Exercise can help you recover after childbirth, make you stronger and improve mood. Even if you're tired and not feeling motivated, there's plenty you can do to get your body moving. But no two pregnancies are the same. How soon you're ready to start exercising depends on your individual circumstances – so always check with a health professional first.

Sarah Campus

Sarah Campus

Returning to exercise after a vaginal birth. You can start doing gentle pelvic floor and gentle rehabilitating abdominal exercises the first day or two after the birth. If you feel any pain then stop straight away.

When you feel like it, start with a gentle walk, perhaps while pushing the pram. Then, at your own pace, gradually increase the time and pace of your walks. Build up to a 30-minute walk every day if you can.

Avoid swimming until the bleeding has stopped for 7 days and you've had your postnatal check with the doctor or obstetrician (6 to 8 weeks after the birth).

Wait until your 6-week postnatal check-up before you go back to other forms of exercise. It's best not to return to your previous level of physical activity until 16 weeks after the baby is born. When you do return to exercise be sure it is following a programme by a pre/post natal specialist personal trainer, and gradually return. Slow and steady wins the race.

Returning to exercise after a caesarean, a major operation, and will take you at least 6-10 weeks to heal. However, you can still do pelvic floor exercises from the first day after the birth. You can start to exercise your abdominal muscles as soon as you feel able to. Avoid sit ups, crunches or abdominal curls, as these put pressure on the scar. Avoid lifting heavy weights. Tighten your tummy and keep your back straight if you need to lift something around the house. After 8 to 12 weeks, you will still be healing inside. It is OK to start walking, do low-impact exercise or cycle. Stop if there is any discomfort, pain or a pulling sensation on your scar, and try again a couple of weeks later.

You should avoid high-impact exercise for at least 12 weeks after your cesarean. Don't go swimming until the bleeding has stopped for 7 days and you've had your postnatal check with the doctor or obstetrician (6 to 8 weeks after the birth).

Regular exercise after you've had a baby is very beneficial for mums and will strengthen, recover, rehabilitate and tone your muscles. Exercise will help you recover from labour if you gave birth vaginally, and raise your energy levels so you feel less tired. It may help you to also lose weight and become fitter, but remember there is no bounce back at all. Be patient, give yourself time and be sure to listen to your body.

Exercise is good for your mental wellbeing. It can relieve stress and help prevent postnatal depression. You are also more likely to get outside and meet people. But don't worry about not getting enough exercise. Caring for a newborn can be hard work, and you might not have the energy or time to work out as regularly as you'd like. Do the best you can – even 10 minutes is better than nothing. Don’t be hard on yourself.

When you feel ready to exercise, it's very important to not to overdo it. Even if you're feeling great after having your baby, your body will have gone through big changes and needs time to recover.

Labour and birth can cause physical problems including back pain and a leaky bladder, both of which can be made worse by vigorous exercise and impact. Pregnancy hormones can affect your joints and ligaments for up to 6 months after the birth, putting you at greater risk of injury. Your abdominal muscles may have separated during the pregnancy. They usually go back to normal after the birth, but sometimes they can stay separated. You will need to do exercises to strengthen these muscles to avoid back pain and injury. Your pelvic floor – the muscles and ligaments that support the bladder, uterus and bowel – can be weakened after pregnancy, especially if you had a large baby or pushed for a long time. Regular exercises will help to strengthen your pelvic floor, exercises such as legals and glute bridges. But you should take care not to do more damage by exercising too vigorously too soon. Be careful of using heavy weights or doing high-impact exercise, as this can increase your chance of prolapse (when an organ, such as the uterus, drops down).

The following exercises are suitable in the days after you have your baby:

  • Abdominal exercises, or 'abdominal bracing/‘breathing. Sitting, standing, lying on your side, lying on your back, or kneeling on all fours. Pull in your lower tummy towards your spine. Hold for 5 to 10 seconds and breathe normally. Repeat 8 to 12 times, 4 times a day.
  • Pelvic floor exercises. Sit and lean slightly forward with a straight back. Squeeze and lift the muscles around your vagina as if you are trying to stop a wee. Hold as you count to 8; relax for 8 seconds. If you can't hold for 8, just hold as long as you can. Repeat about 8 to 12 times.

Other exercises that are safe after pregnancy include:

  • Gentle walking
  • Swimming and aqua aerobics (once the bleeding has stopped)
  • Yoga
  • Pilates
  • Low-impact cardio
  • Light weight training
  • Cycling

You can incorporate exercise into your day – for example, when you meet up with friends, or while you're doing other tasks (doing pelvic floor exercises while you're breastfeeding or driving, for example). Walk with your baby in the pram rather than driving, or do your abdominal exercises on the floor next to your baby.

For at least 3 months, try to avoid heavy weights, sit ups and high-intensity aerobic activity such as running and tennis.

Before you start any high-impact exercises, cough or jump with a full bladder to see if you leak any urine. If you don't, you're probably ready to exercise. If you're still leaking urine 3 months after the birth, talk to your GP or a women’s physiotherapist about strengthening your pelvic floor. If you have trouble emptying your bowel or bladder, feel a sense of pressure in your vagina or notice a bulge or swelling in your vagina, you may have a prolapse. See your doctor.

I highly recommend seeking advise from a pre/post natal specialist to help you return to exercise with confidence. 

by Sarah Campus. 

Sarah Campus is a highly qualified PT, nutrition coach and founder of LDN MUMS FITNESS .  She specialises in pregnancy and postpartum diet, fitness, and wellness and offers private, group and on-demand training. Sarah is a mum of 2 boys under 4 and is currently 33 weeks pregnant with her third child and always welcome new mums and mums to be to drop past her IG page @ldnmumsfitness for a chat with the LDN Mums community

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