When can I begin postnatal exercise? This is one of the most frequently asked questions women ask after having a baby. According to the guidelines of ACOG, women who had a normal delivery can start exercising as soon as they feel fit.
This guidance is a bit misunderstood by some and some think they can go straight back to the weight room and start doing everything they were doing pre-pregnancy. Many women want to get right back into their workout routine after giving birth in order to start to feel like themselves again and to get back to their pre-pregnancy fitness levels but some women fail to acknowledge the amount of changes their body went through when they were pregnant.
It is important that women take into account the physical changes their bodies go through during pregnancy when participating in postnatal exercise programs. It is important that women ease back into their workout routines and don’t go from not participating in exercise one day and the next day running a marathon. The same philosophy goes for weight lifting. Women should not begin a postnatal lifting program with the same amount of weight that they were lifting pre-pregnancy in order to prevent injuries. It is important to remember that during pregnancy and childbirth the body goes through a lot of changes and it is better to start off with low weight and high reps instead of starting with heavy weights. The postpartum recovery period can take between 6 to 8 weeks depending upon if you had a normal delivery or a cesarean section. During the postpartum period, the body is in a healing phase and during this phase the body is recovering from split abdominal muscles (diastasis recti), weakening of the pelvic floor muscles, and many other physiological changes that the body undergoes during pregnancy.
During pregnancy and during childbirth the muscles of the pelvic floor become lax and weak which can lead to abdominal muscle weakness, and when combined with a diastasis recti puts women at greater risk for low back injuries during postnatal exercise. It is important to begin exercises at a low intensity and low weights and gradually increase as tolerated. As mentioned before, the body goes through changes and women need to respect those changes and remember that they aren’t just recovering from childbirth but from the changes that the body undergoes during the entire pregnancy and postpartum period.
Postnatal exercises may include low level abdominal strengthening and core stabilization activities including a transversus abdominis contraction and pelvic floor contractions or Kegel exercises. Starting with basic abdominal contractions and pelvic floor contractions will help to improve stability and provide a foundation for returning to previous workout regimens. In regards to when it is appropriate to return to full exercise programs, it is really different for every women but a general rule to follow is to gradually return to your previous training regimens. It may be helpful for women to following training regimens that are specifically designed for the postpartum period such as the Mother-strong-league in order to return to exercise safely and participate in programs that are specifically designed for this recovery phase. It is important to participate in self-care activities including exercise following childbirth but make sure to allow your body to heal properly and prevent injury by gradually progressing back to your pre-pregnancy workouts.