Want to get your body moving after baby but haven’t reached your 6-week mark?
Check out these 10 tips to help in your recovery.
As a doula and pre/postnatal fitness specialist, I get asked a lot from new moms what they can start doing for exercise. I know after my two babies, I was eager to get back to moving as soon as possible, yet I very much underestimated how much time I would need. For my first, it took about 2 months for me to feel well enough to start thinking about exercise yet for my second I was ready to go after 2 weeks (though I still waited a full 6 weeks just to be sure).
What I first share with moms is that just as each woman’s body and birth are so very different, so is each of our postpartum recovery journeys. Many factors influence the length of your recovery such as your fitness level before birth, the type of birth you had, the stress put on your body (like muscles, ligaments and tendons) before, during and after childbirth, and many more. For some moms whose bleeding has stopped and who had a fairly uneventful vaginal birth, they may feel well enough to start back again at about 4 weeks postpartum. But a longer recovery of at least 6-8 weeks is usually needed with more complicated situations, if your bleeding continues, or after a caesarean birth. Your decision to start exercising again should be informed by your caregiver (usually at your 6 week check up). At that point, you can start off slowly and build back your strength at your own pace.
During recovery, there are some things you can pay attention to before the 6-week mark:
1- Start with your pelvic floor. One thing you can do after birth if they are not painful, is to start with gentle kegels. Do not hold them but rather do dynamic kegels to strengthen or even re-familiarizing yourself with your pelvic floor muscles. It is highly recommended that you see a pelvic floor physiotherapist after your caregiver’s clearance (and even before your birth) to prevent any pelvic floor issues in the future.
2- Do some deep breathing (diaphragm function). Incorporating some deep breathing in your day while properly expanding the diaphragm can help with neck and back tension (which happens to a lot in new parents!), and helps turn on the pelvic floor. This type of breathing is usually taught in yoga classes and is when you take a deep inhale, allowing your ribs to expand 360 around your entire rib cage (like a balloon filling up). Feel a light pressure from the diaphragm push down into your pelvic floor (don’t force it). And as you exhale, feel the pelvic floor gently rise.
3- Pay attention to your posture! Lifting baby, breastfeeding and feeling tired can make us forget about proper alignment that can lead to strained muscles or injury.
4- Relaxin is a lovely hormone that lets your muscles and ligaments relax for birth and can stay in your body for quite awhile postpartum. This hormone can lead to wobbly, unstable joints and a loose pelvis. Remember to start back slowly and watch your balance as you return to exercise.
5- Watch for Diastasis Recti. This is very common in women and can lead to the separation of the rectus abdominis (six-pack abdominal muscles). Have your care provider check this for you and you could also feel it yourself by following this video here. If it is quite severe, you can work with a physical therapist so that those muscles come back together before you start any strengthening exercises.
6- Remember to stay hydrated, especially if you are breastfeeding. This will help with your recovery and strengthening your body. Always have a water bottle handy and drink often.
7- Walking is a great place to start. Don’t discount walking or swimming as a gentle cardiovascular exercise to get you started!
8- Watch your bleeding. Sometimes incorporating more strenuous activities can bring on bleeding again, so pay attention to signs from your body. If you do find your bleeding increases, it is a sign that the body needs more time to heal and rest and may require a visit to your healthcare provider.
9- Rest and include a few moments in your day to relax to allow your body to recover. If you are feeling rested, you will have so much more to offer your baby and have a better recovery! Hire a postpartum doula who can help nourish you with some extra sleep and food or help care for baby while you find ways to rejuvenate.
10- Don’t rush. I know some people are keen to get back to their regular routine after having a baby but try to remember the healing that your body has to do. Not to mention the fatigue you are likely feeling and the changes in your body. Remember to take the time to recover and allow for your body to gain back strength before jumping back into exercising. Your body (and baby) will thank you!
Erin Kasungu is a birth and postpartum doula and a certified Pre and Postnatal Fitness Specialist with an Honours degree in Kinesiology who can work with you to help prepare for and recover from childbirth. You can contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org to learn more.
Jennifer Tuthill is a certified personal trainer focusing on pre and postnatal fitness, working with her clients during pregnancy and in the postpartum period. You can contact Jennifer at email@example.com.