Postpartum Exercise: The Early Days
When I talk about returning to exercise after giving birth, the first thing everyone wants to know is the timeline. When can you run? When can you CrossFit? When can you go back to yoga, pilates, spin, HIIT?
The first three weeks postpartum, you NEED to rest. Now, don't get me wrong. If you're in pain, feeling heaviness, experiencing urinary leakage, the right guidance can give you a plan of action in these early days. But your body still needs time to rest.
Your body is healing. Pregnancy and childbirth are serious business and your body needs this time to recover. Your rest timeline looks like this:
Week 1: In the bed
Week 2: On the bed
Week 3: Near the bed
Sure, during these weeks you can get up and shower, feed your baby, make your older kids lunch. Yes, you will have to get the stroller in and out of the car to take your baby to their doctor’s appointments. These guidelines are difficult to live by, but your goal is to do your best.
For those who are feeling well and having an uncomplicated, straightforward recovery, week 4 is a turning point. This is when you’re safe to start walking more, possibly starting some body weight strengthening. During this time you want to listen to your body. If you notice urinary leakage, increased bleeding, pain or feel heaviness in your pelvis with any activity, your body is telling you to slow down. If you notice any of those, take a rest day and dial it back.
Listen to your body.
Week 6 is typically when your OBGyn or Midwife will clear you for exercise. But what does exercise mean? Does it mean you’re ready to go run a 5k? Go back to the gym?
Knowing how to return to your exercise program safely can make all the difference in managing your risk of injury, your risk of urinary leakage, prolapse, pelvic pain and more. This knowledge can provide you with the confidence you need to ramp up your fitness routine quickly, but safely.
While there are exercises that most, if not every, postpartum person can benefit from during the first few weeks postpartum (I'll get into those momentarily), it’s important to be evaluated by a pelvic floor PT during your first few weeks postpartum. What you’ll gain from this evaluation is that confidence I was talking about earlier. You’ll gain an understanding of where your body is strong, where your body is weak, and how you need to modify your fitness program while you work on getting back to all the activities you were doing before pregnancy and childbirth.
While I don’t recommend you start a pelvic floor strengthening or abdominal strengthening program before you’re evaluated, the exercises that I believe most postpartum people can benefit from are:
Laying on your back, exhale and lift your hips up into the air, hold for 3-5 seconds. Bring your hips back down to the ground, and repeat for 3 sets of 10.
This is an excellent exercise to do while breastfeeding! Sitting or standing, keeping your shoulders relaxed, bring the lower angle of your shoulder blades towards each other. Hold 10 seconds. Relax and repeat 10 times.
Pec Doorway Stretch
Standing in a doorway, bring your arms out to your side like a cactus and keep your elbows bent at a 90 degree angle. Place your palms and forearms flat against the wall, and gently lean forward until you feel a stretch in your chest. Hold for 45 seconds, 2-3 times.
In any position, place one hand on your stomach and one hand on your chest. Take a slow, deep breath in to your abdomen, allowing your chest hand to stay still. Exhale slowly. You should feel your rib cage expand in all directions. Repeat for 10 breaths, a few times per day.
Please keep in mind that these may not be appropriate for everyone and clearing movement with your physical therapist or physician is important prior to beginning any program.
Research is now showing that the 6 week postpartum check is too long to wait to begin strengthening.
If you are feeling well and itching to get back to exercise quickly, take advantage of these early weeks. If you’re wondering how, schedule a phone call or evaluation with me to help you determine where you’re weak, where you’re strong and what you can do about it.
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