Yes you can “workout” before your 6 week postnatal check BUT first you have to understand the types of workout that are safe and appropriate to do so early after having birth and how your birth type affects your choices and timeline.
You can do core and pelvic floor activation workouts from 48 hours post birth and with appropriate physio led guidance done properly this will help with healing and recovery time.
You can reintroduce walking for cardio vascular exercise during the first 2 weeks unless still healing from an abdominal birth or other birth related trauma/surgery/intervention.
At 4-6 weeks you can look to add in key functional body weight movements such as squats and lunges alongside further core and pelvic floor work.
From 6 weeks plus you can look to move to a more structured low impact and postnatal specific training plan such as Carifit online.
From 16 weeks post birth you can start to gradually build higher impact activities back into your training providing that you are not showing any contraindications that require further specific support.
They don’t really sound like the workouts I used to do?
You are right - to a point. One of the biggest challenges you will face if you are a new mum who is into fitness and working out is the temporary resetting of your expectations and ideas of what constitutes a “workout” Further on in this post we detail all the things you should consider as you return to exercise and to full strength and fitness BUT what every new mum needs to realize is that your body has gone through some incredible changes and an incredible physical process and right now it deserves care, patience and attention to detail. Everyone will work through the postnatal recovery process at different speeds BUT absolutely EVERYONE needs to work through it in the same order. How long each part takes you and how quickly you move along is of course personal. Missing steps or rushing things can open the door to injury and problems that are easily avoided if you follow the right process and apply the proper steps and advice to your own body, birth type and situation!
So why is everyone so obsessed with the 6 week check?
Simply put from an exercise provider point of view - INSURANCE! It is a really key box ticking exercise that you have had your postnatal check up before coming back to exercise classes, the huge problem here is that it leads people to believe that just by having some very basic check with little or no physical assessment element means that you are immediately fine to resume any type of exercise that takes your fancy. Of course we know that this is absolutely not the case for the newly postnatal body.
So what factors should you consider when returning to exercise post birth?
1. Type of delivery
However your little one arrived into the world, it’s important to remember that your body has been through some serious trauma and performed an incredible task, so now is the time to respect that and let it recover.
If you had an uncomplicated vaginal birth, you can think about returning to exercise after 6-8 weeks, taking short walks and doing pelvic floor exercises before that. In fact, Carifit’s resident women’s health physiotherapist Lucy Allen advises that every woman should start pelvic floor exercises within 48 hours of delivery.
A C-section is more complicated, with a longer recovery period of at least 8-10 weeks. “Although at 6 weeks the superficial scar has healed, the abdominal muscles are significantly weakened with surgery,” says Lucy. “An episiotomy that has healed well with no complications doesn’t differ too much from a natural delivery, but with perineal tears, it depends on the grade of tear and healing. 3rd and 4th degree tears cause injury to the pelvic floor and anal sphincter complex that will take longer to regain strength and function. It’s a very individual thing, no matter the delivery the experience and recovery will be different so it’s a case of listening to your body. If you leak during exercise or feel vaginal pressure or back pain then you need to modify what you are doing.”
Ultimately, every birth and recovery is different, so it’s important to take an individualised approach and not run before you can walk – quite literally.
2. Your pre-pregnancy fitness levels
With both types of delivery, recovery and return to exercise will depend on various factors, notably your fitness levels both pre and during pregnancy. Forget the archaic notion of needing to ‘take it easy’ – the benefits of exercising throughout pregnancy are plentiful, from keeping your body strong and stable as your bump grows to building the stamina you’ll need during the birth. You’ll also be less susceptible to postural changes, joint pain, fatigue and pregnancy complications. Once baby arrives, the fitness levels you worked hard to maintain throughout your pregnancy will make the return to exercise quicker, easier and safer.
3. All. The. Hormones
Lunges feeling a bit wobbly? That’ll be relaxin. As the name implies, this hormone relaxes the ligaments and muscles and widens the cervix in preparation for birth, but it doesn’t just disappear once your baby is born. As well as balance issues, relaxin makes a new mum’s joints particularly fragile, so high-impact exercises are out and low-impact exercises are in. Emotionally, general postpartum mood swings can make exercise feel like the last thing you want to do, but working out can improve your mood and boost confidence. Hormones play such a huge role in your 1st year as a new mum and understanding the role they play can take huge pressure off you at this precious time.
