Tackling your post-pregnancy body is often at the top of most women's postnatal to-do lists. However, your body may not agree with the type of exercise that you choose to perform. Your muscles, ligaments, and bone structure are all massively altered by pregnancy, making you increasingly more vulnerable to injury. Your body is affected by post-pregnancy hormones, which increase the laxity of your pelvic floor muscles, making it easier for them to overstretch and strain, possibly leading to the development of a pelvic floor disorder. These hormones also make your joints become hypermobile, increasing your risk of sprains and breaks.
To learn more about how pregnancy affects your pelvic floor, visit Pregnancy and the Pelvic Floor.
What Exercise Can You Do After Childbirth?
Generally, you should wait until your 6 week postnatal check up with your midwife before you embark on any exercise activities. If you had a caesarean delivery, you may also have to wait a few extra weeks for your body to recover before attempting to exercise - don't forget it was a surgical procedure after all.
To get you gradually back into exercise, start with low impact exercises such as:
- Kegels - Pelvic floor exercises are a must on your body's road to recovery. To learn more about how Kegels can help after childbirth, visit Pelvic Floor Recovery.
- Swimming - A great way to prioritise your pelvic floor is through swimming. The anti-gravity sensation will help to reduce pressure on your pelvic floor, aiding a speedy recovery.
- Walking - Taking a brisk walk is a great exercise for you to try following childbirth. You don't even need to hire a babysitter; pushing your pram also serves as a great exercise, ensuring that you keep your back straight.
- Yoga - As well as training your post-baby body, yoga is an excellent way of strengthening your abdominal walls and pelvic floor following childbirth. It's recommended that you can start practising yoga around 6 weeks after childbirth.
Can I Run After Giving Birth?
Even if you were an athlete before your pregnancy, you should try to avoid high impact exercises such as running immediately after childbirth. Your muscles, ligaments, and bones are likely to be weaker than before your pregnancy, so it's vital that you give them time to recover to avoid a lasting injury.
Running is classed as a high impact exercise, as when you land on your feet, you hit the ground with 2-3 times your body weight. This puts your pelvic floor muscles and joints under immense strain. Any exercise which includes having you land heavily on the ground causes pressure to be exerted. This often results in a pelvic floor disorder for new mums, such as prolapse or incontinence. That means buggy running clubs are a definite no-no!
How Can I Tell If Exercise Is Damaging My Pelvic Floor?
Looking out for signs of strain is important when you are engaging in postnatal exercise. If you begin to experience incontinence (bladder or bowel leaks), back pain, or a heavy feeling inside your vagina during or after exercise, then you should refrain from exercising immediately. These could be signs of a potential pelvic organ prolapse
Top Tips on Getting Back Into Exercise After Having a Baby
- Protect and support - Investing in a new sports bra will help to reduce the risk of stretch marks whilst supporting your upper body posture and reducing back pain. Get your bra properly fitted to avoid it from fitting too tightly, as this may cause 'mastitis', a condition that causes your breasts to become inflamed.
- Feed first - If you choose to breastfeed ensure you do this before exercising, as full breasts can make exercising uncomfortable.
- Fuel yourself - Ensure that you don't exercise on an empty stomach, you need feeding too!
- Test your toes - Get your feet measured before you try and squeeze back into your old shoes; they tend to increase in size during pregnancy. A pair of well-fitting trainers also results in greater ankle stability.
- Drink up - Ensure you drink plenty of fluids both before, and after exercising.
- Snooze away - If you're feeling tired or drained, have a rest. It's important that you don't strain your body.
- Red light - Stop immediately if you begin to feel any pain, or change up your exercise if you begin to feel uncomfortable.
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Munro, C.F., Miller, D.I., and Fuglevand, A.J. (1987). Ground reaction forces in running: a reexamination. Journal of Biomechanics. 20, pp. 147-156.
NHS. (2016) Keeping Fit and Healthy with a Baby [online] NHS [viewed 01/08/2018]. Available from https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/pregnancy-and-baby/keeping-fit-and-healthy/.
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Pelaez, M. et al. (2013). Pelvic Floor Muscle Training included in a pregnancy exercise programme is effective in the primary prevention of urinary incontinence: A randomized controlled trial. Neurology and Urodynamics. 33(1), pp. 67-71.
The Guild of Pregnancy and Postnatal Exercise Instructors (2018) Exercise Advice for New Mums [online] The Guild of Pregnancy and Postnatal Exercise Instructors 2018 [viewed 01/08/2018]. Available from http://postnatalexercise.co.uk/exercise-advice-for-new-mums/.