Our GP Dr Anna Cantlay explains everything you need to know about when its safe to start exercising after having a baby.
If you are keen to get back to your work outs after pregnancy, but aren’t sure what’s safe, here is what you need to know!
Postnatal exercise has loads of benefits! It can help you:
- Boost your energy levels and
- Strengthen your pelvic floor
- Increase your core and abdominal strength
- Help prevent back pain
- Improve your mental health and postpartum depression symptoms
What’s safe and when should you start exercising?
It’s really important not to rush a return to fitness. Be kind to yourself, you have just birthed a huge human and recovery takes time. Prioritise rest in those early days.
As a general rule, if you have had an uncomplicated pregnancy and vaginal labour, most women can safely return to gentle exercise after a few days. This includes a short walk, stretching and pelvic floor exercises.
Pelvic Floor Exercises
Pelvic floor exercises can also be started early. The pelvic floor is a sling of muscles supporting your vaginal, womb, bladder and bowel.
Pregnancy and labour put pelvic floor muscles under huge strain and if you have an episiotomy or a tear during labour these will be further weakened. To avoid issues further down the line such as urinary incontinence or prolapse, you can safely start pelvic floor exercises within 1-2 days of your delivery. Try the NHS recommended app Squeezy to support your pelvic floor recovery. You need to do exercises at least 3 times a day, or perhaps try doing them with each feed. Pelvic floor trainers such as Elvie can also give you guided feedback on exercises.
Returning to Vigorous exercise
Wait until your 6 weeks check-up to get advice on returning to more vigorous exercise – this will depend on the type of birth you had and your pelvic floor strength. It’s normally best to wait until 12 weeks postpartum before running again and until you can hold a pelvic floor contraction for 8-10 seconds.
A pregnant woman produces a hormone called relaxin to soften ligaments in the pelvis and make them more stretchy. This hormone sticks around for several months after delivery which can increase your risk of injury if you over do it.
If you want to get back to swimming, you need to wait for at least 7 days after your postnatal bleeding has stopped.
Hormonal changes postpartum and during breastfeeding mean that it’s likely your cup size has changed. Make sure that you get measured again postpartum and are wearing a supportive sports bra that is right for your changing body.
During pregnancy, the growing uterus stretches the abdominal muscles and can separate the two bands of muscles running down the abdomen, called the rectus abdominus. This is known as diastasis recti and happens to about 60% of women.
After the baby is born, the muscles gradually knit back together by about 8 weeks. However, in some cases, a gap may remain leading to a weakened core strength. You can check for a separation yourself – lie on the floor, gently lift your head and shoulder off the group, and feel the space between the two muscles above and below your belly button. See how many fingers you can fit in. This gap should get smaller with time. If it remains after 8 weeks, your GP can refer you to physiotherapy as deep core and breathing exercises can help to improve it.
If you do have an abdominal muscle separation, avoid doing core exercises such as crunches or planking until it has recovered. Be careful when lifting your baby and roll onto your side first when getting out of bed.