4. Pelvic floor function
It’s a common misconception that pelvic floor function is only an issue if you had a vaginal birth, but pregnancy itself puts considerable pressure on your pelvic floor, so it’s important to start pelvic floor exercises as soon as you feel ready post-birth. But how do you know if your pelvic floor isn’t functioning as it should be? “Incontinence, vaginal heaviness, visible prolapse or palpable on wiping and pain are signs that something isn’t right,” says Lucy. “It’s recommended to see a physio as soon as possible if feasible, but especially if any of first three symptoms do not improve with modifying exercise and doing pelvic floor exercises 3 times a day for 12 weeks.”
5. Diastasis recti aka the tummy gap
Diastasis recti (DR) is the separation that occurs between the rectus abdominis (six pack muscles) as the line alba (connective tissue) expands to accommodate your growing baby. DR is completely normal during pregnancy, and 99% of women will experience it. “A gap of more than 2 fingers needs rehab if you are wanting to return to high impact exercise, but the key thing is the tension along the linea alba,” says Lucy. “If, when contracting, you aren’t getting much and there’s doming then rehab is needed to prevent back pain or herniation.” Work on restoring your core with our free guide and practice good alignment and breathing to control intra-abdominal pressure.
Don’t panic: research has shown that light to moderate exercise does not affect your milk supply, composition or taste. There are however, a few things to consider. Hydration is key; so drink water before, during and after your workout. Breastfeeding requires calories, so ensure you fuel yourself with nutritious, sustaining food, especially when exercising. Feed or express before you workout to avoid discomfort from full breasts and finally, invest in a supportive sports bra – because nothing helps with fitness motivation like a nice new piece of kit.
7. Mum guilt
Research by This Girl Can revealed that 61% of mums feel guilty about taking time to workout. We get it, but as the saying goes, “you can’t pour from an empty cup”. Taking time for yourself – both mentally and physically – is so important when you’ve had a baby. Carifit alleviates mum guilt by getting your little one involved. The benefits of babywearing are endless, from reducing crying to encouraging bonding. All you need is a carrier, baby and 30 minutes. If you’re lucky, you might even get a sleeping baby at the end of it.
8. Unrealistic expectations
You pre-baby fitness regime may have put an athlete to shame, but even the most well-intentioned new mums find that getting back into exercise doesn’t quite go to plan once baby is here. It’s important to understand that it will take time to ease into a routine, both physically and mentally. Your body will feel and move differently, which is why the type of exercise you do is so important. Post-natal exercise may be low impact, but that doesn’t mean it’s low intensity – you’ll be surprised how quickly you heart rate goes up when you’re doing a squat and press while wearing your little one. Listen to your body, pace yourself and trust the process. Those pre-baby fitness levels aren’t lost forever, we promise.
9. Sleep deprivation
You know exercise will make you feel good, but you’re too tired to do it - it’s the cruel catch 22 that comes with being a new mum. Ultimately, exercise gives you energy, but it’s important to listen to your body. Take each day as it comes and try to fit in some movement, whether it’s a walk with baby or as many rounds of a Carifit session as you feel up to. Then, if baby nods off, put them down and sneak in a quick catnap yourself. Win win. Sleep, how to get some and how much your baby needs is a topic that is never far from any new parents mind and you can get some key stats.
10. Women's Health physio appointment
While the six-week GP check is seen as a postnatal milestone, it can be a bit, well, perfunctory. If budget allows, a women’s health physio appointment is a worthwhile investment. “The initial appointment for a new mum is a complete mental and physical check up,” says Lucy. “We take a full in-depth history of symptoms and delivery then offer assessment of the pelvic girdle/spine, abdominal and an internal vaginal examination (if consented) to fully assess pelvic floor strength, range of movement, co-ordination and check for any laxity or prolapse. At the end of a session you are given a rehab program to be continued independently or progressed in future appointments.” If seeing a women’s health physio isn’t possible, in our Carifit sections you will find pelvic health tutorials from Lucy along with insights from medical professionals and postnatal experts to get you moving safely again.
So how can Carifit help?
At Carifit we have put everything you need to navigate this incredible moment in your life in one very easy to use place, with input from medics, physios, nutrition and fitness experts Carifit online has all the tools and support that new mums need. Best of all it is scientifically proven to speed your recovery time, boost your mood and enhance the bond you have with your baby! You can start your own 7 day FREE trail.