The return to exercise after having your baby can be quite daunting. There’s a lot of conflicting advice out there! There’s also some misconception about being cleared for exercise at the 6-8 week GP check. Many women do absolutely nothing prior to this point, and then assume that after their check they’re good to go. This is not always the case, and I think it’s important for women to understand that you can begin restorative work long before your check-up, and going from 0-100 afterwards can do more harm than good. So where do you start?
My suggested return to exercise looks something like this:
Breath work => Pelvic floor => Walking => Mobilisations => Soft tissue work => Low impact strength work => Increased intensity and impact.
Prior to starting any formal exercise you need to take time to reconnect with your core. This essentially sets the foundation for more intense exercise later on. Gentle pelvic floor and breathing exercises* are a good place to start and can be done from early days post birth.
Walking is also excellent for mind and body; mum and baby. In the first few weeks, if you notice increased bleeding or heaviness in your pelvic floor following a walk, it’s usually a sign that you’ve overdone it, so take a couple of days rest and try a shorter route next time.
The value of mobility work* in the early postnatal period is sadly often overlooked. Taking a couple of minutes daily simply to release out those common aches and pains can make a huge difference to the quality of your movement, and enable you to resume exercise with less chance of injury.
In addition to gentle stretches, proper attention to soft tissue is a must. There are things you can do at home like foam rolling, but if you’re able to get away for an hour, treat yourself to a postnatal massage to work on those problem areas. Any time after your GP check – no matter how postnatal you are – I’d highly recommend booking a Mummy MOT with a women’s health physio. Dr Kathryn Levy at Cambridge Health Clinic can assess your tummy, pelvis and pelvic floor and advise on any areas that need particular focus.
Once all the basics have been addressed, you can start on some resistance work, with a focus on strengthening the muscles that are often weaker post-pregnancy: Namely the muscles in the posterior chain, especially glutes and upper back. Bodyweight exercises are the best place to start, and then you can add in resistance with a band and progress to weights. I always place a lot of emphasis on glutes (bum muscles) as they play an important role in stabilising the pelvis. A strong bum means less back pain! Think bridges, squats, deadlifts, and lots of single leg work. These moves form a big part of my postnatal Tummy Time class.
In most cases I advise against anything high impact (running, jumping etc) or ab exercises (such as crunches, sit-ups, planks) during the first several months, as these activities can put a lot of extra pressure on the pelvic floor and can cause or worsen a diastasis (separation of the abdominal muscles). But once the ground work has been laid, you can start to return to your former workouts. When recommencing anything more strenuous e.g. running, plyometric work, heavy lifting, it’s vital that you start small and then see how your body feels during and after. If there is no pain, nor worsening of symptoms (such as leaking) then you can continue to increase your intensity gradually. It can be frustrating taking things slowly at first, but it pays off in the long run. And of course every body is different.
*Refer to the Healthy Happy Mummies playlist on my YouTube channel (Lovefittraining) for videos on breathing, pelvic floor, and mobility.