21 Jan How to exercise right after pregnancy – moving safely postpartum
The topic of post-baby or postpartum exercise has been widespread in the media in recent times, largely sparked earlier in the year by social media postings of the Biggest Loser trainer Michelle Bridges and her post baby fitness regime.
What to do and when to start exercise following childbirth can be confusing for a new mum. However, it is an important topic to address as exercise postpartum can have a multitude of benefits for both physical and mental wellbeing including helping to prevent postnatal depression, relieve stress and increase energy.
Getting the right advice and following evidence based professional guidelines for postpartum exercise can help you to experience the multitude of benefits of exercise whilst staying safe. Your local Accredited Exercise Physiologist (AEP) will be your best resource for guidance and expertise regarding safe exercise if you have recently given birth, whether it be a natural birth or caesarean delivery. Your AEP may ask for a clearance from your obstetrician or doctor before recommending exercise, depending on the type of delivery and if there were any complications.
Here we tackle a few common topics regarding return to exercise for the new mum.
When is it safe to start exercising again?
This will be different for each new mum, dependent on the type of delivery she endured and any complications that may have arisen. For a healthy pregnancy followed by a normal vaginal delivery, The American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists indicates that it is safe to commence gentle exercise (for example a slow short walk) 2-3 days after giving birth, if feeling up to it. For anyone with complications throughout the pregnancy or delivery, or if undergone a caesarean delivery, speak to your obstetrician or health professional and get the all clear first.
How much exercise should I be aiming for?
It is important to be patient when returning to exercise postpartum, as too much too soon can do more harm than good. Try not to overdo an exercise program in the early days and resist the temptation to jump straight back into a pre-pregnancy regime. The American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists recommendation for postpartum exercise is to start with 20-30 minutes of gentle physical activity per day, remembering that this can be broken up into small 10 minute bouts.
What types of exercise are safe?
Shortly after a natural birth, your physiotherapist or midwife may prescribe a small range of pelvic floor and gentle abdominal exercises to start to re-activate and strengthen the core. Again it is important to acknowledge that every delivery is different and to be guided by a health professional with regards to the type of exercises that are safe for you.
The safest type of aerobic exercise to start with is walking, which has the added bonus of being an outdoor activity for the often housebound new mum, as well as being an activity that can be done with baby. Start with slow, short and gentle walks which can be progressed by increasing speed, duration and adding small hills as you feel that you can. It is generally not recommended to introduce jogging until at least 12 weeks and even at this stage, only after a clearance from a health professional. Introducing high impact activities (including jogging and aerobics) too early postpartum can overload already unstable joints and the pelvic floor, increasing the risk of sustaining an injury or a pelvic organ prolapse.
The new mum will often be subjected to a lot of incidental strengthening exercises in the early days postpartum; including lifting, carrying and bouncing the baby, which is a safe and gentle re-introduction to strength based exercises. Following a caesarean delivery, this is the limit to strength based exercises for the first 6 weeks. You can generally start to slowly increase your strength regime if cleared by your obstetrician after 6 weeks.
Is there anything else that I need to consider before starting exercise?
Yes, be prepared! Invest in a supportive bra; keep well hydrated (this is particularly important for the breastfeeding mum) and if breastfeeding, feed your baby or express prior to your exercise to avoid any discomfort in the breasts.
If you are struggling to find the drive and energy to get moving again, you are not alone. You could try joining a class, for example a mums and bubs Pilates or Yoga; or rally other new mums to form a regular walking group. The social interaction, support and motivation that can come from group exercise can be a great for your mental health.
Take home tips
- Always get a clearance from a health professional before recommencing exercise
- Start small and increase the exercise regime slowly, be patient and mindful of what your body has endured and avoid being impatient to return to your pre-pregnancy regime too quickly
- Break your exercise into small bouts throughout the day
- Avoid high impact exercise for at least the first 12 weeks
- Listen to your body
- Join a class
And, most importantly, sleep when the baby sleeps!
Check out Jadi’s other articles for more information on how to exercise safely while pregnant.