If you’re keen to get back to your fitness routine but are not sure how safe it is, here’s what you need to know…
Days after giving birth
As soon as you feel up to it, it’s safe to go for walks and do pelvic floor exercises and gentle stretches (NHS Choices, 2016a). Don’t worry if you can’t quite manage those pelvic floors just yet. You’ll know as soon as you’ve healed enough when to give them a go.
Pelvic floor exercises
Pelvic floor exercises help to strengthen the muscles of the pelvic floor. These muscles come under massive strain during pregnancy and when you give birth.
If your pelvic floor muscles are weak, a bit of wee might sneak out when you cough, sneeze or strain. This is known as stress incontinence, and – ask your mates after a gin or three – it’s super common following childbirth (NHS Choices, 2017).
To get your pelvic floor muscles strong again, exercise them lying down, sitting or standing. After a while, you’ll be able to do these exercises anywhere. You’ll soon be doing them on the bus, in a meeting or while waiting in the queue for a coffee (NHS Choices, 2016b).
Here’s how you do them:
- First, squeeze and draw in your back passage as if you are holding in wind.
- Squeeze as if you’re stopping a wee.
- Now relax. This is a short squeeze. Rest for a second, then repeat until you feel the muscles get tired.
- After a short rest, squeeze again as above. This time, hold the squeeze for as long as you can, but no longer than 10 seconds, then relax.
- It's important to keep breathing normally while you do these exercises. Make sure you don't pull in your stomach or squeeze your buttocks.
- Aim to build up to 10 repeats of each exercise, four to six times a day.
(NHS Choices, 2016b)
For more information on how to start practising pelvic floor exercises, click here (Bladder and Bowel Foundation, 2008).
Abdominal muscle separation
The two abdominal muscles (rectus abdominis) that run down the middle of the abdomen often separate during pregnancy (NHS Choices, 2016c). How much they separate varies between women.
These muscles separate because of your growing womb pushing them apart. This makes your abdominal muscles longer and weaker (NHS Choices, 2016c).
Here’s how to check the size of your separation, after you’ve had your baby:
- Lie on your back, bend your knees and have your feet flat on the floor.
- Lift your shoulders off the floor a bit and look down at your belly.
- Feel with your fingertips between the edges of the muscles, above and below your belly button. Check the number of fingers you can fit between your separated muscles.
- Check this regularly to see that the gap is decreasing.
- If you go to a postnatal pilates or yoga class, trained instructors might also be able to help you check your separation.
(NHS Choices, 2016c)
Once your baby is eight weeks old, your muscles will usually have returned to normal. If the gap is still obvious, you could be risking back problems. So speak to your GP and they can refer you to a physiotherapist (NHS Choices, 2016c).
Swimming is great exercise. It’s low-impact and good for some chill-out time for you too. You'll need to wait until seven days after your postnatal bleeding (lochia) has stopped to hop (or maybe step tentatively) into the pool.
Six weeks after giving birth
Generally, to get back to proper, high-impact exercise like running or your much-loved zumba class, it’s best to wait until your six-week postnatal check-up (NHS Choices, 2016a).
It will also depend what type of birth you had. For example, if you had a caesarean section, your recovery time might be longer. It might also depend on how much exercise you did before you were pregnant.
Certain types of exercise might be better if you have weak pelvic floor muscles too. If you’ve got any doubts or questions about whether the exercise you’re doing is ok, talk to your midwife, health visitor or GP (NHS Choices, 2016a).
But generally, don’t be too nervous about it – it’s great to get back to exercise after having a baby. There are loads of reasons to exercise, including your mental and physical health. So go for it and have fun.
Buggy fit, postnatal yoga and other postnatal exercise classes
Some postnatal classes let you do the exercise class with your baby at your side, which isn’t as ridiculous as it sounds. Especially with a newborn who’ll often snooze through the whole thing.
Some even include your baby and their pram or buggy as part of the workout. Plus they’re often outdoors in local parks, which is a nice bonus.
If you're going to a class that isn't a special postnatal class, make sure you tell the instructor that you’ve recently had a baby.
Postnatal exercise tips
Your ligaments and joints are much more supple in the months after you give birth, so just be aware of that. It's easier than before pregnancy for new mums to injure themselves by stretching or twisting too much (NHS Choices, 2016a).
You’re more likely to get injured because of a group of hormones called relaxin (The Guild of Pregnancy and Postnatal Exercise Instructors, 2018). Your body produced relaxin in early pregnancy to make the ligaments in the body more elastic.
The downside of relaxin is that it can cause back problems and injuries. Plus its impact on the joints might linger around for up to five months after you have your baby (The Guild of Pregnancy and Postnatal Exercise Instructors, 2018).
If you’re in pain or your postnatal bleeding (lochia) gets heavier or changes colour (becomes pink or red) after activity, you might be doing too much (NHS Choices, 2016a; The Guild of Pregnancy and Postnatal Exercise Instructors, 2018).
Other postnatal exercise
If you’re struggling for time to dedicate to specific postnatal exercise, there’s still a lot you can do. Try the following:
- Have a go at pushing the pram quickly. Try to keep your arms bent and your back straight, ensure the handles are at the right height for you and your elbows are bent at right angles.
- Play some games with your older children that get you running around.
- Build exercise into your day, for example you could walk instead of taking the car.
- Bend your knees rather than your back when you pick things up. This'll strengthen your thigh muscles and avoid damaging your back.
(NHS Choices, 2016a)
This page was last reviewed in April 2018
NCT's helpline offers practical and emotional support in all areas of pregnancy, birth and early parenthood: 0300 330 0700.
You might find attending one of NCT's Early Days groups helpful as they give you the opportunity to explore different approaches to important parenting issues with a qualified group leader and other new parents in your area.
Make friends with other parents-to-be and new parents in your local area for support and friendship by seeing what NCT activities are happening nearby.
American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (2018). Exercise after pregnancy. Available from: https://www.acog.org/Patients/FAQs/Exercise-After-Pregnancy [Accessed 22nd April 2018].
Bladder and Bowel Foundation (2008). Pelvic Floor Exercises for Women. Available from: https://www.nhs.uk/Planners/pregnancycareplanner/Documents/BandBF_pelvic_floor_women.pdf [Accessed 22nd April 2018].
NHS Choices (2016a). Keeping fit and healthy with a baby. Available from: https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/pregnancy-and-baby/keeping-fit-and-healthy/ [Accessed 22nd April 2018].
NHS Choices (2016b). Pelvic floor muscle exercises. Available from: https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/pregnancy-and-baby/your-body-after-childbirth/ [Accessed 22nd April 2018].
NHS Choices (2016c) Separated stomach muscles. Available from: https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/pregnancy-and-baby/your-body-after-childbirth/#separated-stomach-muscles-diastasis-recti [Accessed 22nd April 2018].
NHS Choices (2017). Exercise in pregnancy. Available from: https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/pregnancy-and-baby/pregnancy-exercise/ [Accessed 22nd April 2018].
Oxford University Hospitals NHS Trust (2015). Separated stomach muscles. Available from: http://www.ouh.nhs.uk/patient-guide/leaflets/files/11749Precti.pdf [Accessed 22nd April 2018].
The Guild of Pregnancy and Postnatal Exercise Instructors (2018). Exercise advice for new mums. Available from: http://postnatalexercise.co.uk/exercise-advice-for-new-mums/ [Accessed 22nd April