Updated: Sep 9
I’m often asked this question by mums-to-be and new mums (moms). I love hearing that mums are keen to continue exercising and moving after birth. Movement is so beneficial not only for your body but also your mind.
Just taking a moment and giving yourself space to move is amazing for your overall health and will ultimately make you more present for your new arrival.
The answer to the question is, of course and frustratingly, it depends. You should always seek advice from a medical professional before returning to exercise after birth. This could be at the 6 week check-up with your gp, midwife or ob/gyn.
Recovery can differ depending on several factors including your health and fitness levels before and during pregnancy as well as the type of delivery (e.g. vaginal, vaginal with intervention, C-section) and any tearing or complications.
Once you have clearance from a medical professional, you are ready to get back to exercising. However, mums can sometimes be frustrated that they can’t just dive back into their old workout routines (e.g. running, swimming, weight lifting, etc.).
Gradually building up strength with Pilates, yoga and / or gentle walking is key. In fact, you can start adding back in short walks (adding a few minutes every few days), gentle stretching, pelvic floor and breathing exercises before 6 weeks if you’re feeling up to it. Just wait for clearance before your dive into an exercise regime.
Why we gradually add back in exercise after birth
Your body has miraculously created, grown and birthed a baby! This shouldn’t be taken lightly as certain areas of your body might take time to rebuild.
The rectus abdominis (your 6-pack) naturally stretches and separates to make room for baby as they grow. These muscles need to be drawn back together safely to support a strong core otherwise there’s a risk of back and / or pelvic pain, incontinence and, sometimes, a hernia. You might hear about diastasis recti postpartum (rectus abdominal separation), which shouldn’t be ignored. I cover ‘the rec check’ and other signs to watch out for during my course and another blog post.
The pelvic floor has also been put under increased load during pregnancy and also with a vaginal birth during labour. It’s important to rebuild strength in this area to not only prevent a prolapse and incontinence but also to provide core strength for everyday tasks.
If you’re breastfeeding, you’ll still have the hormone, relaxin, in your system which causes looseness in the joints and makes them prone to injury just as in pregnancy.
If we build up your muscles gradually, you’ll be setting yourself up with a really strong base, ready to tackle whatever workout routine you love! Think about it like a couch to 5k. You wouldn’t just head out straight to running 5k after not running for ages, you’d want to build up gradually. Don’t lose hope, your body is resilient and will bounce back!
Exercises that can be added in straight after birth
Pelvic floor exercises e.g. pillow squeeze, win zip, pick up a penny, elevator, emergency stop - all covered (and more!) in my course
Breathwork e.g. longer exhales, heart rhythm breathing, pranayama breathing - all covered (and more!) in my course
Gentle walking starting with 5 minutes and gradually increasing a few minutes every few days depending on how you’re feeling. Stop and seek medical advice if you are having sharp pains
Exercises that can be added in after cleared by a medical professional
Work abdominals ‘long’ with your head and neck down (e.g. leg slides, knee folds) and on all fours. Avoid crunches (curl-ups) and loaded flexion (e.g. roll-ups, single-leg-stretch, double-leg-stretch, roll backs) to encourage abdominals to draw safely back together
Arm, shoulder and upper back strength as your newborn gets bigger and stronger each day, building up your upper back heavy and they get bigger and stronger each day, so building up around your upper body will help keep aches and pains at bay
Upper body extension and stretching should feel good especially as you’ll be spending time in awkward, flexed positions feeding and holding baby
Squatting down to pick up baby off the floor is going to become more and more frequent so learning a good technique for squatting and lunging will set you up for success
I guide you through all of these exercises (and more!), gradually increasing the intensity each week in my 6 week online postnatal course. The course can be done flexibly around yours and baby’s schedule as I’ve broken down each week into 5 segments (breathwork, pelvic floor, upper body, core and lower body) that are no more than 5-15 minutes each. To learn more about the course follow this link or email firstname.lastname@example.org for any questions.