Exercise after the birth marathon
21154 Dr Fysh - Dec 03, 2015
Chances are, exercise will drop to the bottom of your to-do list after the birth of your baby. Well, it would be pretty strange if it didn’t! Even if you have been able to exercise right up until the birth, you will need to take some time to let your body recover before returning to a suitable routine.
A lot will depend on your level of fitness and what kind of birth you had. If you are fit and the birth went smoothly, light exercise and stretching should be fine soon after the birth as long as you discuss it with your doctor or midwife.
You’ll need to take things slower if you didn’t exercise regularly before the birth, had an assisted birth or caesarean section or experienced any other complications in labour.
You can start exercising your pelvic floor and lower tummy muscles as soon as you feel ready though. Pelvic floor muscles help you to avoid stress incontinence after birth and it’s important to strengthen them before you do more strenuous exercises like sit ups.
You can build up your levels of activity slowly by taking your baby out for a walk in the buggy. Rest when you get tired and don’t overdo it. Remember, as long as you are gradually upping your activity levels there is no race to recover.
Reasons to wait
If you had back or pelvic pain when you were pregnant, talk to your doctor before you exercise.
If you had a caesarean, it will take a while to recover from your baby's birth. Give your body six weeks to recover and consider waiting until after your postnatal check before doing anything strenuous.
Occasional bladder weakness is common after giving birth which is why you should start strengthening your pelvic floor before returning to exercise.
You should avoid swimming until you have had your postnatal check and have had seven days without any postnatal bleeding or discharge. Your health visitor will be able to tell you when it is safe for you to start.
Reasons not to wait
When you're feeling tired and possibly overwhelmed caring for a new baby, exercise can seem both undesirable and logistically impossible. But activity can help you relax and help your body recover. A bit of exercise should help give you more energy over time.
You could join a postnatal exercise class, many of which allow you to have you baby with you in the room. Pushing your baby’s buggy is good exercise in itself and you can gradually speed up your pace as you feel able.
When your postnatal bleeding has stopped you can try swimming. It is a great way to exercise without placing too much strain on your body.
If you can’t get out, walk or run up and down the stairs or rent or buy an exercise DVD specifically designed people who have recently given birth.
Things to remember
Your lower back and core abdominal muscles will be weaker than they used to be.
Pregnancy hormones can also affect your joints for up to six months after childbirth. So be careful not to do too much high-impact activity too soon, if you are not used to this type of exercise.
Don't rely on your pre-pregnancy sports bra. Your back and cup size are likely to have changed, so get measured for a new one.
Don’t overdo it
If you find yourself feeling extremely tired after exercise you’re probably doing a bit too much. Slow things down a little. If your postnatal bleeding gets heavier or changes colour to become pink of red this is another sign that you are overdoing it.
Things take time to return to normal after the birth. It’s a (very gentle) marathon, not a sprint. Be patient with yourself and you’ll get there.
About Dr Fysh
Dr Fysh is one of the country’s leading consultant paediatricians, currently a consultant at The Portland Hospital for Women and Children, and a Fellow of the Royal College of Paediatrics & Child Health and the Royal College of Physicians. Having experienced first-hand the suffering caused by serious medical conditions to babies and young children and the emotional and financial strain that this can place on parents on a daily basis. He joined the board of directors as Chief Medical Officer and has been instrumental in the building of the NurtureFirst product.