5 fundamental steps to return to exercise after birth

Getting back into exercise after having a baby is a big deal and for some it can be quite overwhelming with knowing where to start. Below are a few of our tips to returning to exercise safely. We hope these will help point you in the right direction.

1. See a physio to get proper medical clearance

We advise all women to get checked over by a Women's Health Physiotherapist to assess the health of your pelvic floor muscles, ensure you are doing your pelvic floor exercises correctly and get assessed for Diastasis recti.

Most women in NZ get medical clearance to start exercise at 6-12 weeks postpartum from a GP or Midwife. However, generally speaking in NZ women don’t often get checked over by a Women's Health Physio. In our opinion it seems crazy that we can grow a human for 9 months, give birth to a baby and then often not be checked over physically to see where things are at!

Even if you feel like everything is fine, in our opinion it is essential just to be sure everything is okay. Treat it like a warrant of fitness!

Most women suffer some form of damage to their pelvic floor muscles so it’s super important you have a good understanding of where your pelvic health is at and what you need to do to improve it. Often a lot of pelvic health issues go undiagnosed simply because the majority of women in NZ do not get a physical examination after having a baby.

When returning to exercise it’s even more important as some exercises can make things worse. Even if you feel like everything is fine in our opinion it is essential just to be sure everything is okay. Treat it like a warrant of fitness! Knowledge is power!

2. Start when you are ready

It’s so important that you return to exercise when YOU feel ready. The media can put a lot of pressure on mums to feel like they need to get back into their pre pregnancy exercise regime and ‘bounce back’, we are here to tell you that exercising postpartum is not about bouncing back!

No two women are the same, no two pregnancies are the same, no two births are the same and we all know that no two babies are the same! We all face different challenges on our postpartum journeys. Some women feel ready to get back into things at the 6 week mark while others aren't ready until months down the track. Give yourself time to recover, try your best not to compare your journey to other mums and start only when you feel ready.

3. Set the foundations

When you do feel ready and you have been cleared by a Women's Health Physio it’s important that you don’t rush back into your pre-baby exercise regime! Please remember that your body has been through the most physically demanding challenge ever! Growing a human - is a big deal.

As tempting as it might be to head back to your gym class, head out for a run, get back into lifting weights or high intensity interval training (HIIT) it is so important that you back the bus up and take the time to set the foundations. You can absolutely get back to your pre pregnancy exercise regime but slow and steady wins the race!

When we say set the foundations we are referring to completing a recovery programme for your body that takes into account posture, breathing, activating your deep core muscles (TVA), pelvic floor exercises and functional movement.

Consequences of not setting the foundations correctly can lead to injury, prolapse, incontinence and if you suffer from Diastasis recti you could possibly make the separation worse.

We recommend focusing on setting the foundations for at least 6 weeks before progressing into further exercise. We also recommend doing pelvic floor exercises for life! Your pelvic floor is just like any other muscle in your body and we need to keep it strong so it’s important you maintain pelvic floor work as part of your exercise regime.

4. Listen to your body

When you start to step things up it is essential that you listen to your body. If something doesn't feel right, stop doing it. Make modifications where you feel like an exercise is a little too much. A great way to do this is to use an incline - the higher the incline the easier the movement will be. As your fitness and strength increases then you can decrease the incline.

If you don't feel comfortable jumping then don’t jump, you can just step or walk your exercises. If a certain exercise is not feeling good for your body then switch it out for something different.

With every exercise that you do think about easing into it and putting a progressive pathway in place. For example if you want to get back into lifting weights start with cans from the pantry and start sitting on a bench to ease the load on your pelvic floor, then increase to a swiss ball with light weights and so on.

Exercise technique is so important. You are so much better off doing less reps, taking things at a slower pace than you are pushing your body beyond what it is ready for. Keeping technique front of mind is particularly important in those first few months postpartum when your body is still producing the hormone Relaxin. Relaxin is produced during pregnancy to help your body to grow and birth your babies but it stays for quite a few months postpartum. Relaxin makes our muscles and ligaments lose so it’s important that you take time to warm up and when you are exercising, focusing on your technique.

5. Embrace short workouts & snack on exercise

The biggest barrier for mums getting back into exercise after having a baby is time. But we are here to tell you that you don't need a lot of time to reap all the physical and mental benefits that come from getting a little bit of movement into your day!

Steady, consistent exercise is what get’s results and makes you feel fantastic. You are so much better off exercising for 20 or even just 15 min everyday than you are exercising for an hour on a Monday and doing nothing for the rest of the week.

Set yourself a realistic period of time that you can exercise for each day and stick to that. Maybe it’s just 10 minutes to start with, set small realistic goals and then slowly move the bench mark out. The more you are able to experience success, the more momentum you’ll gain! If you are just starting out with forming an exercise habit, make it so easy that you can't say no!

Finally, when easing back into exercise postpartum we recommend doing so under the guidance of someone who has experience and qualifications in this area. There are many programmes available that do not cater for mums postpartum so please do your research.

She Moves offers a full live timetable with 12 workouts per week. Workout timetable includes mum-friendly workouts including a pelvic floor and core restore workout , low impact and postpartum yoga. Membership is just $10 per month.
You can find more about She Moves at www.shemoves.co.nz or @shemovesnz over on Instagram

Written by Qualified Personal Trainers, Holistic Health Coaches and Pre-postnatal Exercise specialists Renee Norman and Jenna Smith of She Moves Fitness Collective.

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