Please talk to your medical provider before exercising after giving birth.
Alright, mama!! You’re getting there! It’s been at least 6 weeks since you had a baby, and you’re feeling a little more ready to move your body. Returning to exercising after giving birth is a little different, right?
You’re either feeling one of two things right now:
- You JUST had a baby what feels like only one LOOOONG week ago.
- You had a baby SO LONG ago!
If you’re closer to the 6-week postpartum mark, you have probably had your infamous 6-week doctor’s visit where you may have been “cleared to exercise” quite recently. Yes, you do need this clearance to ramp up exercising after giving birth, but here’s a little secret: there is NO MAGIC WEEK where all of a sudden your body is in good enough condition to just go all out with exercise. Listen to your body and start slowly- but I’m sure at least this part is intuitive, right?
The following advice is “in general” advice, but keep in mind every single person is different. Some people can return back to exercise even sooner than what I describe and some require more time. Personally, I have taken longer after each baby to return to exercise symptom-free.
So, when can you really amp up your exercise routine again after giving birth?
You can get back to a more intense exercise routine when you have prepared your body to be able to handle the increased stress/intensity.
If you have been following my previous two blog posts (Exercise After Baby Part 1 and Exercise After Baby Part 2) and you have been walking and doing your mobility exercises and stretches correctly with no negative symptoms (pain, increased muscle soreness beyond 3 days of working out, significantly increased fatigue, feces or urine leaking, passing gas without control, etc) and you feel like you’re ready to progress, then go for it, mama!
If you haven’t been following my advice about how to get back into exercise after having a baby and feel like you’re already behind and destined to be a couch potato forever, it’s okay. You can get back into exercising at any point.
I recommend you start with the breathing and movements I mentioned in my previous two blog posts mentioned above. Because you have had longer to heal, you will likely want to move forward with additional movements and repetitions quicker than I detailed. This is okay, but please pay attention to your body and don’t do too much too soon! You’ll see what I advise as you keep reading.
If you’re closer to the 4-month postpartum mark, now’s the time you can scale up your workout regimen.
You could also begin to return back to your preferred exercise again if you haven’t already started. Start slow, listen to your body, and work your way up. Only change ONE thing at a time to make your exercise more intense and watch how your body responds (see list below for options of changes to make).
You need to scale back if symptoms appear such as pain (anywhere!) if you have leaking of urine/bowel/gas, increased bowel or bladder urges, or pressure in the pelvic floor. You also need to scale back if symptoms you already have worsen.
You may be wondering if you can exercise while you already have symptoms such as pain, leaking, or pressure. The answer is… it depends! If your symptoms get more than 2-3/10 times worse because of exercise, then that means your routine needs to be changed and/or modified. If your symptoms stay relatively the same, then it means the exercise you’re doing isn’t making you worse; but it certainly isn’t making you better!
How do you know if what movement or exercise you’re doing is causing you more harm than good? How do you know if your symptoms are normal and you “just have to live with them?”
Let’s just get this straight. No symptoms are normal. And you shouldn’t “just have to live” with any of them.
Your local physical therapist specializing in postpartum athletes/weekend warriors/”moms who just want to move” can screen you to determine what’s causing your symptoms and in turn, be able to treat you in order to reduce them (notice how I didn’t say treat the symptoms- a whole-body treatment for YOU is required since the pelvic floor is only one piece of your body and the symptoms are only there because something else isn’t right). It could be that some diagnosis and their symptoms will be a lifelong treatment or maintenance, but there are tools, modifications, and methods in place to reduce these symptoms as much as possible!
I know you may be thinking, “my peeing myself may go away on its own.” And, you may or may not be right. But let me tell you- even if you’re leaking fortunately stops, that doesn’t mean the problem is solved and won’t come back to bite you later.
Okay. Are you ready for some pro-tips to begin increasing your exercise regimen? I’ve got some for you!
Note: All exercises must be performed with good form and good breathing- as outlined in my first post to prevent injury, pelvic floor dysfunction, increased prolapse, and increased diastasis recti abdominis.
Make sure to follow these guidelines when exercising after giving birth around 4 months postpartum:
- Do not pull/suck in the belly button, clench the pelvic floor, bear down (like pushing a bowel movement), strain, or hold breath while performing any of these exercises
- Maintain an intensity level of about 25-50% of what would feel really hard
- 10-30 min per session
- Start with intervals, or short bursts of exercise. 5-10 minutes of cardio, for example.
- Focus on breathing and standing with a straight spine.
- These are great exercises to start with: elliptical machine, biking, walking, swimming.
I can’t emphasize it enough. Just because you can do something doesn’t mean you should do it. Be aware that your body is healing and recovering from giving birth. The last thing you want to do is injure yourself.
When you’re looking to make your exercises more difficult, try increasing:
- Change of surface
- Change of terrain
- Load (add weights)
- Lever arm (move your arms up or out)
As always, just keep an eye on how your body feels; and if signs of overuse or strain increase, or increase in your symptoms, scale back.
With all of that said, I always advise seeing a pelvic floor physical therapist before working out again. Why? They can see exactly where your body is at and where your strengths/weaknesses lie. Why is this important? To prevent pain, injury, or pelvic floor dysfunction (prolapse, urinary or fecal incontinence, painful sex, etc). A good physical therapist should work with you to meet your own goals in a personalized, holistic, and hands-on way.
So, if you want help giving your body the foundation it needs to be able to keep up with your little one(s) and return to the activities you love without pain or symptoms, make sure to schedule an appointment with a pelvic floor physical therapist! Find the one that works best for you. Don’t be afraid to switch if the one you are seeing isn’t as helpful as you would like.
Alright mama, go get it!
Please note: The information provided in this article is for informational purposes only. Not every program or exercise is right for every person, and you must consult a healthcare provider before doing any exercise listed here. This article is not a substitute for professional medical care or advice. You must consult a medical care provider for advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Vermont Mom and New Moon Physical Therapy and Wellness are in no way liable for any issues that arise from using information contained within this article. Please consult your medical care provider before starting any exercise program.
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