Returning to Exercise After Childbirth – The Postpartum Guide to Fitness

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Easing into a fitness routine after childbirth may take some time. The good news is, our guide may prove useful in helping you have a safe return to regular exercising! 

You may already know that exercise is beneficial to your health during pregnancy, but it’s just as important to remain healthy after giving birth. Breaking a sweat on a regular basis increases your stamina, improves your sleep, relieves stress, and may even help you avoid postpartum depression (PPD).

If you had an uncomplicated pregnancy and vaginal delivery, it’s usually safe to begin exercising a few days after giving birth or as soon as you feel ready. Consult your doctor on when to begin an exercise regimen if you had a C-section, comprehensive vaginal reconstruction, or a difficult birth.

But not so fast, ultra-fit mamas – there are still some things to take note of before you jump back into your workout (or the gym)! You probably need to take some time off to heal effectively before you can safely return to your pre-pregnancy fitness levels.

During this stage, it’s important to remind yourself that you shouldn’t compare yourself to others and recognise that you’re on your own, individual postpartum journey. New mums heal and recover at varying rates, which are affected by a huge range of factors, including the type of birth, the size of your baby, and whether you’re breastfeeding or bottlefeeding.

So, until your doctor gives you the green light to start postpartum exercise, you can plan out your post-pregnancy workouts now with our essential tips.

Start slow

Every single parenting blog and healthcare center will tell you the same thing: take the scenic route. Take it slow! Gentle postnatal activity is recommended. Embrace working out at a lower intensity (it won’t last long). By doing so, you’ll be more likely to recover steadily and as a result, you’ll reduce your risk of injury or burnout.

For the first few weeks after birth, follow these step-by-step instructions on postpartum exercise.

Enjoy a leisurely walk: take a 5-minute walk around the neighbourhood and see how you feel. Pay attention to how your body responds to light activity and whether it affects how much you’re bleeding. As long there’s no pain, pulled muscles or heavy bleeding, you can up the ante slightly and gradually increase the duration of your daily walks!

Practise diaphragmatic breathing: Ever heard of “belly breathing” or “abdominal breathing”? Don’t worry, it’s not as difficult as it sounds. This breathing technique helps to restore your core and abdominal muscles – and it can be done during all sorts of everyday activities. Gently inhale, allowing your belly to expand as your lungs fill with air. As you exhale, feel your belly contract slightly back to its resting state.  

Incorporate kegel exercises: The pelvic floor muscles that are stretched during childbirth will need to heal and be strengthened with gentle contractions. This is especially important in your recovery if you had a perineal tear, episiotomy or instrumental (assisted) vaginal birth. To work on your pelvic floor muscles, concentrate on gently lifting the pelvic floor and then fully relaxing it. Breathing into your stomach between contractions will help you achieve complete relaxation.

Strengthen your core

At about six weeks, most women will have had a check-up with their midwife or obstetrician about how their body is healing. If there are no complications and your medical professional says everything is looking good, we can now switch up the routine a little and bring more exercises into the mix.

Continue to strengthen your core, but include some practical exercises, such as squats, support presses, and pulls, in your routine. Strengthening your pelvic floor should still be one of your top priorities, but for the time being, stay away from crunches, sit-ups, push-ups and planks.

Check for and repair diastasis: Diastasis recti—the separation of the abdominal muscles—is extremely common post-pregnancy, and it’s the reason why some of us may still have a baby belly even after childbirth. You can check for diastasis with your healthcare provider and draw your muscles back together with time. So, when restoring your core postpartum, do be mindful not to overdo it!

Start squatting: The squat is the queen of pelvic floor exercises. To make it easier on the knees, stand with your feet slightly wider than hip distance, and turn your toes out about 45 degrees. Put your hands to the floor while engaging your abs and bending your knees enough to hold your spine straight. Then bend your knees completely, lowering your butt to the floor. This will take you into a full, low squat. 

Slowly increase intensity: At 6-8 weeks, you can definitely go for hill climbs and walk for longer periods of time. By the time you reach 8-12 weeks, you may even be ready to add weights or start interval training! As always, listen to your body and continually monitor any side effects, e.g. aching joints, sore muscles, ligaments etc. Scale it back if you experience pain or bleeding!

If you’re breastfeeding…

It certainly goes without saying, but it’s best to breastfeed or pump your milk before working out. You don’t want to be engorged or uncomfortable while getting into your regimen! 

If you’re worried about your milk supply or the quality of your breast milk being affected by exercise, simply nurse or pump beforehand. It’s very unlikely that your baby will be affected by the changes in its content. 

When to worry

Postpartum complications can manifest as severe pain, fever, dizziness, fatigue, vision changes, chest tightness, shortness of breath, vomiting, heavy bleeding, and leg pain or swelling. Stop exercising and seek medical attention right away if you experience any of these symptoms.

The bottom line

Be sure to invest in a supportive sports bra (with front open clips and slide sling if you’re nursing) – your chest will thank you. And once you do ease into an exercise routine, remember to drink more fluids, especially breastfeeding mothers. 

If you decide to enroll in any workout classes, look for instructors who are certified and experienced. Don’t be shy to ask for adjustments based on your postpartum needs!

New parents are short on time, and carving out a space in your schedule for exercise can be challenging. However, take it one step at a time – you’ll get there, so don’t be too harsh on yourself. Take time to appreciate your beautiful body for what it has accomplished!

By: Coralina Liew
Written: 29 Mar 2021