After your delivery there are so many changes. As a new mom you are transitioning out of the pregnancy state (hormones in flux), while simultaneously healing from childbirth (bleeding, stitches, aches, and pains), and also dealing with the physical changes of being a new mom (lactation and little sleep). Exercise can be extremely helpful for women in the period after delivery, but it should be viewed primarily as a psychological tool, particularly for the first six weeks.
ACOG updated their guidelines in 2015: “If you had a healthy pregnancy and a normal vaginal delivery, you should be able to start exercising again soon after the baby is born. Usually, it is safe to begin exercising a few days after giving birth—or as soon as you feel ready. If you had a cesarean delivery or other complications, ask your health care provider when it is safe to begin exercising again.”
Women who have had C-sections will normally take longer to heal than women who have had a vaginal birth, and they will likely take longer to return to exercise. If you had a C-section you may be cleared by your doctor to return to exercise at 6 weeks postpartum, but you should only do so if you feel physically ready. For vaginal birth most healing happens within 10 days of labour, but the stitches can take up to six weeks to dissolve. The uterus will take 4 to 6 weeks to get back to normal size.
Overall advice is that you should wait to exercise until you are no longer experiencing any bleeding, pain, or have any type of infection. You might experience one of the following symptoms below when healing normally:
- incontinence up until 3-4 months post-delivery
- feeling of loose wrists and ankles
- uncomfortable ‘full’ breasts
- feelings of being much more out of shape than you expected. This often has as much to do with fatigue as it does with recovering from pregnancy and labour.
- weak abdominals, which may cause lower back pain
After your delivery it is good to start with reintroduction of movement and beginning the re-building phase of your training through volume, gradual loading and intensity. A solid strategy and awareness of potential or current symptoms, will help guide what the body is or is not ready for. It is important to keep in mind that first period after delivery is a reintroduction phase. The body has been “compromised” and not in its typical form.
It is good to first master body weight movements, basic exercises and light loads. If this is done regularly and as a routine, we slowly progress. Definitely in the beginning; training should not exhaust you, it should complement your energy for that day.
Overall, exercise after pregnancy reduces depression and it gives you the feeling of having more control mentally and physically. Furthermore it helps you to deal with “new mom” conditions such as back pain and weak abdominals.