Is Post-natal exercise safe? When should I start?
Many new mothers are confused as to whether post-natal exercise is safe to do or are unsure when they should start.
Firstly, you need to be checked out by your Doctor or Obstetrician. It is not recommended that you attend a gym or start back at your exercise routine until at least 6 weeks post birth.
However if you attend exercises run by a physiotherapist specifically for post-natal women you can be sure that you will not be doing any damage to yourself. Specific exercises given by the physiotherapist are gentle and specific. The exercises will target mobility, recovery of pelvic floor and abdominal musculature, upper body strength and posture.
Ligamentous laxity as a result of pregnancy hormones can cause some instability for up to 6 months post baby.
You should also aim to get your abdominal strength and pelvic floor strength back to pre baby shape not before 12 months. This is why it is not safe to start on gym classes or running too soon. The post baby body does not recover more quickly in one woman than another. One woman may have more perceived strength than another because they may have started out stronger but the fact is that ligaments cannot recover faster in one person than another.
Post-natal exercises should include graduated pelvic floor exercises that are added into functional activities. This is also the same for abdominal musculature. Some women find that they have quite a degree of separation between their rectus abdominal musculature which can result in herniation of abdominal contents if doing exercises such as sit ups etc. You may think that you can do sit ups or crunches at the gym but this is a real No No. Your physiotherapist will guide you as to what type of exercises are best for abdominal recovery and what is best post caesarean or vaginal birth.
Post natal exercise can be performed soon after delivery depending on the type of exercise. Your physiotherapist will give you some gentle exercises that can be performed day one. These may include gentle foot and lower leg exercises, especially if you have had a caesarean section.
After you have had your baby your physiotherapist will assess your abdominal muscles in order to determine how much abdominal separation you have.
Any high impact exercise such as jogging/tennis/netball should not be performed for at least 6 to 12 months. Relaxin is a hormone released during the last trimester in order for baby to pass through the birth canal. This results in legamentous laxity and because of this any high impact exercise can cause joint damage or pain. Heavy weights can also damage joints due to this ligamentous laxity. Your physiotherapist can assist you in what type of post natal exercise is best for you.
It is important not to perform any type of ‘sit up’ exercises. Your physiotherapist will determine when you are able to do this type of exercise. Healing can take up to 12 months. Your physiotherapist will also determine, it any, damage to your pelvic floor muscles. These exercises can be performed soon in a gentl way as they aid in the healing f the structures. Again you need to be guided by your physiotherapist as trying too hard can lead to incontinence issues.
Other areas that are vital for post-natal women to strengthen are legs and upper body. Many women end up with treatment for wrist pain or thumb pain due to incorrect lifting of their babies. Tension is stored in the neck and shoulders if feeding positions are not ideal and injuries can occur when core strength is weak when placing babies in car seats and cots. Because of this postural strength needs to be worked on as well as upper body strength as your baby is only going to get heavier not lighter.
As your baby gets heavier the need for leg strength is also increased as you will need to be able to squat to place your baby in some positions to keep the load off of your lower back.
Correct pelvic floor exercises can assist in recovery from tears and episiotomy whereas incorrect pelvic floor exercises or too many exercises can result in weakness and continued incontinence.
So is post-natal exercise safe? Yes as long as supervised or prescribed by a physiotherapist with experience in pre and post pregnancy.
When Can I Start? As early as 1 week post birth if seeing a physiotherapist who specialises in pregnancy and post natal exercise and given the all clear by your doctor.