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There are numerous reasons why regular exercise is important for our bodies and minds throughout every life stage and the postnatal period is no different. Regular Exercise aids in recovery, muscle strengthening, promotes social interaction and psychological wellbeing, just to name a few.
However, what does differ at this stage of life and what needs to be taken into consideration are all the factors and changes our bodies have undergone, taking us from pregnancy into the postnatal period.
The physiological changes of labour and delivery, the healing of Caesar section wounds or perineal tears, the hormonal changes that are occurring, as well as breastfeeding, all need to be respected.
That is why there are a number of guidelines to steer women in the right direction to exercise safely and protectively. Safe exercise is the key to ensure both healing and strengthening can occur.
When to start postnatal exercise
0 - 6 weeks:
- gentle walking can be commenced as soon as is comfortable. Begin with 10-15 mins initially, and gradually build it up by a few minutes every few days as your body can tolerate. Use the gradual increase to check in with your body and how it is coping at each stage. Make it a priority to rest after each walk or outing.
- pelvic floor muscle exercises are essential to regain their strength for organ support and continence and should be commenced within the first 24 hours after delivery.
- gentle abdominal exercises that activate the deep abdominal muscles are safe and recommended to increase their strength for lumbar and pelvic support, as well as promoting the healing of any stretching/separation that has occurred during pregnancy.
From 6 weeks:
- low impact exercise such as cycling, swimming, light weight training, postnatal Pilates and yoga are all great activities that increase tone, muscle strength and cardiorespiratory fitness.
Often women want to resume higher impact exercise such as running, however, it is important to give credit to our bodies for having created a baby and give them plenty of time to recover and strengthen. Pushing oneself too hard too soon can cause problems such as incontinence or pelvic organ prolapse and undermine your body's recovery.
Some women will be ready sooner than others to resume higher impact activities, but our recommendation as to the safest way to progress these exercises is to be guided by a women's health physiotherapist who is specifically trained to assess each woman individually and cater to her specific needs.
Article written by Sharona Finch & Lauren Fink, both our resident St Vincent's physiotherapists who specialise in women's health.