Post-pregnancy Exercise: Yay or Nay?
Are you a new mum, or are due soon and wondering how soon you can engage in post-pregnancy exercise? There are many benefits to exercising after giving birth. Besides helping you lose any extra weight that you have gained during pregnancy, exercising can help with:
- Strengthening your abdominal muscles
- Boosting your energy
- Preventing postpartum depression
- Promoting better sleep
- Relieving stress
But that doesn’t mean you should rush to put on your exercise gear and go full steam with exercising after delivery immediately. There are several risks in exercising too soon postpartum, such as improper healing leading to additional scarring. You need to give your body enough time to heal from pregnancy, and that can only be achieved with time.
When can I start exercising after giving birth?
Being pregnant changes your body in many ways and this doesn’t end immediately after giving birth. Give your postpartum body some time to adjust and recover before getting back into the thick of things. After giving birth, your body undergoes physical and hormonal changes. This could include back pain, a weaker pelvic floor, and even diastasis recti – a condition where your abdominal muscles separate.
Furthermore, how soon you can engage in postpartum exercise really depends on your fitness level before giving birth, as well as your mode of delivery and how easily it went. It is hence recommended that you consult your gynae on your condition in the weeks after your delivery before engaging in any new exercise activities.
Exercising after a vaginal birth
If you generally had a smooth and healthy pregnancy, and had a normal vaginal delivery, chances are you should be able to start exercising soon after birth. This could be as soon as a few days after birth, or whenever you feel physically ready.
If so, start off slow with a gentle walk and gradually increase your pace over time. However, again, it is best that you obtain your gynae’s clearance before embarking on any form of physical activity.
Exercising after a caesarean birth
A caesarean is considered a major surgery and mothers who went through caesarean birth will generally need at least 6 weeks to heal before they can start exercising. You might be able to start on simple pelvic floor exercises like kegels first but avoid more intense abdominal muscle activities like sit-ups and crunches or lifting heavy weights.
Consider starting with low impact exercises such as walking after 6 to 8 weeks and avoid any high impact exercises until around 3 to 4 months postpartum.
Listen to your body and take things slow. At any point, stop if you feel discomfort and whenever you’re unsure, consult your gynae before engaging in exercise.
Do postpartum exercises at your own pace
Everybody’s motherhood journey is different, and it bears repeating to take things at your own pace. If you are rushing your recovery or diving headlong into exercise, you may end up doing more harm than good.
Here are some things to look out for as you start your postpartum exercises.
Monitor if you’re still experiencing post-delivery bleeding:
If your bleeding becomes heavier, or restarts after it has stopped, this could be a sign that your body needs more time to heal. Take the time to rest because continued bleeding can lead to a drop in blood pressure and postpartum haemorrhage can be potentially life threatening.
Go easy on your joints:
Your body produces a hormone called Relaxin that helps to loosen your ligaments and joints during childbirth, but this can stay in your body for up to 6 months postpartum. Be mindful of your wobbly joints and avoid jerky movements when you first start your postpartum exercises, or you could just end up spraining something!
Get the all-clear for diastasis recti before engaging in ab exercises:
Check if you have diastasis recti with your gynae and obtain their clearance before engaging in abdominal exercises, or you could risk worsening your condition. Not only does this hamper your rehabilitation process, but you might also suffer long-term effects like a weak core, lower back pain and even pelvic floor dysfunction.
Drink plenty of fluids pre and post exercise to ensure you are well-hydrated, especially if you are breastfeeding. After all, your body already requires a higher amount of fluids when you’re breastfeeding, and when this is made worse by not drinking enough after exercise, this can impact your milk supply and lead to other side effects like headaches, fatigue, muscle cramps or nausea — things that an already exhausted mum can do without.
Types of post-pregnancy exercises
Once you’re ready to start your postpartum exercises, you can engage in light to moderate aerobic activity or muscle-strengthening exercises. Here are some ideas to help you get started.
Pelvic floor exercises
Most women suffer from a loose pelvic floor after pregnancy and it’s important that you strengthen this muscle to prevent issues like a leaky bladder. Some exercises you can do include kegels, glute bridges and kneeling pelvic tilts.
Walking is a great way to get your fitness back at your own pace. Start slow with a leisurely walk before increasing your pace, distance of the walks or increasing the intensity by walking. At the very least, a change in scenery will serve as a mood-booster after a tiring day.
Swimming is a cardiovascular exercise that is easy on the joints and pelvic floor while helping to strengthen your core and back muscles. It’s a great alternative if you are still healing and need to avoid high impact cardiovascular exercises. But make sure you’re no longer bleeding before you start swimming!
Gentle ab exercises
Again, check with your gynae if you have diastasis recti before engaging in abdominal exercises. Start slow and gentle with exercises like deep belly breathing and abdominal bracing before progressing to head lifts, shoulder lifts and curl-ups. Be careful not to overdo it or you could end up delaying your recovery.
Yoga or pilates
Gentle postpartum yoga or pilates can help you strengthen your joints and pelvic floor. It can also help you stretch out the aches that come with breastfeeding and baby holding. Some examples include the Cat-Cow and Happy Baby yoga poses, which are great for stretching out the back and hips.
Other low impact and lightweight exercises
Ready to do more? Don’t neglect upper body exercises like bicep curls, lateral raises or shoulder presses that help you gain arm strength. As a bonus, you can do such exercises while sitting down. Other exercises such as squats, lunges or cycling can also help you regain your fitness at your own pace.
Take care of yourself post-pregnancy
Before you start on your postpartum exercises, know that recovery won’t happen overnight. Take all the time you need and listen to your body as you work on getting it back into shape. Working yourself too hard before you are ready will only lead to increased risk of injury. Patience is, after all, an essential trait in motherhood, and what better way to develop it than giving your body the time it needs.
And if you want to be more safe than sorry, consider protecting yourself from injury with PA Secure, a personal accident plan from Income that covers your medical expenses if you get into an accident and injure yourself. This way, you’ll be covered even if things don’t go according to plan.
This article is meant purely for informational purposes and should not be relied upon as financial advice. The precise terms, conditions and exclusions of any Income products mentioned are specified in their respective policy contracts. For customised advice to suit your specific needs, consult an Income insurance advisor.