Returning to Exercise After Bubs
Firstly, CONGRATULATIONS on your new arrival. Regardless of whether you are a first-time mum or a twelfth time mum, welcoming a new addition to your family is always an exciting adventure. Your body has been through a lot the past year as the combination of trying to conceive, pregnancy, birth and the early post-natal period causes incredibly rapid physical, mental and emotional changes that can be challenging to keep up with.
One of the most common questions I get asked when seeing a mum after she has given birth is ‘When can I get back to exercise?. For some, this means running or high intensity sessions at the gym involving lots of plyometric work. For others, this is swimming, reformer Pilates, strength training or even team sports such as netball or soccer. Whatever your movement goal is post baby, the important thing to remember is to take it slow and be patient…easier said than done I know!
For the first six weeks your body is trying to heal itself from 9 months of pregnancy as well as a birth, all while managing the heavy demands of caring of a newborn. For this reason, this period is all about prioritising rest and engaging in gentle walks, breathwork, stretching and your pelvic floor exercises. Although a GP can clear you for exercise, it is recommended to seek out a Women’s Health Physio who can undertake a thorough assessment and guide you through a safe and individualised plan to safely return to exercise and help you achieve your goals.
While I might be slightly biased in my opinion of Pilates to rebuild and regain strength during the postnatal period given the enjoyment I, and my patients get out of this style of movement, it does work as a wonderful way to slowly reintroduce motor control, mobility and strength that has been lost due to pregnancy and the demands of new-born life. Working with an experienced physio who understands the changes and biomechanical challenges that occur during pregnancy, as well as how the body begins to heal after birth can be incredibly beneficial in facilitating your return to exercise and achieving your movement goals. This is especially true if you experienced any form of pelvic girdle pain during your pregnancy as while a significant improvement in symptoms is seen after birth, a structured rehab plan postnatal reduces the risk of chronic issues developing.
How can Pilates help?
If you’re unfamiliar with Pilates, it is a style of exercise that challenges the full body and the way we connect movements and loads placed upon us from our heads all the way to our feet. It works from the inside out, first aiming to stabilise and build a solid foundation, but then slowly progressing and layering more complex techniques over the top to continue to challenge the body in different ways. The aspect of Pilates I love most is how it can be tailored to any individual, regardless of their age, physical fitness and exercise goals. No matter how you’re feeling on a given day, there are always movements that exist that will ensure you feel better after a session.
Many clinics have Mums and Bubs classes available which allows you to connect with other mothers who are all on a similar journey. Navigating exercise post-baby can be a very isolating venture and often mums express feeling that they’re not good enough and not keeping up with their friends or people seen on social media. Being part of a group and having an experienced physio support and guide you through this transition period helps to make the process positive, more relaxed and even enjoyable. However, if a class environment is simply not your thing, working with a physio to help you individually (either via supervised sessions or through the development of a home program…or better still, both!) can also be just as effective.
Now although I love Pilates, I do understand that it isn’t for everyone – maybe you’re itching to get on the bike, in the pool or back to dancing! The most important thing is that you enjoy the movement you do and you feel good doing it. If you don’t feel ‘right’ in any way, speak up and seek help as there are so many options available to you to help you get back to what you love.
Tips for returning to exercise post-partum
On that note, I’ve listed below some important points to remember while you navigate your return to exercise post-baby.
- You don’t have to get into exercise as soon as you are medically cleared…take your time and start when you feel ready
- Your body has been through incredible changes during the past 12 months, it will likely take at least this long to feel strong, fit and ‘normal’ in your body again
- Don’t underestimate the impact of hormones! The hormonal fluctuations that occur during pregnancy, at birth and while breastfeeding are intense, hard to keep up with and impact on all your body systems. It takes time for everything to come back to baseline…spoiler alert – this is typically longer than 6 weeks, so please don’t be alarmed if you don’t feel quite yourself for many months after giving birth
- You know your body best. Go at your own pace and be gentle on yourself. Yes, movement and exercise are important for cultivating a healthy lifestyle, but healing and recovery is just as vital.
- Start slow and build load and intensity up progressively
- If you’re doing any form of group or supervised exercise class, then ensure your instructor knows where you are at and if you are working through any lingering injuries or have specific concerns regarding certain exercises
- Unsure whether you’re ready to lace up your runners again? Try 30secs of hopping on each leg – if that feels good and you don’t experience any leakage or vaginal heaviness then it’s ok to try a gentle jog
- Any (no matter how small!) form of leakage, pelvic pain and/or vaginal heaviness that occurs because of increasing exercise after having a baby is not normal and can be helped through seeing a Women’s Health/Pelvic Floor Physiotherapist.
If you have any questions, concerns or would like some help to reintroduce exercise back after having your baby then please book in to see a physio so we can work together to achieve your goals.