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24/01/2022
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We know, we know, exercise is most definitely the last thing on your mind right now given that you’ve just delivered a little human, have only slept a handful of hours and are probably leaking from places you didn’t even know could leak! However that is not to say that exercise should be written off completely; in fact, research has shown that exercise is one of the leading factors in reducing postnatal depression symptoms in new mothers. It might just be time to dust off your trainers! 

Whilst it was thought to wait at least 6 weeks before starting exercise, according to medical experts, if you have had a straightforward and uncomplicated vaginal birth, you are able to start exercising a few days after the baby is born. 

Exercising after having a baby has many benefits including:

  • It can help to prevent postpartum depression
  • Helps you to sleep better. Although you won’t be sleeping like a queen when you have a newborn, exercising can ensure a peaceful sleep when you’re able to!
  • Relieves stress. Exercising releases endorphins (feel-good chemicals) in your brain. 
  • Gives you an energy boost. Exercising can build up your energy stores helping you keep up with the new routine you’ll be in once baby comes. 
  • Helps to strengthen your pelvic floor and abdominal muscles
  • Stops any aches and pains.

Of course, don’t put the pressure on yourself to exercise as soon as you’re out of the hospital. Just remember, your body has gone through an extremely taxing process of giving birth so whilst you may want to jump on the treadmill on the highest incline at the first chance you get, it is always best to start slow and gentle. Plus, you may not feel like you’re ready to exercise yet and that is completely okay!

We’ve put together a mini guide about how to ease yourself into postpartum exercise. 

When is the Best Time to Start Exercising?

If you were active throughout your pregnancy and your vaginal birth was relatively straightforward, you are able to start exercising within a few days of giving birth, starting with pelvic floor exercises and gentle stretches/walking. 

If you have had a C-section, extensive tearing or a complicated birth, it is best to check with your health professional as to when to start exercising. This could mean waiting until your 6 week postpartum check up. 

What Exercises Should I Start With?

The most important exercise to start with after delivery are pelvic floor exercises as the muscles have been stretched during pregnancy and birth, especially if vaginal. Exercising your pelvic floor also helps to prevent incontinence (inability to control your bladder or bowels) and helps to strengthen your lower back and abdominal muscles.

Walking will always be the best exercise for anyone as it is such a great and gentle cardiovascular workout. In fact, you are usually told to start walking within 24 hours of your delivery (whichever way you deliver!) to help with circulation and prevent blood clots from forming. Supplementing your walking with a few gentle postpartum exercises is a great way to ease into a routine. 

Other exercises that you can start after a few weeks: barre, yoga, pilates, swimming, a walking programme, buggyfit classes, Mum and Me classes, and very light jogging. 

If you were working out throughout this pregnancy, you may be able to get back into an exercise routine a lot quicker however if you start to feel any pain or discomfort, you should stop. 

What Exercises Should I Avoid?

It is best to avoid any high intensity exercises – like running and aerobic workouts – until you’ve been given the go ahead by your health professional, even if your birth was uncomplicated. Your ligaments are still quite loose thanks to the relaxin in your body and you don’t want to put any strain on your back or core just yet. 

Swimming is a great form of exercise and you can start once your lochia (postpartum discharge) has subsided which can be 2-4 weeks after birth – this can help to prevent an infection. If you have had a C-section, you should wait until after your six week postpartum check up before you start swimming. 

Whilst it is best to do gentle abdominal exercises at the start, avoid crunches, twists or sit-ups as it may cause your diastasis recti (abdominal separation) to become worse if you have it.

When to Take a Pause

It is super important to listen to your body once you start exercising and rest if you start to feel any pain or discomfort. If you’ve started exercising again but are experiencing any of the following symptoms, it is best to stop and speak to your doctor:

  • Although lochia tends to stop or become lighter within two weeks, if you notice it has returned or has become heavier after exercise, it is advisable to stop. 
  • If you feel an immense pressure or pain in your pelvic floor.
  • If you feel a tearing or tugging sensation in your stitches.
  • Bulging in the abdominal area.
  • If you feel exhausted, overwhelmed, dizzy or are having palpitations. 

Does Exercising Affect My Breast Milk?

Exercising will have no impact on the quality or the quantity of your milk if you are breastfeeding. However no one enjoys heavy breasts especially when exercising, so it is advised to pump or feed before your exercise session for a more comfortable experience!

Tips before you start exercising

  • Make sure you get measured for a new sports bra as a well fitting postpartum sports bra can prevent blocked ducts. You can also wear a sports bra on top of your nursing bra for extra support. 
  • It is recommended to feed your child or express milk before you start exercising as your breasts may become quite heavy and uncomfortable if you don’t! 
  • Wear breast pads in your bra in the event that you leak.
  • Wear comfortable clothing that isn’t too tight so there is no pressure on your breast/abdominal/perineum area. 
  • Stay hydrated throughout your workout to replace any water lost through sweating. 
  • Just remember, it is completely fine to start exercising once you feel ready!

References

Postpartum Exercise and Lactation by Susan M Bane, https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/26398298/
Effects of Exercise on Mild-to-Moderate Depressive Symptoms in the Postpartum Period: A Meta-analysis
https://kellymom.com/bf/can-i-breastfeed/lifestyle/mom-exercise/

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