Exercise can help you recover from giving childbirth for so many reasons. Exercise is good for you! By pumping blood circulation for better healing, reducing mom’s aches and pain, and ultimately it is a stress reliever…But, when is it safe to get back to your exercise or sport routine?
No pregnancy, or birth experience, is the same so the answer is different for everyone. One thing is true for most women: if you had an easy, uncomplicated delivery experience, or if you had a Caesarean birth, returning to high-impact exercise too early after childbirth can hurt your body.
Have you ever seen a boat lift?
Imagine your pelvic floor is the water in a canal, and your pelvic organs are the boat floating in the water. The boat is attached by ropes and secured to the sides of the canal. In this case, the ropes holding up your boat are your supportive ligaments. When your water levels is high, meaning your pelvic floor is working well to support you, the boat floats on the water and your pelvic floor muscles, are normal, there is no tension on the ropes, or your supportive ligaments.
However, after nine months of pregnancy and a physically demanding delivery to your baby, the pelvic floor is not able to work as well. The water level is low and the ropes supporting the boat are under tension! If your pelvic floor muscle strength is not recovered, this creates a huge load for the ropes. Low water levels and tense ropes can increase the risk of pelvic organ prolapse, which happens when the organs start descending.
So, imagine again, if you start high impact exercises such as jumping or running when your boat is already under pressure. There are so many benefits to leading an active lifestyle, but exercising too soon after giving birth can further weaken your pelvic floor muscles and your ligaments.
Your pelvic organs are not the only ones at risk when your water is too low and your ropes are tense. After the birth of your sweet baby, it takes an average of six to eight weeks before your core muscles can properly support your lower back. Doing exercises that are too demanding for your current physical health level can put you at risk of lower back and hip pain and injury due to the lack of back and pelvic support.
Even if you feel fine on the outside, it is very important for you to get checked by a pelvic physiotherapist who has a holistic approach to your pelvic floor and core muscles for clearance and advice on how to properly return to exercise after giving birth.
Tip: core-engaging movements like planks, sit-ups, mountain climbers, and hovers are not recommended as the first go-to exercises to strengthen your abdominal muscles for new moms! If you are unable to engage your deep abdominal layer (the transversus abdominis), doing these exercises can put pressure on your lower abdominal wall and on your recovering pelvic floor.
No matter how fit you were before pregnancy, or, how ‘alright’ you feel in the weeks after giving birth, consider checking in with a women’s health physiotherapist.
Knowing your pelvic health baseline and how to engage your pelvic floor and core muscles properly is a great start to ensuring that you are:
- Properly recovering from childbirth
- Prepared for high-impact sports/activities when the time is right
- Reducing your risk of pelvic organ prolapse
- Reducing your risk of incontinence (bladder or bowel leakage)
- Preparing your body for the next pregnancy and birth
Instead of jumping right into high-impact activities and sports, try to modify the exercise to ease yourself while getting stronger.
For example, instead of a postpartum run, try water running or a gentle aqua-aerobics class.
Tip: Avoid holding your breath to protect your pelvic floor!
If you are pregnant and not sure if your current exercise routine is right for you, or if you should slow down, take a moment to assess your pelvic floor fitness levels.
- Vaginal heaviness
- Urine leakage
- Lower back pain during, or even after you exercise
Consider slowing down or modifying your exercise routine, or reducing the intensity level.
As we mentioned earlier, every woman and their child is totally unique! Which means your pregnancy, birth experience, and postpartum experience is completely your own. Keep this in mind for these general guidelines when returning to postnatal exercise:
0-3 Weeks Postpartum
Gentle walks (avoid putting baby in a front carrier while you are walking! It is better to have baby in the stroller for you to avoid stress on your body)
Postpartum abdominal muscle exercises (talk with your pelvic floor physiotherapist for exercises that are customized to your body’s needs!)
Pelvic floor exercises that were given to you before birth by your pelvic physiotherapist.
3-8 Weeks Postnatal
At six weeks, check in with your pelvic physiotherapist to see where your pelvic floor is at and get advice on which exercises are best for your recovery. You should also receive an exercise program to help strengthen your core and hip muscles. Recommended activities during this period are:
- Low intensity water aerobics (after your bleeding has stopped, generally seven weeks)
- Postpartum yoga class
8-12 Weeks Postnatal
Gradually increase the intensity of your exercises and slowly add weights to your routine. Continue working with your pelvic physiotherapist to progress through your pelvic floor and abdominal muscles exercises.
12-16 Weeks Postnatal
Here is where we would strongly recommend coming in for a visit at InvigoPhysio. If you haven’t already, speak with a pelvic physiotherapist for a postpartum pelvic floor and abdominal muscle check in before returning to your favourite high-impact sport or exercise programs.
After 16 Weeks Postnatal
If you are not feeling back pain, urinary incontinence (leaking!) or heaviness in your vaginal area, before, during, or after exercise, you can start up your usual gym or sport routines. If you are feeling any of these symptoms, please consider speaking with your health care professional or local pelvic floor physiotherapist.
Whether you are recovering from childbirth, or currently pregnant, talk with your pelvic floor physiotherapist about the best options for your unique body and health experiences.
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