Returning to exercise postnatal
Itching to get back to the gym, football, running or cross-fit? Exercise is not only physically empowering but mentally liberating and it’s fantastic for me to hear women’s postnatal exercise goals. Exercising is a health priority and the benefits are endless. Whether it be preventing or managing chronic diseases, improving quality of life and social interactions, improving mood or reducing stress. Aim for a minimum of 150 mins of moderate intensity or 75 mins of vigorous intensity and 2-3 strength sessions a week.
The postnatal time can be confusing enough without inconsistent exercise advice, ‘listen to your body’, ‘don’t do pelvic floor exercises’, ‘do, do pelvic floor exercises’ or ‘restart anything you enjoy’. The best advice if you want to know what YOU can do, is to see a pelvic health physio (they are postnatal and exercise specialists). They will identify exercises appropriate for YOU and develop an individualized plan returning you to your chosen sport.
Huge changes occur during pregnancy and birth requiring rehab. FACT. Therefore, understanding YOUR postnatal body will help prevent pelvic health or other injuries from arising when returning to exercise. Let’s consider…
Pelvic floor function
Pregnancy itself weakens the pelvic floor muscles, regardless of birthing method. Vaginal births, and in particular instrumental delivery, babies 4kg+, long pushing > 2hrs, or fast < 20 mins and 3rd or 4th degree tears can increase the risk of pelvic floor dysfunction. Cesarean sections have their own recovery time frames that must be respected and without a functional, strong pelvic floor, certain exercise may be too much load for the pelvic floor to manage and urinary or bowel symptoms could occur instantly or after a period of time.
Starting pelvic floor exercises within the first few weeks post birth is highly advised: holding your pelvic floor squeeze for how many weeks you are postnatal is a good rule of thumb. Then being guided by your pelvic health physio from 6 weeks is recommended to make sure your program is hard enough. Improving pelvic floor muscle bulk and function will prevent urinary, bowel, sexual or prolapse symptoms. Pelvic floor muscles are like any other muscle in the body….Rome wasn’t built in a day! So have fun with your pelvic floor exercises, be consistent, even try doing them to music to help.
Abdominal separation in pregnancy is a normal physiological process, this is the widening and lengthening of the linea alba (fascia that runs from the breastbone to the pubic bone and connects to the two abdominal sides). Postnatal women may notice a doming or sinking of this area with daily activities e.g. getting out of bed or with core exercises e.g. sit ups, planks, double leg raises. This is called failed load transfer and learning how to transfer load through this area is important to improve stomach separation strength, function, aesthetics and possibly prevent pelvic floor dysfunction.
Lower limb function
This is extremely important not only to prevent overload to the pelvic floor structures but to prevent lower limb injuries to the hip, groin, knee or ankle, which can arise when you return to exercise sooner than the body is ready. This will be very individual based, and time frames will vary from one woman to the next. Rebuilding a strong foundation postnatal by targeting your technique, control, balance, endurance, strength and making it sport specific…who knows you may return to sport stronger and faster. GO MUM!
Make yourself a priority and see a pelvic health physio for exercise guidance postnatal, or better yet in pregnancy and be one step ahead for motherhood.
Looking for an appointment?
Look forward to meeting you and getting you started on your postnatal journey