After you’ve had a baby, exercise can improve your fitness, boost your mood and help you get back to your pre-pregnancy weight. It will also keep your joints moving and strengthen your back and core muscles, which will have been weakened by your pregnancy. But it’s important not to do too much too soon. It can take up to 12 months for you to return to your pre-pregnancy fitness level.
Exercise your pelvic floor
Straight after the birth, you can start off with pelvic floor exercises (little internal squeezes and slow holds), even if you’ve had stitches or a tear. Your pelvic floor muscles support your uterus, vagina, bowel and bladder. Exercising them regularly will encourage healing and reduce your risk of urinary incontinence (bladder weakness) in the future. If you notice you’re leaking some urine when you cough or sneeze, ask your GP to refer you to a specialist women’s health physiotherapist.
After a straightforward birth
If you’ve had a vaginal birth without complications, you should be able to return to light exercises as soon as your baby is born. Your stitches should take two to three weeks to heal, and the bleeding after the birth can take up to six weeks to stop. Choose low-impact activities such as yoga, Pilates and swimming. Or, alternatively, take your baby out for a walk in the pram or see if there are any mother and baby buggy sessions at your local park.
It’s a good idea to wait until your six-week check before starting any high-impact exercise, even if you were exercising regularly before your pregnancy. High-impact exercise is where both of your feet leave the ground at the same time, such as jogging. Start with some core exercises first, build up some strength in the abdominals and lower back area then move on to light jogging, or a gentle circuit class. If you start exercising and the bleeding restarts or it becomes heavier – this can be a sign that you’re doing too much. It’s best to check this with your midwife or GP.
After a more complicated birth
If the birth didn’t go smoothly or you had a caesarean section, you need to follow your midwife’s or GP’s advice. After a caesarean, you will need to take it easy until your wound has healed. You may need to wait a little longer than six weeks before your body is ready for some exercise, other than pelvic floor squeezes. It may be around three months before you can start running again. In the meantime, after your six-week check, focus on Pilates-style exercises to build on your abdominal muscles and pelvic floor exercises. Gentle mother-and-baby classes are also a good option.
If you’re breastfeeding
Exercise won’t affect the amount of breast milk you produce or your baby’s growth. But breastfeeding does take its toll on your body. You will need an extra 500 calories a day to make sure you’re not losing more than half a pound of weight a week. Always drink before you exercise, wear a very supportive bra and don’t diet. Your joints will be a little looser while you’re breastfeeding, maybe even for a couple of months after you stop. So make sure you exercise carefully.
Put safety first
It’s important to listen to your body. Hormonal changes during pregnancy can make your joints more stretchy than normal, so you can be more prone to injury.
Start slowly and build up from there. Aim to do a mixture of aerobic exercise (to get your heart rate up) and strengthening exercises. Check your trainers fit properly, as your feet may have gone up a size during your pregnancy.
If you’re at all worried about your health after pregnancy, speak to your GP, especially before you embark on a new exercise regime.
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