What You Need to Know About Returning to Exercise
When becoming a Mum be it for the first or third time, is met with a roller coaster of emotional and physical changes. When it comes to returning to exercise following the birth of a baby there can be that pressure, be it real or perceived to ‘bounce back’ or rush back into exercise. From what you see your favourite Insta Mums or Trainers doing, vs. what your GP OR Physio recommends. How do you know what is right for you, especially when a lot of the information and workouts that are made available to us aren’t necessarily programmed by appropriately trained fitness professionals?
Once you’ve birthed and carried a baby your body may never be the same again, BUT that is not to say that you won’t ever be fit, strong, healthy and love your body again. Follow these guidelines to help you return to exercise in a way that is safe and effective for a new Mumma!Why exercise postpartum?
There is a huge range of benefits for exercise in the postnatal period including:
- Improved emotional and mental state
- Regaining and maintenance of fitness, strength & health
- Social interaction and emotional support
- Assist in your postnatal recovery
- Promote better sleep quality and positive food choices
- Reduce stress levels
- Assist postnatal weight loss
Some key things to remember as you begin your postpartum fitness journey are:
Do it for the mental and physical health benefits over aesthetics and weight loss – shift your thinking if you need to. Moving will do wonders for your mental health. When it comes to nutrition, eat to fuel your recovery and lactation vs calorie restriction (a big no-no for postnatal recovery). Most importantly, recognise and celebrate your postpartum PB’s! Whether it be your first two push-ups on your toes, performing a movement without pain, the first jog, or weight session regardless of the weight lifted or time taken.
Before returning to exercise it is important that you consider the following:
Date of delivery: how old is your babe? This will help determine your postpartum status.
Type of delivery: was it vaginal or C-section? If vaginal, was your baby over 4kgs, was it a long pushing stage, was there any tearing, episiotomy or an assisted delivery? If C-section, is there any scar pain, numbness, itchiness?
Breastfeeding status: are you breastfeeding, mixed or formula feeding? This can impact your quality and quantity of sleep if unable to share the load, hormones are still at play and can make you more susceptible to injury, if breastfeeding it can also affect your comfort levels during exercise. If breastfeeding is your goal, sleep, hydration and adequate nutrition are top priorities to support milk supply.
Have you had a check-up with a Women’s Health Physio?: Something I highly recommend for every Mum – regardless of how old your baby/babies maybe!
Pelvic floor: Do you have or have you noticed any air trapping, heaviness or bulging? Do you experience leakage when you laugh, cough or sneeze? These are all signs of pelvic floor dysfunction and it is best to see a Women’s Health Physiotherapist.
P.S. If you have a PT they should also be asking you these personal questions so that they can effectively program your sessions!
Why is it important to consider the above?
Did you know that 1 in 3 women leak urine, 1 in 10 women have bowel incontinence and ~50% of women experience pelvic organ prolapse? The stats aren’t in our favour. Pregnancy and childbirth place large loads on and can stretch and weaken the muscles and ligaments of the pelvic floor, so it must take high priority to prevent long-term damage.
So, when can I return to exercise?
That is the million-dollar question! There is no set milestone or timeframe when it comes to returning to exercise and one journey will vary greatly to another (another important reason to not compare your journey to anybody else’s!).
You can generally return to appropriate exercise shortly after delivery i.e. being pelvic floor exercises and gentle walking. It is now important to consider other factors such as quality and quantity of sleep (how are your energy levels) and nutrition. When you have the time you might not have the energy, and when you have the energy you may not have the time.
Know that a 6-week check with your GP / Doctor IS NOT an ‘all clear to return to pre-pregnancy exercise. This appointment generally focuses on mental health and family planning, not the nitty-gritty of your recovery. I absolutely recommend you book in to see your local Women’s Health Physiotherapist. They are the eyes on the inside and the experts in this area. Your Physio can perform a real-time ultrasound assessment to check the strength and activation of your pelvic floor in addition to an internal assessment which provides the best update of your pelvic floor strength and recovery. They will also check for abdominal separation and function and prescribe strengthening programs accordingly.
Type of training
Opt for short, simple workouts over long, strenuous ones. It is all about quality over quantity, especially in those early few months. Simple bodyweight movements can be added in from 4-6 weeks postpartum including modified push-ups and wall sits followed by lightweight movements. Focus on your breathing, control and activation of the pelvic floor and abdominals.
Walking is a great form of cardio in the early postnatal weeks, as is swimming once you have healed and any bleeding has stopped, as well as cycling if this is comfortable for you to do so. If cycling is mindful of bracing your core and bearing down on any ‘sprint’ or heavy tracks. Keep running, skipping and sports such as netball and basketball for at least 6 months postpartum depending on your recovery.
Most importantly, it is not a case of going hard or go home when returning to exercise as a Mum. Your exercise can be high intensity, but keep it low impact, and be mindful that you don’t want to smash yourself at the gym because you still need to have the energy to effectively ‘parent’.
It is best to avoid crunches, sit-ups and planks until you’ve regained strength through your abdominals. Rule out all high impact exercises such as running, jumping and skipping, instead substitute for a low impact alternative (loads of these in my Return to Exercise eBook!). Do not go chasing your pre-pregnancy weights and avoid heavy weighted movements and overhead exercises until you have regained some strength and control.
If you are unsure of where to start when it comes to returning to safe, effective, and enjoyable exercise you’re your hands on your very own copy of my Returning to Exercise and Nutrition for Post Natal Recovery ebook. HERE.
You’ve got this Mumma. Take time to heal and return to exercise safely, trying not to focus on weight loss or what any other mums are doing. It can be easy to fall into the trap of post-baby body pressure, but you, your mental health and your baby are your top priorities. Surround yourself with the right team and tools and you can’t go wrong!
Brooke Turner is an international presenter, published writer, educator, nutritionist and personal trainer with 11 years experience in the health and fitness industry. Brooke is the founder of Balance Fitness and Nutrition and her Exercise and Nutrition for Pregnancy and Postpartum eBooks. She specialises in helping others strive for a balanced approach to healthy active living, educating and empowering women to move safely and effectively during and post-pregnancy. Brooke is also a mother three, with her newest addition Brody arriving in April 2021!