I have two children, 21 months apart. They were both born via emergency caesarean. Both my pregnancy and surgery changed my body to what it is today. And I love exercise, so this topic is very close to my heart.
During pregnancy, your pelvic floor muscles are weakened and your abdominal muscles stretch and separate to make room for a rapidly growing child. This is a natural occurrence, which usually returns to normal 6-8 weeks postpartum.
However, about two-thirds of women continue to experience stretched and separated muscles, known as diastasis recti, even after having their baby. It can cause all sorts of physical discomforts and issues, such as pain in the lower back and pelvic area. The weakened and overstretched pelvic floor muscle can cause pain during sex, incontinence (leaking and YES it’s common), flatulence, and pelvic organ prolapse.
Importantly, separated muscles, (diastasis recti) after having a baby changes the type of exercise that are safe to perform.
Returning to exercise after pregnancy
Almost every exercise you do affects your core. Exercises you wouldn’t have thought twice about before your baby - running, jumping, skipping, boxing, sit-ups, lunges, yoga, high-impact sports - can now put damaging levels of stress on the muscles deep in your abdominal area.
It is possible to return to these exercises after pregnancy…
… just be careful about going straight back to it. Too often, I see women returning to the gym after pregnancy and performing unsafe and inappropriate abdominal exercise in a rush to flatten their belly and to reclaim their ‘pre-baby body’. Giving birth is strenuous, and your body will need time and training to recover. So while you’re doing the right thing in trying to strengthen your core, rushing back to the exercises you “once did” can delay healing or worsen your rectus diastasis and pelvic floor muscles.
Instead, start out with low-impact and low resistance activities to strengthen and tone your abdominal and pelvic floor muscles. When taking fitness classes, speak to the instructor beforehand so they know to provide safer alternatives during the session.
With qualifications in pre-natal and post-natal safe exercise instruction, I can make this part super easy for you. Come chat with me before class for specific instruction to suit your body’s needs.
Common exercises that are safer for your pelvic floor:
- Water walking
- Seated weights
- Wall push-ups
- Seated cycling
- Kegel exercises
- Gentle Pilates
- Shallow squats and lunges
- Low resistance cross training
- Low intensity water aerobics
- Low intensity Swiss ball (fit ball) exercises
But remember, all of these exercises may need to be modified to suit you and your specific stage of postpartum recovery. Even years after your youngest was born, your body may require specific instruction and tailored exercise to ensure a safe transition back to your old fitness habits.
For many women, with the right post-natal fitness regime, the abdominal and pelvic floor muscles will eventually become strong enough to cope with strenuous activity. Just remember to talk to your women’s health physiotherapist during your postnatal period before making any changes to the intensity of your workouts.
Not sure about returning to exercise?
Intensive Core and Pelvic Floor Restore Program is a safe place to start.
If you’re not sure about returning to exercise, contact me any time to talk about what sort of activities would work for you. I can help answer your exercise questions, or refer you to women’s health specialist for expert advice.