Safe Post Natal Exercise Guidelines

Written by Elly McGuinness

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With more emphasis often being placed on safe exercise during pregnancy, guidelines for postpartum exercise can sometimes appear unclear, or conflicting. Like any type of exercise program, the reality is that the best approach is one that’s right for the individual when it comes to postnatal exercise.

With a postpartum exercise plan, it’s important to consider several factors. These include:

  • Any pregnancy or delivery complications, and the type of delivery
  • The mother’s exercise history and activity levels throughout pregnancy
  • Current and previous health and injury status
  • Postpartum recovery, both physically and mentally
  • Factors such as family and work situation, and support from family and friends

General post natal exercise guidelines

Postpartum exercise guidelines vary somewhat, depending on the governing body. For example, UK guidelines state that a mild exercise program may begin immediately following an uncomplicated pregnancy and delivery. Those who have had a cesarean are recommended to consult with their healthcare professional before resuming physical activity. Sometimes, women are advised to wait until six weeks after birth before resuming exercise.

The six-week mark shouldn’t be seen as some sort of set marker for postpartum mothers to begin exercise. Some women may be ready to exercise soon after giving birth, and others may not be ready for a lot longer.

The interpretation of what is considered as “getting back into exercise” can also be vague. Vigorous versus non-vigorous activity can be very subjective, and personal to the individual. Some women may consider starting their pelvic floor exercises and gentle walking as an exercise plan. Others may only say they’re exercising again when they’re ready to do other activities.

It’s important to remember that an exercise program can come in many shapes and forms. The decision to start exercising again, and the details around what that entails, should be unique to each mother, and in line with recommendations from her postnatal care team. Although it’s often not mentioned, a pelvic floor examination from a women’s health physio can offer useful insights for approaching your postpartum exercise plan.

Postpartum exercise safety and precautions

It’s important to realize that a woman’s body goes through significant changes throughout pregnancy. It takes nine or so months to grow a small human, so it’s worth considering that things can take a while to heal as well. Although a new mum might be eager to “get her body back” and regain her fitness quickly, it’s best to take things slowly and carefully to avoid extra problems down the track.

Again, a personalized and holistic approach should be the primary strategy. As well, some important safety aspects should be considered as follows:

Increase exercise duration and intensity very slowly over time

Whether you’ve had a cesarean or vaginal delivery, you will have vaginal bleeding after the birth (from where the placenta was attached to the uterus). This usually lasts for somewhere between two weeks and six weeks. If it becomes heavier after doing physical activity (which could even include housework), it’s often an indication to ease back. You might be doing too much. Contact your primary postnatal caregiver if you have any concerns.

Listen to your body

Recognize that energy levels can fluctuate, and the body can feel better on some days as compared to others. Adjust exercise mode and intensity accordingly. If something hurts or doesn’t feel right, ease back and try something gentler.

Proceed cautiously with certain exercises

  • High intensity and/or high impact exercise should only be considered if and when your body is ready, and when you’ve been through an appropriate time period and progressions. For example, start with a regular program of gentle bodyweight exercises before adding load
  • If you have diastasis recti (abdominal separation), avoid exercises that could make it worse (e.g. crunches). Instead, focus on deep abdominal work such as TVA contractions to heal the deep abdominal muscles
  • Be careful of exercises that can strain or overload the pelvic area. These include any exercises that may cause you to “bear down” on your pelvic floor muscles. Examples may include weight lifting or high-impact activities.
  • Err with caution when it comes to stretching and lifting. The hormone relaxin is still being produced after giving birth, and it will remain present if you are breastfeeding. Therefore, ligament and joint stability can be lessened during this period

Post natal exercise. Guidelines and considerations for exercising after birth-mother walking in town with baby in front pack

Postpartum exercises and activity types

The main types of exercise that can be considered for a postpartum workout plan are outlined below.

Pelvic floor exercises

Also known as kegel exercises, pelvic floor exercises should be considered as one of the most important exercise components of the postpartum period. Learn to lift and gently contract your pelvic floor muscles, rather than “bearing down” and straining them further. Pelvic floor exercises can be done anywhere and can be continued alongside your regular exercise program. Ask a qualified postnatal trainer for details about pelvic floor protocol and progressions.

Moderate intensity cardiovascular exercise

Walking is one of the best forms of aerobic exercise for new mums. You can wear your baby or push your baby in a stroller. This can often double as a soothing way to calm your baby to sleep! Other gentle cardiovascular activities can be considered when sufficient healing has taken place.

Basic strengthening

When you are ready to start basic strengthening exercises, start with the deep core muscles. These muscles are important for posture and stability and are likely to have become weakened throughout pregnancy. Start with exercises such as the bird-dog, clams, glute bridge, and TVA contractions, before moving on to bigger muscle groups. When you are ready, try other basic bodyweight exercises such as squats and donkey kicks on your hands and knees.

Basic stretching

Stretch major muscle groups to help ease aches and pains and counter some of the fixed positions you can sometimes find yourself in when feeding a baby for long periods! Stretching can also be very relaxing and calming for the nervous system. Just be careful not to overstretch, especially if you are breastfeeding.

Postnatal exercise guidelines | In summary

Every woman’s pregnancy, birthing experience, and personal factors are unique. Your postpartum exercise plan should also be considered the same way. When it’s done well, there are many benefits to postpartum exercise, both physical and mental.

However, that doesn’t always mean that the practicalities are easy. As the mum of a newborn you may feel tired often, or feel like you simply don’t have time with your new responsibilities. Lack of social support may also be an issue.

If you need help devising a postpartum exercise plan that will work for your unique circumstances, contact the At Home Fitness team for personalized advice.

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