WHEN CAN I START EXERCISING POSTPARTUM?
Updated: Sep 22, 2020
I am constantly asked in the early weeks postpartum when a safe time to start exercising again is. The biggest message: less is more, right now.
Maybe you feel great and are tempted to start exercising or going for walks right away, but your body really needs to rest and and you need to respect the healing process. There isn't a set timeline that works for everyone, and for every delivery and recovery. Getting to know your new baby and life is the main priority, your body is healing in a multitude of ways from the inside out and taking time to be intentional and restorative can go along way. The biggest thing I learned on my own postpartum journey was patience.
BEFORE YOU GET THE GREEN LIGHT, HOW DO YOU ACTUALLY FEEL?
There are a ton of factors at play when recovering from birth, and those all come into play when we talk about how and when to return to exercise. So many women often go back too early. There, I said it.
Quite often, women are told (or maybe they just google it...) that by 6 weeks postpartum, their organs are back to normal, their perineum or C section scar is healed, and that it is safe to resume activity. This is such a blank statement, and it is not individualized at all. Although maybe for some, 6 weeks is enough time for recovery, for others it may not be. Ask yourself these questions:
How was your delivery, what happened? Do you know if you tore? What degree?
How long did you push for it?
How does your vagina feel? Do you have any heaviness, dragging, pressure in your perineum?
Did you have an emergency C section? How does your incision feel?
Are you getting enough sleep? (Ha.)
Are you hydrating enough? Eating healthy foods?
How is your mental health? Do you have enough support?
Are you working with a pelvic floor physiotherapist? Do you know the rehab exercises?
How is your core working? Do you have any doming in your abdomen?
Do you have any incontinence (leaking) with coughing, sneezing, lifting?
Do you have any pain?
We need to keep in mind that a woman's body is not fully restored to pre-pregnant physiology until 6 months postpartum. Although changes are subtle over time, connective tissue, muscle tone and hormones gradually return to their normal physiology in 6 months. Not 6 weeks. You can read this study about the physiology of the postpartum period here.
The research on when women should return to exercise postpartum is pretty vague. The Summary of International Guidelines for Physical Activity Following Pregnancy looked at the recommendations of 5 different countries (Australia, Canada, Norway, United Kingdom and the United States). They all lacked specificity for physical activity recommendations. This lack of clarity around the issue of postpartum physical activity may lead to inconsistent or no advice being offered by health care practitioners. This is why it is so important to have an assessment by a pelvic floor physiotherapist to determine your individualized recommendations for returning to exercise. We do have some guidance when it comes to returning to running in the first year postpartum, as set out by the guidelines from Tom Goon, Emma Brockwell and Grainne Donnely in March 2019. You can check out my previous blog post about returning to running postpartum here.
What I recommend in those early weeks postpartum is breathing, pelvic floor exercises and patience. Learn how to link your core and pelvic floor to your breathing. Learning (and re-learning) how to turn those pelvic floor muscles on. Sleep as much as you can. Go for short walks to get out of the house, not for exercise. On the grand scheme of the seasons of life, this is a short one, and your body will thank you later (I'm talking like 30 years later...) for taking the time to recover.
I am a huge supporter of exercise (duh) and know first hand the benefits that exercise has on physical and mental health. I am the kind of person that ignores that little voice in my head telling me to slow down. For the first time in my life, when I was recovering from my traumatic vaginal delivery in early 2019, I listened to that little voice in my head. I rested. I recovered. I was patient. Less is more, right now.