a more specific management plan depending on your condition.

  • Walking - increased intensity (e.g. hills with a pram)

  • Low impact aerobic exercise - cycling or swimming (once bleeding has stopped)

  • Gym exercise - light weights with higher repetitions. Care with posture and technique. No jumping or high impact.

  • Core and pelvic floor exercises as per physiotherapist's instructions

8-12 weeks post-natal

  • Follow weeks 3-8 but gradually build the intensity of walking and lift heavier weights with lower repetitions

  • Continue core and pelvic floor exercises

  • More abdominal work can be added at this time if your separation is small and you have good core control. It’s best to start with static holds such as plank variations. Sit-ups at this stage may make your separation worse.

12-16 weeks post-natal

  • This is a great time to return to your Women's Health Physiotherapist for an assessment of your abdominal separation and pelvic floor muscle control prior to engaging in high intensity exercises that involve running, jumping or sit-ups.

Week 16 and after

  • You can return to previous activity levels provided your core and pelvic floor muscles have returned to normal and you are not experiencing any back pain, vaginal heaviness or incontinence

  • Seek further advice from your Women's Health Physiotherapist if your symptoms persist

 

Listen to your body; it’s the only one you've got!

There's a lot to be said for common sense. No one knows your body better than you. If it doesn’t feel right, or you don’t feel ready, don’t force it. Just because your friend can do something or your trainer says "you'll be fine" does not mean you can - or should. Consulting with your GP and a physiotherapist who specializes in Women’s Health will certainly help with knowing what you can and can’t and should or shouldn’t be doing.

*please note the above information is a general outline for post-natal return to exercise, it is always best to see your physiotherapist for a specific program.

 

Shannon Trotter, Master of Physiotherapy, 2009

 

Shannon has completed specialised training in the area of Women’s Health physiotherapy. She is passionate about empowering women to take control and keep fit and healthy throughout pregnancy and beyond and finds this area extremely rewarding.

 

Book Online now for an appointment with Shannon.