5 things you need to know about returning to exercise after birth

 In Mindful Mum, Motherhood

Jody from Mumabubs is a pregnancy and postnatal exercise specialist, with tertiary qualifications in exercise science and registered as a Level 3 Exercise Professional with Fitness Australia. She is also a mum of two young children, and therefore understands the demands and challenges of being a mum.

Jody loves to educate, energise and empower women and has shared 5 of her top tips for returning to exercise in the early months following the birth of your baby.

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Returning to exercise, including fitness classes, sport, running or any other high-impact activities after childbirth, may in fact do you more harm than good.

This might not be what you have heard from some trainers or even health professionals, but the truth is that 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 a weakened pelvic floor; potentially leading to bladder or bowel issues, or pelvic organ prolapse – not something any of us want!

5 considerations for re-introducing exercise in the first six months after baby

1. Include Pelvic Floor Exercises
The main function of the pelvic floor muscles is to support the bladder, the uterus (womb) and the bowel, therefore they play an important role in bladder and bowel control, as well as sexual sensation.

By strengthening the pelvic floor muscles, there is greater support for your abdominal and pelvic organs, your pelvis and lower back, thereby preventing such issues as incontinence and prolapse.
For more information on why you should do pelvic floor exercises, see my blog 6 Great Reasons To Do Pelvic Floor Exercises.

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 postnatal exercise specialist. Correct technique is crucial, and that is why we focus on it heavily during my 4-week NewMuma Program.

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 Postnatal 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.

As with your pelvic floor exercises, correct technique is crucial, and therefore it is another major focus of my 4-week NewMuma Program. Gentle progression is also very important. If you try to progress too 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, postnatal 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 in 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 health nurse or from a postnatal 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, including your pelvic floor, making you 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 birth. 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.

The ‘Boat Theory’ analogy is one way to help you think about the role of the pelvic floor muscles in supporting your pelvic organs, including your bladder, uterus (womb) and rectum (back passage).

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, then 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, meaning that the ‘water level’ is lower, and there is more tension on the ‘ropes’ (your supporting ligaments.)

If you do not strengthen your pelvic floor (‘increase the water level’), the tension on the ‘ropes’ will remain and over time, the supportive ligaments can overstretch and weaken. You are particularly at risk of this happening and a subsequent prolapse if you return to high intensity or impact activities too soon.

Thank you to The Continence Foundation of Australia for this wonderful diagram showing ‘The Boat Theory’

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 and pelvic joint injury as well as 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 bond with them. It is also 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 regime 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 you are also able to spend time bonding with your little one.

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Going for walks and attending ‘mums and bubs’ postnatal exercise sessions, such as our 4-Week NewMuma Program, are great ways for you to spend time with your new baby, while also getting 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.

If you are interested in Jody’s NewMuma Program you can find more information here. The program is held at Jody’s private home studio in the northern suburbs of Perth with a maximum of 4 mums and their bubs at each session, giving every woman the opportunity for personalised attention.

This term the program runs on Tuesdays at 10.30am. With the first program running from 20 February to 13 March and the second program running from 20 March to 13 April.

If you would like to find out about Jody’s other programs including her pregnancy program you can check out her website.

This post is a collaboration between Mumabubs and Wholehearted Family Health.

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