When can I return to exercise Postpartum?
A really common question I get asked from clients is when can I return to exercise Postpartum? Is it safe to do gentle stretching? When can I start pelvic floor exercises? When can I get back to running/gym or sport?
Women often come to me confused by the overwhelm of contradictory information online. They are discharged from the hospital with the advice to do nothing for 6-weeks and then do whatever they want!
I always like to contrast this to the level of care given in the orthopaedic ward where if I client was discharged after having an ACL repair they would be booked for multiple follow ups with a physiotherapist, they would have exercises to do at home, information printed out with guidelines around postoperative recovery and they would be guided and supported back to exercise/sport under a physio.
Now it is about time we adopt this model of care for Postpartum women!
There are SO many things that women can do in the very early postpartum period that will help to promote recovery and increase blood supply to the muscles affected in childbirth (whether that be the pelvic floor after vaginal birth or the abdominal wall after caesarian section)
The tricky thing is that everyone is different and there is no one size fits all. Every birth is different, every recovery is different.
But here is a few tips on how to get stronger and optimise recovery after birth:
Start by learning how to consciously contract and relax your pelvic floor – it REALLY helps to have this awareness before birth which is why I highly recommend seeing your pelvic floor physio in pregnancy or even pre-conception so that you understand what your pelvic floor is doing and how to properly turn it on
Start pelvic floor exercises early – this can be done as soon as you like after birth – this will help to promote blood supply to the perineum to promote tissue healing
Practice gentle belly breathing – the diaphragm, nervous system and pelvic floor are closing connected and breathing properly into your belly will keep stress levels low and keep your pelvic floor moving properly. This is really important after caesarian section as the pain along the scar line can affect breathing pattern and a protective bracing of the lower tummy is common!
Start very gentle stretching when it feels comfortable to do so – this will depend on the birth but there are very gentle yoga poses that are safe as early as 1-2 days postpartum and can help to relieve upper back pain stiffness associated with breastfeeding
Start to incorporate functional exercises: I’ve heard women before say I’ve been told not to squat postpartum but yet they have to get up and down off the toilet, sit down into a chair and stand up. Try not to overdo it but gentle and functional movements can be integrated into your routine from around 3-4 weeks to strengthen the legs and gluts
It’s important to give yourself time to rest and recover (which we often don’t do enough in our busy western culture) Set boundaries and don’t rush back to things without building a solid foundation. Work with a physiotherapist to complete gentle pelvic floor exercises, stretches and a progressive strength program