Returning to Exercise after Childbirth [Part 2]

Returning to exercise after childbirth

Part 2: Getting Started

This is the second part of two in my series on returning to training after childbirth. If you’re new here, be sure to start with Part 1: Your Changing Body.

First things first: It is important to consult your midwife or doctor if you have any questions and to never attempt anything that causes pain.

Vigorous exercise should be avoided until bleeding has stopped and you have had a 6-8 week post-natal check by midwife or doctor.

All timescales used in this post are to be viewed as a guide only, some people may need longer recovery time than others.

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Key Information

  • Don’t expect to be able to rush straight back into your pre-pregnancy exercise regime
  • Wait until you have had a 6-8 week postnatal check-up before starting more vigorous exercise
  • If you had a caesarian delivery it is advisable to wait 12 weeks before vigorous exercise
  • Wear a good supporting bra to protect the breasts when exercising
  • If you are breastfeeding, feed before exercising
  • Drink plenty of fluids
  • Ensure you eat 1-2 hours before exercise
  • Listen to your body and rest if you are feeling especially tired
  • Stop immediately if you feel pain
  • Abdominal crunches and sit-ups are NOT necessary and are NOT advised
  • Make sure you are working the correct areas, check you are feeling it in the appropriate muscles and pay attention to technique. The key is in the detail!

Stage 1: Immediately After Birth

Core Exercises:

Deep breathing. As you inhale, your pelvic floor should relax as your rib cage lifts and diaphragm contracts. As you exhale, your rib cage lowers and flattens as your pelvic floor tightens. Make sure your pelvic floor coordinates with your diaphragm which will take concentration and practice at first!

Deep breathing is often overlooked, but it is important for both your pelvic floor and abdominal muscle function. Try three sets of 10 breaths 5-7 times weekly.

Cardiovascular Exercise:

Depending on the type of delivery you had and how much discomfort you are experiencing, gentle walking is okay in the first week or so after birth.

Start relatively slowly and gently. Once you feel able, start short, gentle walks for 10-15 minutes every day — but don’t do anything too strenuous until the lochia has stopped. Stop if you experience discomfort.

In the early days, more than 10-15 minutes of walking may make you feel quite uncomfortable and ‘heavy’ in the pelvic floor area. Take it slow and steady!

Stage 2: At Least 2 – 3 Weeks After Birth

Core Exercises:

Deadbug regression (legs only). The key is to avoid letting your back arch off the mat, so maintain a flat back.

Timing of breathing is crucial here, inhale to prepare then slowly exhale and flatten your rib cage as you extend your leg.

Inhale as you bring your leg back into your chest. Try to draw up the pelvic floor as you exhale. Movements should be slow and controlled, focused on timing.

Start by performing 8-10 reps 2-3 times and build up as you gain strength. If you cannot keep your back flat with a full leg extension then reduce the range of movement.

Cardiovascular Exercise:

As the swelling and bruising start to reduce, the uterus contracts back down and lochia stops, you’ll be able to walk longer and faster. Think about good posture.

If you’re walking with your baby, make sure the buggy handle is appropriate height so you are not stooping or bending forwards. Too vigorous of exercise too early may cause more bleeding so take it slowly and steady to start.

Stage 3: At Least 6 – 8 Weeks After Birth, 12 Weeks if c-section

After your post-natal check as long as you feel OK and your doctor has given the go ahead, you can start thinking about returning to your old activities and classes. If you are attending a fitness class or bootcamp, inform the fitness instructor that you are post-natal, take it easy and gradually build up to joining in with everything.

But wait: Contact your midwife if the gap in your abdominal muscles is wider than two centimeters after eight weeks and do not return to old activities or do crunches or planks.

Core Exercises:

Deadbugs, as before and add in the arms when you can do 3-4 sets of 10 on each side.

90-90 hip lift. Really focus on timing of breathing as with the deadbugs. Imagine you are blowing up a balloon as you slowly exhale and gently lift your tailbone off the floor.

You should feel it in your tummy muscles — if you don’t then you are not doing it right! Progress to adding a wedge or foam roller between your thighs.

Mobility Work:

Focus on some gentle dynamic stretches to work on improving posture due to pregnancy and post-natal related changes.

Pregnancy tends to tighten and weaken hip flexors which, combined with poor abdominal muscle control, exaggerate a lower back arch. That means prolonged sitting for feeding the baby may cause your upper back (thoracic spine) and shoulders to tighten up.

Strength Work:

Gym-based work, such as squats and lunges, are fine to start up again, however, begin with bodyweight exercises before adding weights — unless you have been weight training throughout pregnancy. Focus on correct form and technique. Stop if you experience pain.

Continue to work hard on core strength continuing with deadbugs and the hip lifts. Start to add in more challenging exercises like side planks and planks as long as your midline separation is not greater than two centimeters.

If you experience midline abdominal bulging or ‘doming,’ then stop exercises and seek medical advice. Many post-natal women should focus on strengthening their glutes and the adductors. Always ensure an adequate dynamic warm up and use this as an opportunity to work on mobility.

Cardiovascular Exercise:

If you decide to start running, then start slowly and build up gradually. Initially, try a very short gentle run of only 5-10 minutes. Consider a run-walk program such as the free Return to Running Programme from James Dunne here at Kinetic Revolution.

Run-specific strength and mobility work is also likely to be beneficial to help minimize the risk of injury — especially in those first few months after birth when glutes tend to be weak and hip flexors tight.

Good luck with your return to exercise in this new phase of your life. Give it time, there’s no need to rush the process!

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Last updated on March 2nd, 2021.