I was induced for the birth of my first child. I remember hanging out at the hospital, waiting, waiting ... not a very exciting day because nothing really ‘warmed up’ until 8 p.m. My Doula suggested getting some magazines to read to kill a bit of time. Most of the magazines I read are fitness ones and I thought “NO! My magazines are going to focus on how to lose my extra baby weight and my baby is not even out yet.” Ok, so there are numerous other kinds of magazines I could have read, but we went walking instead.
Sometimes Mums are just itching to get back into exercise after giving birth while others are happy to take it slowly and enjoy their baby bubble. The thing to remember is that your body has undertaken a major transformation over the last 9 months, so Postnatal Rehab is 100% what you need focus on.
Now for all you Mamas who were really fit beforehand, this ‘rehab’ doesn’t mean you have to just stretch or do the boring exercises you hate. There are so many great things you can do BUT there are many you should avoid so that you don’t do any permanent damage to your body while it is recovering.
You can have the relaxin hormone in your body for approximately 3 months post birth and it may take 9 months for your joints to fully return to their pre-natal state, as well, it can take 3 years for your nutrient levels to be fully restored, plus throw in a bit of sleep deprivation and low energy levels, then you can see why looking after our bodies with appropriate exercises is just so important.
Follow these guidelines for getting back into exercise after childbirth
From day 1 you can start your pelvic floor exercise and abdominal bracing to rebuild your deep abdominal muscles. Caesarean girls can start 7 days post birth.
Weeks 1-6 Vaginal and Weeks 1-10 Caesarean
• Pelvic Floor – 3 sets per day
• Gentle abdominal bracing – T-zone
• Walking – Little walks are really beneficial to help your recovery and get your body moving (avoid blood pooling). Don’t go far because you can hit the wall very quickly and you still have to get home. When you have the energy you can increase the distance slightly.
My very first ‘walk’ after having my son was to the end of the driveway. It was a long driveway at that time, but a suburban driveway just the same. When I reached the end I thought, “Yep, that’s about me, no further.” And I am a fitness nut! It is so important to listen to your body.
Important Note for Cesarean Mums:
After 6 or 8 weeks you may be thinking, “My scar has healed, I’m feeling great! I am going to start increasing things now.” You really need to take a moment to understand that your body has gone through MAJOR abdominal surgery. You didn’t just get your appendix out. There is a deep layer of muscles that is still healing from the inside that you can’t see. It is totally worth waiting just a couple more weeks rather than risking doing some serious damage to your body.
Weeks 6-12 Vaginal & Weeks 10-16 Caesarean
• Continue same as Weeks 1-6
• Visit your GP/OB/Midwife to get the all clear to recommence exercise and take things up a notch.
This doesn’t mean returning to boot camp or all the exercises you did pre-baby. This is the next phase of rehab.
• Low impact post-natal exercise class, Kangatraining, low impact aerobics or aquarobics.
Weeks 12-16 and Weeks 16-20 Caesarean
• Assess your pelvic floor and abdominal separation with a Post-Natal Exercise Specialist or Women’s Health Physio
• Progress pelvic floor and transversus abdominal exercises (avoid sit ups and crunches)
• Continue post-natal exercise class and low/moderate impact exercises
• Lightweight Gym program – no breath holding
Weeks 16+ Vaginal and Weeks 20+ Caesarean
• Slowly progress your level of activity
• Continue with low-moderate impact exercises until at least 6 months post birth.
If you are 16 weeks or more postnatal but haven’t started any exercise yet, I would recommend starting the recovery phase from the Week 6 guide onwards. This will help your body adjust better and keep it all safe.
Have I done too much?
Keep an eye out for any signs that you have pushed yourself too far, such as, abdominal pain, heavier or restart of bleeding, feelings of heaviness in your vagina, incontinence, or something is just not quite right. Stop immediately and check in with your GP.
Lastly, let’s keep our exercises Low Impact. Low impact doesn’t mean easy peasy and not challenging your body. This means avoiding high impact exercises, such as, running, jumping, and wide squats - these will put pressure through your pelvic floor and joints and your body simply isn’t ready for them. If you want to increase the intensity of your walks, perhaps add some speed intervals, find some hills or include stops for sets of squats.
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