WHEN CAN YOU EXERCISE?
Based on my clinical and personal experience, I believe there is a knowledge gap for mothers regarding when, how and how much to exercise after delivery. Most women will be cleared to begin to exercise at their 6 weeks postpartum visit. They are usually told to gradually get back to activities and to “listen” to their bodies. Aside from that, most of the women I have seen in my sports medicine practice (and myself included) were never given specific information of how to “gradually get back” or what exercise they should do and when, leaving them to fend for themselves. And they ended up coming to see me, one or more years after delivering their baby, with a variety of pain complaints that were hindering their ability to achieve their desired level of activity.
EXERCISE AFTER BABY
This week I had the privilege to speak about this very topic in a session called “Exercise After Baby” at the El Dorado Hills location of Gold Country Run and Sport. It was the perfect opportunity to communicate several key messages and general information about exercise after pregnancy! Here is a summary of the key points we discussed:
TIME TO RECOVER
- A woman’s body needs time to recover from pregnancy and delivery. Doing too much too soon can be harmful!
- Expect to spend 6-12 months to return to pre-pregnancy activity levels. Note that easing into a balanced exercise program in the first postpartum year makes the transition to more strenuous exercise later on much smoother (and with less risk of injury).
BREASTFEEDING AND EXERCISE
- Breastfeeding has huge benefits for babies, so exercise should not interfere with breastfeeding.
- Exercise does NOT have a negative effect on milk production or consumption, nor on infant growth.
- It is possible to exercise while lactating, although you may be more comfortable expressing your milk or feeding baby before you exercise! And remember to wear a comfortable and supportive sports bra.
POSTPARTUM EXERCISE PROGRAM(1): COMPONENTS
Correcting pregnancy-induced changes
- Consistently performing Kegel exercises for pelvic floor strengthening is KEY for preventing urinary and vaginal complications.
- AND a strong pelvic floor is required to successfully return to high impact activities such as running, which may take 5-6 months to accomplish.
- Choose moderate-level low-impact exercise with periods of rest; don’t overdo it!
- First: pelvic floor strengthening.
- Second: core strengthening.
- Best guided by a physical therapist or knowledgeable personal trainer.
- Gentle stretches like those in postpartum yoga classes.
- Caution: avoid aggressive stretching of hamstring and hip adductor muscles until the pelvic floor and core muscles are stronger; then their compensatory tightness may be safely addressed.
- To reap the most benefit from exercise, it should be one part of a multi-faceted plan for good health that includes: sleep, hydration, nutrition and stress management.
- Remember, take good care of yourself so that you may take good care of others!
(1)Always check with your physician before starting an exercise program. If in doubt, seek expert guidance from a physical therapist and/or personal trainer who has knowledge and experience working with postpartum patients/clients. Proper guidance early on translates to reduced risk of injury later!