How to avoid postnatal injuries: a guide to post pregnancy exercise
Getting back into regular exercise after giving birth can help you to return to your pre-pregnancy weight more easily, reduce back pain, strengthen and tone your muscles, boost your energy levels, and help you sleep better. However, there are certain precautions you should take to make sure that you follow a safe exercise regime and don’t end up doing your body more harm than good. Here are some helpful guidelines to follow when doing postnatal exercise.
Wait until your body is ready
Whether your labour was quick and easy, long and extremely painful or involved surgery, your body goes through an incredible transformation when you give birth. If you had an uncomplicated vaginal delivery it is generally safe to begin doing light exercise like walking and stretching exercises a few days after giving birth. However, it is always a good idea to speak to your doctor, midwife, or physiotherapist before returning to any kind of sport or exercise after the birth. It is advisable to wait until your 6 week postnatal check before heading back to the gym or joining a group exercise program.
Most mums will find they need around 12-16 weeks before they are strong enough to return to their pre-baby exercise routine (which may include activities like running, lifting weights, high impact aerobics or team/ball sports). Your abdominal muscles help to support your spine. Returning to high intensity exercise before your abdominal muscles fully stabilise will increase your risk of a back injury.
Take it slow
After giving birth you might find you are experiencing aches and pains, muscle atrophy, postural issues, incontinence and fatigue. Therefore, when doing any kind of post partum exercise it’s a good idea to take it slow and be mindful of your physical state. If you push yourself too hard right off the bat you may actually end up delaying your body’s recovery and cause yourself injury. Postnatal exercise classes are designed to take into account the changes your body has gone through as a result of the birth and aid you to gradually ease yourself back into physical activity. If you can’t get to a postnatal class (such as yoga or pilates), low intensity activities including walking, swimming (once your bleeding has ceased), low impact aerobics and water aerobics are all good options. As your muscles regain their strength and your energy levels increase you can gradually intensify your exercise program.
Stop if it hurts
You should not experience any pain during postnatal exercise. If it hurts you should stop immediately and advise the instructor if you are in a class. If you are exercising at home and experience pain, stop and when you start exercising again try slowing down or reducing your intensity level.
Before you return to doing any sport, running or heavy lifting, it is crucial that your pelvic floor and abdominal muscles have regained sufficient strength. If pain or discomfort persists consult your doctor or physiotherapist.
Take breaks if you need them
Being woken up several times a night by your baby means you are often tired before you even start exercising. Make sure you stop exercising before you reach the point of exhaustion. Take rest breaks during exercise if you feel you need them and remember to take things at your own pace.
Wear a supportive bra
Always wear a good supportive bra while exercising. You may need a more supportive sports bra following the birth than you did prior to having a baby. Just be careful when choosing a bra as you want something comfortable that is not going to cause you any pain or discomfort – if you are breastfeeding you will likely find that it will be a matter of finding a bra that balances support with comfort.
Prioritise your Pelvic Floor
Our pelvic floor muscles give us control over the bladder and bowel. These muscles get stretched and can be weakened during pregnancy and labour. In most cases, sport, running and other high impact exercises will not be sufficient to strengthen your pelvic floor after birth. Such high intensity physical activity early after childbirth can actually reduce pelvic floor muscle strength.
It is important to do your pelvic floor exercises each day in the first few weeks after childbirth in order to strengthen these muscles again.
Maintain good posture
It is important to maintain correct posture and protect your back during exercise. You can do this by using postnatal abdominal muscle bracing, and breathing calmly and easily throughout the movement. At regular points during exercise you should check and adjust your posture: stand up straight with your lower abdominal muscles drawn in, your shoulders back and aligned and your chin pulled inwards slightly.
You should keep a water bottle handy when you exercise. Drink small amounts of water regularly before, during and after exercise.
If you are breastfeeding you may well find that you will need to drink more water than usual to stay hydrated.
If you are not sure you are exercising correctly or using a safe postnatal exercise approach, our physiotherapists can assist you. Contact us today to arrange a physiotherapy appointment and prepare to return to a regular exercise routine.