How to keep fit after giving birth
After giving birth, it can be difficult to find the time and energy to work out. Here are four tips to help you get back into shape!
Every new parent is likely to have a different attitude towards exercise in the first few months after giving birth. For some new parents, jumping straight back into a high-intensity exercise regime is key, and for others, working out might be their last priority.
Finding a way to incorporate some form of exercise into your day-to-day life is important. Regular activity has loads of benefits; it can promote better sleep, relieve stress, boost energy, strengthen abdominal muscles, and prevent postpartum depression, to name a few.
For most healthy women, around 150 minutes a week of moderate-intensity aerobic activity is best.
When should you start exercising again?
The length of time that you should wait until it’s safe to begin exercising varies, depending on the nature of your birth.
If you had an uncomplicated vaginal delivery, you can start gentle exercise almost immediately after birth, or as soon as you feel ready and comfortable to do so. As a general rule, you should wait at least 6 to 8 weeks before starting any high-impact exercise.
If you had a caesarean section, recovery can take slightly longer. Following a C-Section, it’s recommended that you avoid heavy exercise during the first 6 weeks, waiting until after your postnatal check at 6 to 8 weeks.
Everyone recovers from pregnancy at different speeds, so it’s important to pay attention to how your body feels and not to push yourself too hard. Throughout pregnancy (and for up to 6 months postpartum), your body produces the hormone relaxin, which can cause your ligaments and joints to soften. There’s an increased risk of injury, so it's important to take it slower.
There are a number of ‘tests’ and signs that can act as guidance for when you may be able to exercise again. If you’re keen to try more high-intensity training, try doing the ‘jump test’ beforehand. This is when you complete 20 jumps in a row and then cough 4 times after jumping. If you can do this without leaking urine, or any other complications, it’s a great sign that you might be able to start more heavy exercise.
It’s important to pay attention to how your body reacts after exercise - if your bleeding gets heavier after working out, it may be a sign that your body needs more time to heal. If you’re still leaking 3 months after birth, you should reach out to your GP or physiotherapist, who can provide advice on how to strengthen your pelvic floor.
What sort of exercise should you begin with?
In the first few months after childbirth, it might seem like an impossible task to find the time to exercise. However, you only need to be aiming for low impact and simple workouts for around 20 to 30 minutes a day. These types of exercises can be easily incorporated into your daily activities. For example, walking for just 30 minutes a day is a great place to start.
After childbirth, it’s important to focus on exercises that strengthen your major muscle groups, including your abdominal and back muscles. Pelvic floor exercises are a great way to strengthen the muscles of the pelvic floor, which come under strain during pregnancy and after birth.
You can incorporate some stomach muscle exercises or pelvic tilt exercises into your day:
- Start on all fours, with your knees under your hips and your hands under your shoulders, making sure your back is straight.
- Pull in your stomach muscles and raise your back towards the ceiling, letting your head gently relax forward.
- Hold this for a few seconds and then return to your starting position.
- Do this 10 times.
- Stand with your shoulders and bottom against the wall, keeping your knees soft.
- Pull your belly button towards your spine so your back flattens against the wall, hold for 4 seconds, and release.
- Repeat 10 times.
Another great way to include exercise in your day is to check for postnatal exercise classes local to you. Many will allow you to bring your baby with you, and may also include the baby or pram as part of the workout. If you’re doing an exercise class that isn’t explicitly a postnatal class, make sure to tell your instructor that you’ve just had a baby.
Sites such as YouTube, which allow you to follow short, at-home workouts, are also a great way to fit postpartum exercises into your daily schedule.
Things to keep in mind:
- If you’re breastfeeding, it’s important to stay hydrated and drink plenty of fluids throughout the day. Whilst moderate exercise isn’t enough to affect breast milk quantity or quality, it’s generally advised to try and breastfeed before your exercise to avoid any discomfort that may come from engorged breasts.
- Make sure to do a proper warm up and cool down before exercising, gradually increasing the pace of the workout as you go.
- Make sure you wear a supportive bra and nursing pads if you’re breastfeeding.
- Keep in tune with how your body feels - stop exercising if you start to feel pain or discomfort.
Final thoughts from Kinhub:
Although finding time to exercise and keep fit is important after giving birth, it’s equally as important to not put pressure on yourself to immediately ‘snap back’. It took 9 months for your body to grow your baby and it can take just as much time to recover.
It can be hard, but try not to compare yourself and your progress with other new parents. Every pregnancy and postnatal body is different! The best tip is to get into good habits that you enjoy and can keep up. Exercise should never feel like a chore.