Postnatal exercise: Easing into fitness after having a baby
Postnatal exercise might not be the first thing to cross your mind since having a baby. But if you are getting to get back in the gym or just wanting to move a little bit more and don't know where to start, we've got you covered.
The most important thing to say first of all is postnatal exercise will look different for every woman, so please, please don't compare yourself to anyone else. Everyone’s pregnancy, labour and baby is different so what works for one woman, might be wildy different from another. For many women, just moving without a sense that their insides aren't going to fall out is a start. We're joking, obviously. The point is, the female body goes through huge trauma when having a baby, so the focus, first and foremost in the months after birth is gentle movement.
Postnatal exercise: how soon can you exercise after having a baby?
It's important to stress again that this will vary from woman to woman, and depend on a variety of factors, including your birth experience and how much exercise you did before you were pregnant. The NHS website states: "It's usually a good idea to wait until after your six-week postnatal check before you start any high-impact exercise, such as aerobics or running."
With that in mind, the first few weeks are probably going to be no more than gentle walking. Again, focus on gentle movement, lots of walking and fresh air to clear the mind. You’re going to have to take what feels like the entire contents of the house with you each time you go out; nappies, wipes, bottles or boobs, change of clothes (for the baby, not you), etc. But it gets easier the more you do it, I promise.
After feeling more comfortable with walking and as the weeks progress, you’ll be looking to increase the intensity a little with some functional everyday movements. Squatting and pressing exercises might fill you with absolute dread, but I guarantee you’re already doing them in everyday life. Bending down to pick your baby up, reaching up high for things, you’re already doing it. So just focus on bodyweight routines, keeping it nice and simple and stripping things back to simple functional movement.
As these begin to feel good, you can then think about introducing some light weight and increasing the intensity a little more each time to get the heart rate up. Always remembering to keep an eye on that post partum bleeding, it’s literally an open wound inside healing from where your placenta has come away - it’s useful to think about this when training, or wanting to get back to training. We wouldn’t go to the gym with a great big open wound bleeding on the outside, and really this is no different – it’s just on the inside. So as frustrating as it might be to want to get back to it, it’s always good to be sensible – if that bleeding returns after stopping, or hasn’t yet stopped, it’s a sure fire sign that you need to recover a little more.
I always say to my clients, “intention before intensity” - we look to set the intention first before upping the intensity. Just because you can do something, doesn’t necessarily mean you should. So good movement, monitoring any post partum symptoms (i.e. pelvic floor and any leaking – common, but a sign to step it back a bit and seek guidance from a women’s health physio if you can) and think about the intention of something - why we’re doing it - over intensity every time in this recovery period.
Finally, just as I started with this piece... DON’T COMPARE! We often see glossy pictures of mums on social media showing us how wonderful their life and baby is, and how they’re back in their size 6 jeans straight after giving birth. Reality... they spend most the day expressing milk or making bottles, screaming because their baby just won’t sleep, and are drinking as much coffee (and wine/gin!) as the rest of us just to get through the day.
So honestly, you’ve got this. Your body is pretty badass, you’ve just grown and ejected a human. That’s training right there. So remember - it’s your journey, your way.