Postnatal exercise: when to start?
You can start attending a postnatal exercise class about six weeks after giving birth, but it’s best to discuss it with your gynaecologist or midwife. What’s important to know is that it’s never too late to start postnatal training. Even if a year or more has passed since the birth, it wouldn’t be a bad idea to do something for your muscular core.
Postnatal exercise starts in the postpartum period
During the postpartum period, focus should be set on resting and regenerating, and adjusting to the new situation. Nevertheless, there’s no harm in boosting the natural recovery processes with gentle activation exercises. What should women note during the postpartum period?
It’s particularly important to adapt daily habits:
Lie on your side before getting up out of bed.
Relieve the pelvic floor as often as possible by, for example, elevating the pelvis with a pillow.
- Don’t lift and carry heavy weights.
Don’t press when on the toilet.
What are the benefits of postnatal exercise?
During pregnancy many physical changes occur: for example, the abdominal muscles are stretched to make room for the baby. Towards the end of pregnancy, this leads to a separation of the straight abdominal muscles – known as rectus diastasis – and thus a lack of tension in the tendon plate. This rectus diastasis often disappears by itself after birth. But not always. Postnatal exercise helps to stabilise the abdomen again.
Pelvic floor training: is that the same thing?
No. But pelvic floor training is an important part of postnatal training. However, since other muscles and ligaments are also stretched and strained during pregnancy, there is more to postnatal exercise.
How long does the pelvic floor and vagina take to recover?
The pelvic floor regains its elasticity and functionality six to nine months after birth. Incontinence and organ prolapse aren't uncommon, especially after childbirth. Nevertheless, incontinence after childbirth shouldn't simply be accepted as par for the course. If you suffer from incontinence, specialised pelvic floor therapists can perform a pelvic floor ultrasound and offer special treatments. The vagina usually builds back quickly after birth – pelvic floor exercises are helpful here too.
Healing after a vaginal birth
During a vaginal birth, the pelvic floor is stretched to the maximum. In order for the vagina to regain its functionality, it should first be protected during the initial period after birth. After this, you can start with holistic pelvic floor training.
Train your core muscles too
«Only» taking care of the pelvic floor and the abdomen isn't holistic postnatal training: your whole posture changes during pregnancy due to the changed centre of gravity, softer tissue and altered position of the pelvis (e.g. the pelvis tilts forward). That's why it's advisable to do a whole-body workout that integrates the pelvic floor and the muscles of the body’s core.
How does the body heal after a caesarean section?
The physical changes that occur during pregnancy also affect women who have an abdominal birth (caesarean section). In this case, too, the female pelvic floor is softer due to the hormonal changes during pregnancy and is put under more strain by the fact that the baby is carried in the belly. Postnatal training is therefore also essential after a caesarean section. Due to the abdominal birth method, the connection with the deep abdominal muscles is often a challenge. Special exercises help in this case. It's also advisable to nurse and massage the abdominal scar.
Helpful postnatal exercises
It’s worth doing these exercises on a regular basis during the recovery period.
Breathing exercise: return the diaphragm to its correct position
Conscious inhaling and exhaling can help you connect with your pelvic floor and deep abdominal muscles after birth. It also helps the diaphragm to return to its rightful position.
- Inhale: the diaphragm tenses and drops down. The pelvic floor and abdominal muscles relax (happens automatically).
- Exhale: the diaphragm relaxes and returns to its starting position. The abdominal muscles and pelvic floor contract automatically.
Tip: practise this exercise regularly throughout the day by setting yourself reminders.
Pelvic tilt: mobilising the spine
This exercise is good for your posture as it mobilises the lumbar spine. It also helps raise your awareness of your pelvic floor and core muscles and stimulate their activation.
- Inhale: lie on your back, with knees bent, soles of the feet on the floor, in a neutral pelvic position.
- Exhale: draw the pubic bone towards the chest and the lower back will press gently to the floor.
Become more aware of your pelvic floor with squats
- Start with a narrow squat: what do you notice in the pelvic floor area on the downward movement, and what on the upward movement?
- Incorporate breathing into the exercise: inhale when lowering, exhale when rising.
Online exercises from experts
Stefanie Meyer founded the «rund8fit» start-up with Anna Tomaschett. The rund8fit training platform encourages pregnant women and mothers to keep moving by offering a range of safe and varied programmes adapted to their life phase. There are also numerous free exercise videos on the YouTube channel.
How much postnatal exercise do I need?
Shorter sequences several times a week are better than sixty minutes once a week. Build the sequences into your new life with a baby on the principle of: five minutes is better than nothing. Ideally, a postnatal exercise course should last at least eight weeks. Recovery needs time and extends beyond the length of the course. Doctors therefore recommend that new mothers gradually return to practising their former sports again while continuing with their core training.
It’s important to start gently with the basics: breathing, awareness and activation of the pelvic floor and deep abdominal muscles, posture. But it’s important to raise the intensity of the exercises over the eight weeks because life with a child requires strength.