So you’ve had, or are about to have a baby – congratulations! The first few weeks post-partum are an exciting time to bond with your baby, focus on recovering and see your body start to make some exciting changes. Getting back to exercise is on your mind but you may have read or heard that you should avoid all exercise for at least 6-weeks after a vaginal birth and 8-weeks after a C-section.
This can be both confusing and frustrating. Many post-postpartum parents wonder what is considered safe exercise? Is there anything you CAN do within those first few weeks?
Lucky for you, there is lots you can do to start strengthening your muscles and getting your body moving. But first, let’s talk about some risks of getting back into vigorous exercise too quickly after birth.
How your Body Changes After Pregnancy
You may experience physical issues, such as back pain or a leaky bladder after birth and labour. The organs and ligaments in your pelvic floor may be weak after labour, especially if your baby was large or you pushed for a long time. Vigorous exercise may exacerbate these issues if they are not assessed and treated properly. Lifting weights too soon and without proper form may increase your risk of a pelvic organ prolapse and urinary leakage.
Moreover, you may continue to release the hormone Relaxin for about 6-months post-partum. Relaxin contributes to loosening of the ligaments around your joints. This may lead to serious injuries if your exercise routine involves a lot of impact and movement of the joints.
Diastasis recti or abdominal separation is a common side-effect of pregnancy and labour. It is important to avoid core exercises, such as planks and crunches, which may contribute to the separation and delay the healing.
So what CAN you do? Below is a list of 6 exercises you can do in your first 6-weeks post partum.
1- Breathing exercises: Believe it or not, your diaphragm is one of your most important core muscles! This means that before starting to strengthen your core and pelvic floor, it is crucial to activate and strengthen your diaphragm. This will, in turn, help you better activate those lower muscles. Diaphragmatic breathing for 5-minutes a day has been shown to improve cognition, lower stress and boost your energy – all important changes when caring for a baby!
2- Walking: Walking is both safe and effective for post-postpartum parents, as long as you don’t have pain or bleeding. Building up to a 30-minute walk/day can help your body ease back into more intense exercise, such as running, cycling or weight-lifting. Pushing the stroller can act as a light weight. Walking is also a great way to get out of the house and connect with other parents, which in turn can have a positive effect on your mental health.
3- Pelvic floor exercises: This is a good time to start to gently practice your kegels, but stop if there is any pain associate with them. If you saw a pelvic floor physiotherapist during pregnancy, continue to practice the exercises that were given to you then. Start on your back and progress to sitting and standing as you feel more comfortable.
4- Stretching: Keeping your muscles stretched and lengthened is going to help you when you eventually start exercising regularly. Muscle tightness can contribute to pain and injury. Try to start every morning with a quick 3-5 minute stretch of your whole body.
5- Swimming: Swimming is both gentle on the joints and allows light strengthening of the muscles. Make sure you have stopped bleeding before heading into the pool. Focus on gentle water aerobics or walking against the resistance and avoid swimming laps just yet.
6- Stay hydrated and rest up! I know, this is not really considered an “exercise”, but you can “exercise” your habits of drinking lots of fluids and taking it easy, especially if you’re breastfeeding. Remember, this is your time to naturally recover and appreciate all the gentle changes happening to your body. Be good to it and don’t rush into anything that feels uncomfortable.
At about the 5-6 week mark, consider visiting a pelvic floor physiotherapist. At your initial appointment, a pelvic physiotherapist can check your pelvic floor strength, the degree of your diastasis recti and help you develop a personalized program to get back into full exercise. If you’ve had a C-section, this is also a great time to learn massage techniques for quick recovery.
- DAVENPORT, M. H., GIROUX, I., SOPPER, M. M., & MOTTOLA, M. F. (2011). Postpartum Exercise Regardless of Intensity Improves Chronic Disease Risk Factors. Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise, 43(6), 951–958.
- Exercise During Pregnancy and the Postpartum Period*. Clinical Obstetrics and Gynecology, (2003). 46(2), 496–499.
- “Safe return to exercise after pregnancy” Pregnancy Birth and Baby, https://www.pregnancybirthbaby.org.au/safe-return-to-exercise-after-pregnancy
- Flashenberg, Debra. “Week 40: Postpartum Exercise.” Parents, https://www.parents.com/pregnancy/my-body/postpartum/postpartum-exercise/