Exercising after childbirth – when to start and what to obey

By Spinning Mum:

At odd times I actually take my doctor’s advice serious and when I was showing signs of premature labour some weeks ago I really listened to him and forced myself to slow things down a bit. However, it was not until about 4 weeks ago that I totally paused my training for the upcoming weeks.

I am in the middle of week 40 now and miraculously survived 35 days without doing any sports but two sessions on the good old Tacx. Well, hardly survived I have to rephrase since I often feel fretful, ill-tempered and moody these days as I never had problems getting up from the couch or tying my shoes before. Plus, there is also the fact that I am super jealous that Kai has been admitted to Team Alpecin and my cool new BMC’s spot in the bedroom will most likely soon be taken by his S-Works Venge. Not to forget that due to Alpecin’s shampoos and tonics his hair could soon be looking much better than my fluffy postpartum mess. Grump! [Picture some comically drawn potty mouth font expressing my displeasure here.]^^

Come what may. If I might have to accept some hormone-induced hair loss again [Hey Dr. Kurt Wolff, this is your keyword... ;) ] it does not mean that I have to accept all other physical complaints, such as a weak pelvic floor, puppy fat and a flabby belly.

Being as vain as most other woman on the planet, getting my figure and fitness back as fast as possible was already my goal after having Konstantin. After leaving the hospital with our little rascal, I was virtually lacing up my running flats as soon as I closed the clinic door behind me in order to go for a run and test our Chariot on this occasion. Not caring much about postnatal gymnastic because as soon as I could see my feet again, I felt strong and ready to start where I had stopped before.

Big mistake…! Since my pelvic floor was still far too weak to keep up with high impact sports, I had to plan my jogging route around public toilets if I did not want to put one of Konsta’s nappies on. Luckily my ingenuousness did not cause any permanent damage and recovery yoga lessons paired with some cycling and low intensity training at the gym got me the results I was wishing for in no time. Nevertheless, this time around I did my homework and started some research about exercising after childbirth as I do not want to buy diapers for three family members in the future :)

So, here is what I learned from my doctor, midwife and various books and webpages.
However, please note that every pregnancy, delivery and body is different and the following advice and suggestions do not make up for an extensive consultation from a medical professional.

1. Being patient is the biggest challenge - Allow yourself the time to heal

Loosing weight and feeling at ease with their post baby bodies is on top of the mind of most young mums. But you have to remember that even if it is the most natural thing on earth to give birth, it is still very demanding and puts a lot of stress on the body – especially if perineal tear occurred or a C-section was unavoidable. The good news is, that does not mean you cannot start working on your abdomen soon after leaving the labour ward.
After you have been given green light from your doc, midwife or nurse, kick it off with doing regular Kegel exercises as they will support your recovery by strengthening your pelvic floor muscles which in turn influence many different body functions including a strong bladder and a good posture. Doing Kegels is fairly easy and you can do them anytime and anywhere, e.g. when nursing your baby or whilst taking a shower. Simply take a deep breath and when you exhale, squeeze your pelvic floor muscles as if you want to stop the flow of urine and hold it for five seconds before you let go again as you inhale. Repeat these contractions about five to 10 times. After your lochia has stopped, you might want to try some pelvic floor trainers commonly known as Ben Wa or love balls. Don’t be embarrassed :) There are a couple of really sophisticated ones on the market, such as the pelvic weight set “Ami” by Je Joue or Fun Factory’s “Teneo” smartballs, which are carried at a lot of drug stores and respectable online shops.

2. Start with some light activities once you feel ready

…And I mean light. Though I know how hard it can be to stay patient, you will have to remember that slow and steady wins the race. Depending on whether you had a vaginal birth or a Cesarian, regular half-hourly to hourly walks with the pram, yoga and pilates are the most recommended post-partum activities and can be picked up right after your follow-up examination and consultation at your gynaecologist’s which normally will be scheduled about four to six weeks of your delivery. The good thing is, that a lot of hospitals and other institutions offer classes especially for mothers and babies, so that you can take your little squaller along and benefit from meeting and chatting to other mums. Moreover, you can include most of the exercises you will be taught to strengthen your core and abdominal muscles, such as pelvic tilts, glute bridges and leg slides, into your daily routine for even faster results.

3. Let’s get down to business

Depending on your prenatal fitness and your activity level throughout the past nine months, you are now prepared to work out several times a week at a moderate-intensity. Swimming, low-impact aerobics, a turn on the cross trainer and notably cycling are ideal for a smooth start. Start with 30 minutes sessions three times a week and extend your routine once you make progress. Make sure that you stay hydrated, allow for enough recovery and contact your physician if you experience abdominal pain, vaginal bleeding nausea or dizziness. Nowadays a lot of gyms offer child care solutions, so that you can enjoy some me-time without worrying about your little one.
If you are keen on cycling, cross-country skiing, walking or running, I can only recommend to invest in a Chariot instead of a regular stroller. They come with a lot of equipment, e.g. a special baby seat called the Infant Sling, which even allows you to use it as a pushchair for your newborn. [Read more about our experiences with the Chariot Cougar here.]

Last but no least keep in mind that you still have a certain level of the hormone relaxin in your body. During the past nine months its job was to loosen your joints and ligaments in preparation of giving birth. But it can cause the connective tissue to remain soft even months after giving birth. Thus, please be extra careful when you start sports again that put stress on your knees and ankles. Also take care if you were suffering from abdominal separation as it can take some time to heal properly. Crunches and sit-ups have to be avoided until you are fully cured.

This warning passed on there is only one thing left to say: Enjoy your workout and don’t forget to share your personal experiences in the comment section!