Exercise after birth: what you should do and why
Your body has been through a lot, growing and delivering your little bundle of joy. Now you’re thinking to yourself I want to focus on getting back to my old self. Well, I’m here to tell you a few important things about that journey.
As a qualified pre & post natal exercise trainer (Safe Return to Exercise® Accredited), and a mum myself, my best piece of advice is ‘please don’t rush back to exercise after birth!’. There will be time later on for you to do sit ups, push ups, running, jumping etc BUT trust me now is not the time!!! Your body needs to recover from pregnancy and childbirth, and you essentially need to rebuild from the inside out.
You might be thinking ‘Rebuild from the inside out…what does that mean?’
Well, simply put it means spending the time to strengthen your pelvic floor (PF) and your deep core muscles (referred to as transverse abdominis or (TA)).
However, before you can start rebuilding your PF and TA you need to properly heal and recover from your delivery. You will see your OB or GP at around 6 weeks postpartum for a check up and clearance. Unfortunately, for most mums this is where the support stops. We hear the words ‘all cleared’ and naturally we think ‘Okay, great. That must mean I can get back to my old exercise routine’. Unfortunately, it doesn’t mean that at all. Your PF and TA are your weakest links. Even though you might feel fine, chances are your body is not yet ready to return to your pre pregnancy exercise regime. So what should you do? Well, after seeing your OB or GP for your 6 week check up, you should book in to see a Women’s Health Physiotherapist (WHP). If you delivered with one of the obstetricians at Greenslopes Obstetrics & Gynaecology you will get booked in to see a WHP (Emma Yang or Sarah Christ) as part of your postpartum care.
What is a WHP you ask? Excellent question. A WHP is a physiotherapist with post-graduate training in pelvic floor rehabilitation. What does that mean, and why do we care? Basically it means WHP’s are the eyes on the inside for any pelvic floor related issues we may suffer from post pregnancy (such as prolapse, incontinence/leakage, pelvic girdle pain, etc). At your first appointment, your WHP will perform a pelvic floor and ab separation assessment and then help put together a plan to help you improve and strengthen your PF. They will also provide feedback to ensure you are performing kegels, or pelvic floor activation exercises, correctly. This feedback is incredibly vital, as many women are not activating these muscles correctly. For those of you who are not familiar with what pelvic floor activation exercises (aka kegels) are, essentially it involves contracting and relaxing the muscles that form part of the pelvic floor. The desired purpose of this exercise is to strengthen your PF.
So, now that you’ve seen a WHP, what’s next for exercise after birth?
Subject to the outcome of your OB/GP clearance and WHP assessment, generally you can begin exercise after birth at 6 weeks postpartum if you had a vaginal delivery, or 8 to 12 weeks postpartum if you delivered via a C-section (to allow time for your scar to heal).
The next step in your journey is to find a qualified pre & postnatal exercise trainer who works alongside a WHP and asks the right questions. What are the right questions? Well, as a starting point, you would expect your trainer to ask about the type of delivery you had, how long your labour was, what the weight of your baby at birth was, whether you have any pre or postnatal health concerns such as pelvic pain, ab separation, carpal tunnel, knee and wrist pain. If your fitness trainer isn’t asking these questions, and is focused on making you do sit ups and push ups instead – it’s most likely time to find a new trainer.
Check out next week’s blog on postnatal exercises you can do at www.BGFitness.com.au.