Returning to exercise, including fitness classes, sport, running or any other high-impact activities after childbirth, may in fact do you more harm then good.
High-impact activities, such as those listed above, in the first 4 to 6 months after you’ve brought your new baby into the world may result in weakening the pelvic floor, and potentially leading to bladder or bowel issues, or pelvic organ prolapse – none of which anyone wants!
When considering re-introducing some form of exercise or sport back into your routine, keep the following exercise guidelines in mind during the first 6 months after having your baby:
1. Include Pelvic Floor Exercises
The main function of the pelvic floor muscles are to support the bladder, the uterus (womb) and the bowel, and therefore play an important role in bladder and bowel control, as well as sexual sensation.
By strengthening the pelvic floor muscles, the muscles become stronger, and therefore provide increased support for your abdominal and pelvic organs, and your pelvis and lower back, as well as preventing such issues as incontinence and prolapse.
If you want more information on why you should do your pelvic floor exercise, see my blog 6 Great Reasons To Do Pelvic Floor Exercises.
Correct technique is also crucial, which is why it is something we focus on during the 4-week NewMuma Program.
Following the birth of your baby, most women are provided with information in relation to pelvic floor exercises. If you are unsure how to do your pelvic floor exercises, seek advice from your Obstetrician, Midwife, a Women’s Health Physiotherapist or a Post-Natal Exercise Specialist.
There are also great resources available for you to refer to, such as those put together by the Continence Foundation of Australia and Pelvic Floor First.
2. Include Post-Natal Abdominal Bracing
Abdominal bracing is a light contraction of your deep lower abdominals, and holding that very light contraction while maintaining normal breathing and moving your arms, legs and/or torso. Being able to effectively brace your abdominals will ensure your lower back and pelvis are stabilised and your pelvic floor is supported.
Like your pelvic floor exercises, correct technique is crucial, and therefore it is another major focus of the 4-week NewMuma Program.
Gentle progression is also very important. If you try to progress to quickly, or miss any stages of learning to brace your abdominals, you may have underlying deep abdominal muscle weakness, which could potentially cause back pain, or place downward pressure on your pelvic floor.
3. Aim for 30-minutes of Low-Impact Activity Each Day
Walking, post-natal exercise classes and swimming or aqua classes (once bleeding has stopped) are all great low-impact activities to include when you’re a new mum.
These types of exercises are not only good for your physical health, but are also so good for your mental wellbeing and managing the additional stresses of caring for a newborn.
However, remember that this is a time when you, your family and your new baby are all adjusting to a new chapter of your life. You will be dealing with the extra demands of being a new mum, feeding and interrupted sleep.
So, be gentle with yourself. Start with short walks, about 10 minutes, then gradually increase a minute or two with each walk. Listen to your body, and ensure that the activity you include leaves you feeling energised with a lifted mood, and not exhausted.
Finally, if something doesn’t feel right, seek advice from a Women’s Health Physiotherapist, your Child Healthcare Nurse or from a Post-Natal Exercise Specialist.
4. Avoid High-Impact Activities
Jogging, running, and any activity that sees you jumping and jarring your body, which also places additional load on your pelvic floor, is considered a high-impact activity to be avoided in the first 6 months after having your baby.
Why should I wait?
During pregnancy, research shows that pelvic floor strength gradually declines, and the increasing weight of your baby contributes to this reduction in pelvic floor strength.
Further, your body releases the hormone ‘relaxin’ during pregnancy, which softens the tissues in your body, including your pelvic floor, which makes your body more susceptible to injury or damage.
During childbirth, the pelvic floor muscles are placed under great stress resulting in stretching, and even possible damage, depending on the type of delivery.
One of the roles of the pelvic floor is to support the pelvic organs, which includes your bladder, uterus (womb) and rectum (back passage).
The ‘Boat Theory’ analogy is one way to help you think about the role of the pelvic floor muscles in supporting your pelvic organs.
Imagine that your pelvic organs (your bladder, uterus and bowel) are a boat sitting on the water, your pelvic floor. The ‘boat’ is attached by ‘ropes’, your supportive ligaments, to a jetty. If the ‘water level’ is normal, that is your pelvic floor is healthy, and there is no tension on the ‘ropes’.
As a result of pregnancy and the birth of your baby, your pelvic floor muscles have been stretched and lengthened, then the ‘water level’ will be lower, and there is more tension on the ‘ropes’, your supporting ligaments.
If you do not strengthen your pelvic floor, therefore reducing the tension on the ‘ropes’ by increasing the water level, then over time the supportive ligaments can overstretch and weaken, particularly if you return to high intensity or impact activities, and you are at increased risk of developing a prolapse.
Thank you to The Continence Foundation of Australia for this wonderful diagram showing “The Boat Theory’.
Therefore, following the birth of your baby your pelvic floor muscles need time to recover and strengthen, and for the effect of relaxin to subside so that your joints and ligaments return to their original position and stabilise, which can take up to 5 to 6 months for some women.
High-impact exercise is generally best avoided for at least 4 months after the birth of your baby, to enable your pelvic floor and deep abdominal muscles to learn to re-activate and to strengthen. This will reduce the risk of prolapse, incontinence & chronic pelvic pain & pelvic joint injury AND prevent injuries to your pelvis, spine, hips, knees and ankles.
From 4 months on it may be suitable for some women to gradually return to such activities, including jogging or running. However, it is highly recommended that you consult with a Women’s Health Physiotherapist to ensure that your body, particularly your pelvic floor, is ready for these high impact activities.
5. Include Your Baby In Your Exercise
In the early days it is so important to spend time with your baby, getting to know them and bonding with them.
It is also so important to take the time to look after yourself, as a happy, healthy mum means a happy baby.
Including your little one in your exercise means that not only do you get the activity you require to strengthen and rebuild your body after the amazing journey it has just been through, but also enables you to spend time bonding with your little one.
Going for walks and mums and bubs post-natal exercise sessions, such as our 4-Week NewMuma Program, are great ways for you spend time with you new baby but also get the much needed activity you need to be happy and healthy.
Remember, it took 9 months for your body to grow and nurture your precious cargo, so be gentle on yourself and give yourself time to get back into shape.