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