You’ve had your baby; you’ve had your six-week postnatal check, so you’re all set to jump onto YouTube and resume your favourite yoga workouts. What could possibly go wrong?
Believe it or not, even a beginner’s yoga exercise class can do more harm than good if you start exercising before your postnatal body is ready. Even if you’ve stopped postnatal bleeding, and any stitches you’ve had vaginally or abdominally have healed nicely, and you feel ready to start doing ‘proper’ regular exercise, it’s important to understand that critical healing is still taking place.
To help you get fighting fit and ensure you don’t do anything that could cause damage, we have caught up with Eliza Flynn, a pre and postnatal fitness expert and one of the team of experts at Biamother, who has provided her professional advice on the dos and don’ts when you want to get back into postpartum exercise but don’t want to risk overdoing it.
When can you start exercising after birth?
Tears and incisions are not instant healers, and could take longer than six weeks to properly heal, so it’s important to avoid movements that are too vigorous. For women who have had C-sections, this could be up to six or seven months as the connective tissue of their stomach has only regained 51-59 percent of its tensile strength.
This means that doing exercises where you can’t fully engage your stomach muscles could increase your risk of weakening this area, rather than strengthening it. If you have a diastasis (stomach muscle separation), you will also be increasing your risk of a hernia.
Regardless of how you’ve given birth, your pelvic floor has had your uterus and baby weight bearing down on it for months, so it’s weak and injured and needs to be restrengthened carefully with gentle exercise – so don’t jump straight in with heavy kegel exercises.
Don’t hold your breath
This commonly occurs when you lift a heavy weight from the ground, but also if you try to do planks, or when you sit up in bed. Always breathe out during these movements and postnatal workouts, and simultaneously engage your pelvic floor.
Pay attention to your joints
You will have elevated levels of certain hormones such as relaxin which can remain in your body for months after childbirth, this can affect your joint stability, making you more prone to injury. High impact exercise or sudden change in directions could increase your risk of straining ligaments or tendons.
As well as this, physical activity like running or jumping place a lot of pressure on your pelvic floor which can lead to leaking. Resources such as the Biamother app – a holistic wellness platform that allows you to follow expert-led workouts – ensure you are engaging in postnatal exercise that does not strain your body.
Biamother is the world’s first app that cares for new mums, and during the current global pandemic, it is especially focused on ensuring that pregnant and postnatal women isolating at home can still access expert guidance.
Designed by a team of maternal health experts, all women and mostly mothers, Biamother offers guidance and recommendations to help you eat, move and feel better, as well as a personalised postpartum workout plan you can do at home that adapts itself to suit your changing needs, body type and concerns.
What are some ways to start exercising?
Take slow walks for short periods of time and build these up gradually. If you notice bleeding, rest with your feet up and do what you can to keep your knees together if you’ve had vaginal stitches, as it’s not unheard of for your wound to reopen after birth.
Try to avoid long periods of carrying your baby or lifting anything heavy, even if you feel like you can. Instead, focus on your pelvic floor exercises that pay attention to core system integration and gentle stretching to release tension in your back and shoulders.
Engage in exercises to boost your core muscles
As well as giving your pelvic floor adequate time to heal before you start doing exercises that could place pressure on it, it’s important to strengthen this area by adding pelvic floor exercises to your everyday fitness routine.
Practise diaphragmatic breathing – this is the foundation of core strength, then implement exercises such as pelvic tilts and clams and make sure you’re integrating your breathing and pelvic floor contractions too. Forget about exercises that work your six-pack muscles and your side stomach muscles – it’s your inner stomach muscles and abdominal muscle that needs the most strengthening right now.
Stick to exercises that better equip you for parenthood
As well as your pelvic floor and stomach muscles, it’s important to target your glutes (bum muscles) as these are underused during pregnancy. I would recommend squats, hip bridges and resistance band rows or pull-outs.
If you don’t have bands, try to make small circles with your hands, whilst your arms are outstretched. Strengthening the muscles around your spine, pelvis and shoulders will also help you, and these don’t need to be high impact physical activity.
If you have yet to give birth, though, check out our masterlist of advice for exercising while pregnant here, as well as Eastnine running expert Jordan Foster’s top tips for prenatal running.