Your bundle of joy has arrived and you are getting to grips with being a new mum, but if you’re used to fitness and exercise in your life you may be feeling itchy to get back out there. We’re all agreed that regular exercise can help you to relax, feel more energetic and obviously keep you fit. But most importantly in the early days of Mamahood it can also help your body to recover from childbirth and may help prevent postnatal depression. So let’s look at when and how you can start exercising after birth.
When can I start to exercise after birth?
The best time to start exercising after birth depends on what type of birth you had. If you had a straightforward vaginal birth, you can start gentle exercise as soon as you feel up to it and build up to introduce high-impact exercise after your 6 week postnatal check. However if you normally exercised regularly prior to giving birth and you feel fit and well then you may well be able to start exercises such as running or aerobics sooner. The key is to be realistic and patient by gradually increasing your activity and listening to your body along the way. If you are unsure or had a more complicated birth such as a Caesarean Section, third/fourth degree tear, large blood loss etc. it’s best to check with your Midwife, Health Visitor or GP who can advise you according to your own circumstances.
What do I need to be mindful of when starting to exercise?
It took 40 weeks to develop your pregnant body and it will take just as long to fully return to your pre-pregnancy physical self. Even if you manage to get straight back into your jeans after birth (and not many of us do!) your body is undergoing a lot of changes during this time so it is worth bearing in mind that:
- Your core muscles (lower back, abdominal and pelvic floor) will be weaker than they used to be.
- Your ligaments and joints remain more supple and pliable for up to 6 months yet, so it’s easier to injure yourself.
- Your iron levels may well have dropped as a result of birth which can leave you feeling easily tired, so pace yourself and get plenty of rest too. (See you Midwife or GP if you are breathless, dizzy or tired from normal daily activities)
- If your lochia (postnatal vaginal bleeding) gets heavier or changes colour to become more red after activity, then this is a sign you are overdoing it, so slow down!
What’s the best postnatal exercise to start with?
Pelvic floor exercises are the best postnatal exercises to start with and these can be done as soon as you feel able after birth. The exercises will help to heal any perineal trauma (episiotomies, tears, grazes, swelling) as well as toning your pelvic floor to protect you from issues such as:
- Loss of bladder and/or bowel control
- Pelvic organ prolapse
- Reduced sensation or satisfaction during sex
Gentle stretching is also great in the early days to help relieve any muscular discomfort that can result from labour or adopting a tense position whilst breastfeeding. Also if your birth has resulted in you spending a prolonged time in bed you can end up feeling stiff and not quite your usual self, so gently undertaking some simple stretches will help you feel so much better in both body and mind.
If you baby is fit and well there is no reason why you can’t take them out for a walk as soon as you feel able; after all their pram provides you with a new piece of exercise equipment to push! Start off with gentle walks in the early days to blow the cobwebs away, as the fresh air will do both you and baby good. When you feel ready you can walk further, take routes that involve you walking up gradients, or increase your pace. Remember to keep your back straight and have the pram handles at the correct height (your elbows should be bent at right angles). You can take this form of exercise to another level once you get to 6 weeks postnatal by joining a local buggy workout.
Swimming is another great gentle exercise to get you back into the swing of fitness as it supports your weight and therefore has low impact on your joints. It’s important to wait until a week after your lochia has finished and your stitches have healed.
When your Midwife is pressing your abdomen during your postnatal checks she’s not only feeling for where your uterus is but also if you have any separation of your abdominal muscles, specifically the rectus abdominals aka the six-pack muscles. This is very common but in some women it can be severe enough to need you to work with a physiotherapist to help draw the muscles back together. Getting your abdominal tone back is crucial to your core strength to provide support for your back which is put through its paces as a new mum. So when you are undertaking abdominal exercises be mindful not to overdo it and avoid deep twisting poses which can inhibit the muscles from repair. If you are concerned about a gap in your abdominal muscles speak to your Midwife or GP.
How can I exercise when I’m breastfeeding?
In the early days of breastfeeding your breasts may well feel huge and have a mind of their own when it comes to leaking never mind if you’re also encountering sore nipples or engorgement as well! After the first couple of weeks things should start to settle as your baby becomes established at breastfeeding, your breasts will no longer feel overloaded and you will find yourself developing a loose routine to feeds. Exercising won’t affect either the amount or quality of your milk supply so here’s some tips about getting back into fitness as a breastfeeding Mama:
- Buy a new sports bra to support your new sized breasts during exercise as well as reducing the risk of stretch marks, improving posture and improving back pain. Don’t be tempted to use an old sports bra that is a bit too tight now as this can cause mastitis.
- To be most comfortable always undertake exercise after a breastfeed, this way your breasts are empty, plus knowing that your baby is fed will mean you’ll be able to relax and have some “me-time” for a couple of hours.
- Another option is to express your milk prior to exercising. The best time to introduce your baby to taking your expressed breast milk from a bottle is around 2-3 weeks old. Any sooner than this and there is a risk you will confuse them with the art of breastfeeding (it’s a different sucking action); baby’s have normally learnt this skill and established themselves at the breast by the ages of 2-3 weeks. However it’s important to realise that if you leave them any later than this before you try to introduce a bottle you may well struggle because they will have got so used to your breast that they won’t entertain a bottle in their mouths!
- If you want to breastfeed your baby straight after exercising bear in mind your breast tissue will be sweaty. If your baby seems a bit overly fussy at the breast they may not like the salty taste so give your breast a quick wipe to remove the sweat.
- If you love high intensity exercise it’s worth knowing that whilst lactic acid does not increase in your breast milk during moderate exercise (50-75% intensity), it does increase in exhaustive exercise (100% intensity) and is present for around 90 minutes post-exercise before it decreases naturally again. There are no known harmful effects for the baby after drinking breast milk with increased lactic acid, so it’s completely up to you if you want to feed them during this period although it may affect the taste for them.
- Don’t forget to pop a couple of soft breast pads into your sports bra, not only to catch any leaks but also to help prevent your nipples chaffing (add a touch of nipple balm too for added protection!)
I hope this has given you some reassurance that exercising as a new mum is completely possible, remember to take your time and listen to your body.
Natural Birthing Company’s products support you in pregnancy, labour and in life as a new Mama. Our range includes postnatal products to comfort and promote healing of your perineum and well as breastfeeding oils to comfort engorgement, low milk supply or sore nipples.
Thanks for reading
Jane – The Midwife
Natural Birthing Company