After you have had your baby, it is normal to wonder what exercise is appropriate and when. Some women are very keen to get straight back into exercise and tackle the mummy tummy. However, what and when you choose to start exercising is crucial so that you don’t injure yourself or prevent your stomach muscles from healing.
Irrespective of how you deliver we give the same advice. We look at exercise prescription as you would any recovery from an ‘injury’. It’s important to allow the physiological changes that have occurred during pregnancy to repair itself, as well as the hormonal changes to balance out before attempting high level exercise. If you have had a caesarean or tearing during delivery, it’s important that you do not start exercising prematurely as this can delay your recovery.
Immediately after giving birth it is safe to perform gentle core exercises and walking within a comfortable range. Core exercises are those that target your pelvic floor muscles and the deep abdominal muscles that stabilise your spine and pelvis. Use this guide for how to do your pelvic floor exercises.
Deep abdominal muscle exercises can easily be done by gently drawing your belly button in towards your spine and holding for a few seconds. This exercise can also be performed while sitting, lying on your back or side or standing up. If you want to feel if you are doing it correctly, place your hand over your belly button and lower abdomen and feel the muscles draw away from your hand. If you have a fit ball, you could sit on it with your feet firmly on the ground and gently rock your pelvis, back and forth, side to side, and draw circles or figure 8s with your bottom on the ball. When comfortable with sitting on the ball, you may even like to incorporate these exercises while settling, as the gentle movement can be very soothing for your baby.
After 6 weeks, once you have seen your obstetrician for your post natal check up, you are usually able to resume low intensity exercise. This could include, yoga, pilates, swimming or riding a stationary bike. If you enjoy walking, you might think about adding in walking up stairs or hills to make it more challenging. If you like doing weights, you could resume these but make sure to start light and progress slowly to not strain through your pelvic floor. Try using an endurance strength prescription, (lighter weights and higher repetitions) instead of a muscle building prescription (heavy weights, and lower reps).
After 12 weeks, you may resume high intensity exercise like aerobics, running, or spin. Remember that for most people you wouldn’t have performed such high level exercise throughout your pregnancy and for 3 months post natally, so progress safely and cautiously as to not cause injuries or burn out.
If you have had a stomach muscles separation (or DRAM) it is important that you do not resume sit ups until they have healed. If you are unsure, check with your local specialist women’s health physio to ensure that it is safe to do so.
If you have had a complicated delivery or pregnancy which required a lengthy period of rest you might find that these guidelines are not appropriate. Make sure you only attempt exercise you feel you are capable to do safely. If you are not sure how to progress your exercises, try seeing a physio to get a personal program or attend a physiotherapy run class to ensure you get the right advice.
Maternity patients of St. Vincent’s Private Hospital Melbourne are more than welcome to contact the maternity physios at the hospital at any time for advice over the phone.
Thank you to Lauren Fink, Physiotherapist, St Vincent’s Private Hospital for writing this blog post.