Getting active again after giving birth
At this stage in your pregnancy you might be wondering how childbirth will affect your body and what this will mean for your established exercise routine.
Just how quickly you will be able to get back into exercise will depend on a number of factors, but you must wait until your six-week postnatal check before starting regular exercise again. Until this time, you’ll need to take things gently.
Common exercise concerns after giving birth
Torn perineum and episiotomy – A torn perineum or an episiotomy wound will take time to heal – the stitches usually heal after one month, but your doctor or midwife will need to check it has healed properly and they may advise you not to undertake certain activities.
Incontinence – According to NCT, almost half of new mums experience urinary incontinence. Exercise is likely to cause you to leak urine, but pelvic floor exercises can help (see below).
Vulnerable joints – Relaxin, the hormone that loosens your joints and ligaments in pregnancy, can stay in your body for up to five months after giving birth. This means that you’re still at increased risk of injury after the birth. High-intensity workouts and running should not be attempted within the first five months of the postnatal period.
Lochia – All women experience vaginal bleeding after giving birth. This is known as lochia. The flow of the bleeding could be heavy with a bright red colour, but it should gradually become lighter, eventually turning to yellow/white. If your lochia suddenly becomes much redder or heavier, then this could be a sign you’re pushing yourself too hard.
Don’t restart exercise classes or go swimming again until you’re sure your bleeding has stopped (which should be at around six weeks).
If you’ve had a C-section
A caesarean, or C-section, is a major surgical procedure, and, just like any other form of major surgery, you will need a full recovery period. The Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists says that mothers are likely to take longer to recover from a caesarean birth than from a straightforward vaginal birth.
It’s important to remember that there is no set time for a recovery period. You’ll have your own set of unique circumstances affecting how long it will be before you can safely get back into your usual routine. As always, your doctor and midwife are the best people to guide you.
Avoid strenuous exercise in the first six weeks (perhaps a little longer, depending on your doctor’s advice) after a C-section. After that, you can start building up a low-impact routine.
If you’re planning to return to an exercise class you regularly attended during pregnancy, you should tell your instructor that you’ve had a caesarean. Only take up the class again after your six-week check-up and if you feel confident you’ll be able to take part comfortably. If you’re finding walking or pelvic floor exercises difficult, then you’ll need to give it more time.
Safe exercises for the first six weeks
Whether you’ve had a vaginal birth or a caesarean, you should not attempt any strenuous exercise in the first few weeks. However, you can start pelvic floor exercises as soon as you feel able to.
Pelvic floor exercises should not take too much effort, so don’t risk ripping your stitches. They will help the muscles around the vagina and anus heal quicker if you’ve had an episiotomy, and are crucial in helping prevent urinary incontinence.
From pelvic floor exercises, you can then move on to some light tummy exercises to gently strengthen your lower abdominal muscles and back.
Lie on your back with your knees bent and breathe in. As you exhale, tighten your pelvic floor muscles and pull your belly button in and up. Hold for 10 seconds while continuing to breathe normally and then relax. Do 10 repetitions of this exercise two or three times a day.
If you’ve had a C-section, this exercise should not cause you pain, but if you find it hurts your scar, then you should check with your doctor.
Walking is a great form of low impact exercise as it can easily be incorporated into your daily routine – simply taking your new baby out for a stroll in the pram is a good way of staying active.
After the first six weeks and when your doctor is happy, you can begin increasing your activity levels. The main message is to build up your level of activity slowly and do things at a comfortable pace. Doing too much too soon will only risk injury and extend your recovery period.
When shifting back into your old routine, don’t forget the core safety advice that came with all your antenatal exercise – make sure you stay sufficiently hydrated (especially important if you’re breastfeeding) don’t push yourself too far if you’re feeling tired or uncomfortable (pain is an indicator you should stop), and make sure you’re wearing comfortable clothing.
Of course, you’ll have your hands full with your newborn, but it’s important not to neglect your fitness.
Regular exercise in this period can aid recovery, help you lose weight, and help relieve postnatal depression.