Exercise After Baby!
How soon can I start exercising after having my baby?
You can start doing your pelvic floor exercises (Kegals) as soon as possible after the birth. Beyond that, a lot will depend on how active you were during your pregnancy, and what type of labour and birth you had.
Working your pelvic floor will help to protect you against leaking wee. You can also gently squeeze your lower tummy muscles to help them regain strength.
If you did regular exercise right through your pregnancy, and your baby's birth went smoothly, you can carry on with light exercise and stretching as soon after the birth as you feel ready.
Be guided by how you feel and how much energy you have. A mum who's recovering from an assisted birth, or caesarean, will feel different from a mum who's had a straightforward vaginal birth.
Whatever your circumstance, keep it gentle, though. Pregnancy hormones and breastfeeding can affect your joints for several months after childbirth. So be careful not to do high-impact activity too soon.
What's the best type of exercise to start with?
As well as working your pelvic floor, going for gentle walks is a great way for most new mums to exercise. Getting out will help to protect you against postnatal depression too.
You can take your baby out for walks in a pram, or a sling.
As your strength returns, you can expand your walking routine by speeding up and taking longer walks. If you feel tired, don't overdo things. Pace yourself and rest when you need to.
When do I need to be careful about exercising?
Aside from your Kegels, and gentle walking, you should take up exercise more gradually if you:
didn't exercise regularly before or during pregnancy
had an assisted birth
experienced complications in labour
had a caesarean section
If you had back pain or pelvic pain when you were pregnant, talk to your GP, or ask to see a physiotherapist, before you exercise.
If you had a caesarean, think of the first six weeks or so as time for your body to heal. Wait until after your postnatal check, at between six weeks and eight weeks, before taking up exercise other than Kegels and walking.
You may need to wait longer to swim if you had a caesarean or stitches. Your GP or Physiotherapist will be able to tell you when it's safe for you to start swimming.
Doing lots of tummy muscle work or sit-ups when you have a weak pelvic floor can make stress incontinence worse, rather than helping it. So again, get guidance from your Physiotherapist - who can us real-time ultrasound to guide your pelvic floor and core rehabilitation.
Another reason to be cautious about sit-ups is that your tummy muscles stretched a lot during pregnancy.
It's common for two vertical muscles down your front to stretch apart, creating a gap. This is called diastasis recti. This separation may also lead to a bulge, usually below your belly button.
The size of the gap varies from woman to woman, but after birth, be careful about any exercises that cause you to dome your stomach. This may force the gap further apart. Exercises that cause doming can include sit-ups, planks and straight-leg raises.
Your midwife can check your belly to see if you have diastasis recti. If the gap is the same after 10 weeks, ask your doctor to refer you to a women's health physiotherapist. Your physiotherapist will show you exercises you can do to correct the diastasis recti.
It's also best not to do high-impact aerobic exercise, such as running, or cardio workouts, until your pelvic floor and your joints have fully recovered from pregnancy and birth. This can take several months.
If you have ongoing stress incontinence, or a heavy feeling in your vagina, this may be a sign that you have damage to your pelvic floor. Don't strain your body with impact exercise, and ask your GP for a referral to a physiotherapist.
How can I lose weight after having a baby?
Eating a healthy, balanced diet and taking regular exercise gives you the best chance of returning to a healthy weight after having a baby.
This way, your baby weight will fall off gradually and safely. A safe amount to lose each week is between 0.5kg and 1kg. The important thing is to get into good habits that you can keep up.
You'll find it easier to stay in the habit of eating healthily and exercising if you pick activities you can do with other mums or friends. This will give you a support network to help keep you motivated.
Breastfeeding your baby may help you to lose weight, as long as you also eat healthily and stay active.
Exclusive breastfeeding can burn up to 330 calories a day in the first six months. After six months, it can burn up to 400 calories a day.
Your body needs time to recover from labour and birth. So take it steadily, and don't feel bad if the weight doesn't fall off fast.