When is it safe to exercise after having a baby?

By Alana Mitchell

Getting back into a regular exercise program after the birth of your baby has many benefits:

  • Helping your body recover from pregnancy and birth
  • Regaining strength and fitness you may have lost during pregnancy
  • Improving pelvic floor strength and function
  • Reduced stress and improved mental health
  • Increased energy levels
  • Weight loss
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It is really important to remember that no two pregnancies or births are the same, that every woman will have their own unique experience, therefore being ready to return safely to exercise will differ between women. 

Your body has been through big changes during pregnancy, and this is why it is important to return to exercise safely. These changes include: increased pressure on your pelvic floor, increased load and separation of your abdominal muscles, hormonal changes affecting your ligaments and joints (which can affect your body up to 6 months post pregnancy), changes to your posture. Doing too much, too soon can have long term health implications, and may result in: pelvic floor muscle dysfunction (urine leakage, prolapse), back pain or pelvic girdle pain.

Factors that will affect how soon and what intensity exercise you can safely do post pregnancy include:

  • Whether you had a natural or c-section birth;
  • If natural birth then: size of your baby, length of labour, use of instruments (forceps/ventouse), tearing/episiotomy; 
  • Your fitness levels pre-pregnancy and during pregnancy.
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So, what can you do safely to begin with?

  • Pelvic floor exercises: can be started day 1-2 post birth, as long as they are pain free. Your sensation in the area may be reduced to begin with, but keep practicing, sensation will return, and doing your exercises will help with healing.
  • Practice your abdominal activation: gently draw your lower belly back towards your spine. This can be combined with your pelvic floor exercises. 
  • Walking: start with short walks for the first 3 weeks, then gradually increase your walking up to 30 minutes, at your own pace. If you had a C-section, wait until 6 weeks before increasing from short walks.
  • Pilates or low impact group classes: can begin after your six week GP check-up
  • Gym program: light weights program, with no high impact exercise or heavy weights can begin after your 6 week check up (natural birth) or 3-4 months (C-section).
  • Swimming: after your 6 week check up and 7 days after your bleeding has stopped.
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It is best to avoid high intensity/strenuous exercise, and heavy weights for the first 12 weeks (natural birth) or 4 months (c-section) - things like running and tennis. Exercises that place excessive pressure on your abdominal wall and pelvic floor should be avoided - such as sit ups, planks, mountain climbers.

The following signs and symptoms will indicate you have done too much, or need to seek further advice from your doctor or physiotherapist:

  • Back or pelvic girdle pain during or post exercise
  • Urine loss while exercising
  • Vaginal heaviness

If you have any uncertainty or would like further information on where to start, taking into consideration where you are at individually, then please don’t hesitate to book in with one of our physiotherapists. We can give you advice on:

  • How to do pelvic floor exercises
  • How to activate your abdominals
  • Introduce you to Pilates so you can join our 
  • Design an individualised home or gym exercise program

It is also important to be kind to yourself in the post-partum period, it is a very demanding stage of life, and fitting in exercise may be harder than it was before you became a mother. Fit it in when you can, even if you only manage 10-15 minutes, it is better than nothing and your body and mind will benefit!

*Note: these time frames are as advised by the Continence Foundation of Australia and further detailed information can be found here