It’s comforting to know you can return to “exercise” soon after giving birth if you’re matching your exercise style to your stage of recovery.
Post-natal exercise has a magnitude of benefits which we’ve described in other articles such as the positive effects it has on mental health, speeding up recovery, protecting from injury, weight loss etc.
Slow and considered progression is key to care for your recovering body. Instead of describing “how long after birth”, let’s talk about various milestones and what exercise progression might look like.
Level 1: The Pelvic Floor
Baby is out. After the swelling starts to go down and you’re feeling slightly rested, beginning pelvic floor exercises is the first exercise back. And YES, it’s important to start ASAP post-birth. Whether you had a caesarean or vaginal birth, your pelvic floor has worked hard carrying baby for 9 months. Lying down as much as possible to avoid placing load on this muscle group and practising connecting with your post birth pelvic floor is important. Exercises like the below can start you off:
Squeeze and Release
- Lay on your side to avoid the influence of gravity and will assist with healing.
- Exhale and contract your pelvic floor like you’re stopping wee and wind (compared to pre birth it may not move very much at all in the first few weeks, and that is a-ok!)
- Start with 2-second holds and each week increase by 1 second aiming for 10-second holds.
- Inhale and release, allowing the pelvic floor to relax.
- Repeat 8-10 times, 3 times a day.
Seeing a Women’s Health Physio is recommended by 6-10 weeks post-birth. At this level we are trying to minimise damage, prevent prolapse and give the body time to recover.
Level 2: Gentle walking
Walking is your starter cardio activity. This can be commenced when you’re still in hospital. Take it easy. If you feel dizzy at all, sit back down. When you get out of bed or stand up, remember to roll to the side, as your abdominals will still be weak and we don’t want to place strain on your abdominal separation. Ensure to activate Pelvic Floor and TA (transverse abdominals) on all movements.
- Start with a lap around your hospital room.
- Progress to a lap around the hospital floor/your house/to the end of the driveway.
- Round the block.
- Round the block with the pram 15-30min once or twice a day in the first 6 weeks.
Level 3: Abdominal Bracing aka TA Activation
Your abdominals will likely have separated during pregnancy. Gentle abdominal bracing exercises as outlined below can begin in the early weeks after birth to help heal your abdominal separation.
- Choose a position – sitting, standing, lying or on all fours.
- Gently pull your lower tummy in towards your spine (like putting on tight jeans).
- Hold for 5-10 seconds.
- Repeat 8-10 times.
Level 4: The 6-week review and Stretching
At 6-8 weeks postpartum, you’ll meet up with your obstetrician/GP. In this catch up they’ll often give you the all-clear to exercise. This isn’t a free pass. It’s a generic, “you’re no longer torn up inside”. You haven’t been exercising at normal level for almost a year unless you exercised in your pregnancy (like Fit For 2) which means as an athlete you’re reasonably deconditioned. Talk with a MumSafe™ trainer and begin your return to more gentle strength training and cardiovascular activity.
Level 5: Return to strength training – with a focus on your core
“Finally!” I hear you say, “exercise that is starting to look like exercise”. Focusing on body weight to start, working to the weakest link and progressing and regressing as needed, this is the point where your MumSafe™ trainer and specialist group classes like Fit For 2 can help. Yes, we also have our mumma program too!
If you’re going back to weights, you can start with loads that are around the weight of your baby. Your baby can also participate as a weight – holding them close and tight. You’ll need to focus on activating your pelvic floor and TA while you exercise. But if your pelvic floor is vulnerable or you have abdominal separation over 3 fingers, please don’t include your baby in your exercise program until we have YOU sorted out.
You are likely very sleep-deprived and still recovering, which means listening to your body as each day’s capability may be different. And this is 100% OK!
Level 6: More intensity aerobic – still low impact if possible
Your heart rate may feel ready for more of a challenge. Cycling, swimming (assuming you’ve stopped bleeding and have the all-clear from your doctor), yoga and pilates can all begin to come back. Pay attention and train to your weakest link and advise every trainer you are post-partum. Be particularly aware that post-partum is a specialist population group and not all group fitness classes and instructors are trained for it, so you may need to be your own advocate. Please don’t attend a bootcamp or anything high intensity in the first 12 months post-birth.
Level 7 and beyond
Welcome to the first level of “post-baby” normal. Your body may function slightly differently to pre-baby but with the right professional advice you can start training for larger goals.
Remember, once post-natal, always post-natal. Your body experienced a change and is different. Some exercises will be easier, and there may be some that are no longer suitable.
Hopefully you can see that “exercise” comes in many forms and a gradual exercise program can improve your function and fitness. Try not to put timetables on things: “in 2 months I want this or 6 months that”, but instead focus on progress and how you’re improving and recovering week to week.
Important end note: Every pregnancy and hence every recovery is completely unique. As such, your return to exercise will depend on your individual circumstances. Consult your health professional and be specific about what style of exercise you’re interested in starting. Always ensure you are training with a qualified MumSafe™ Trainer like Fit For 2.
Unsure of where to start?
Reach out to Anita at Fit For 2 for a FREE 15min consultation to discuss your needs and goals.
Anita Guerra is a Registered Midwife and Certified Fitness Trainer. She runs Fit For 2 in South Morang, Victoria. To find out more about her and get in touch, click here.
You can also find her on Instagram.