When can I start exercising after giving birth?

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With all the physical and emotional challenges of giving birth, you may be wondering when it’s safe to exercise again to feel stronger, have more energy and support your recovery. 

I’m Wendy, a perinatal pelvic health specialist and today I’ll talk about how soon you can start exercising, and what you should do first. We’ll look at the differences between recovering from a C-section and a vaginal birth. We’ll also cover diastasis recti, which is when your abs separate, and how to heal your pelvic floor to improve bladder control.

First exercises after birth

You might want to regain the fitness levels you had before pregnancy. However, healthcare professionals say it’s best to start postpartum exercise slowly. Your body has undergone huge changes and trauma, so be kind to yourself!

Right after giving birth, you should focus on resting and recovering. And, of course, on bonding with your new baby. Gentle movements, like walking, will improve circulation – to help blood flow around the body and support the healing process. light stretching will help to reduce stiffness too.  Try to do low-impact activities, like walking. You can also follow the gentle low-impact ‘Core’ exercise routine in the MUTU System. 

As time goes by, you can introduce more activity. But it’s essential to listen to your body’s signals and how you’re feeling to avoid overdoing it to avoid injury. Talk to a doctor before you start to exercise. This is especially true if you had a caesarean section, or if you had complications giving birth.

Exercising post c-section vs. post vaginal birth

How you give birth may affect when and how soon you can start to exercise again after giving birth A caesarean section, or C-section, needs a longer recovery time, and the advice is to wait 10 weeks before you can exercise again. This is because the muscles and tissues in the abdomen have undergone surgery and need to heal. You will have numbness and tenderness, and it may feel sore to touch the area Then, you might experience tingling in the area and a lack of feeling. Scar tissue will start to form to repair the damage. Good nutrition, drinking water, and increased blood flow from moving or very gentle massage are key to healing and getting better.

You may recover from a vaginal delivery faster than a c-section. This is if there were no complications or perineal damage, which means damage to the area between the vagina and the anus. Perineal tears or episiotomies, which are when they cut the perineal area, will slow healing and recovery after giving birth. 

If you had an instrumental delivery, which means using forceps or vacuum (ventouse) extraction, this will slow healing too. A long labour or prolonged pushing also needs time and care to heal. 

Healthcare professionals recommend waiting at least 6 weeks after giving birth to do more intense exercise.

So – Walking and low-impact exercises like MUTU Core are all fine in the early weeks if you have had a vaginal birth. But for anything harder, wait 6 weeks. Wait 10 weeks if there are problems or if you’ve had a c-section.

The healing process after birth

Recovering from childbirth involves many physical, emotional and hormonal changes. So understanding how the body heals is key. 

In the time after you give birth, the uterus, also known as your womb, returns to the size it was before pregnancy. Changes in hormone levels can affect your joints, and make your ligaments more loose. This is why you need to do gentle exercises to avoid injury, as your joints are not as supported in the same way as before pregnancy. 

As the body heals, you can add harder exercises to your routine. You want to focus on rebuilding strength and stamina so you have more energy to do things. These exercises should improve core stability, and pelvic floor health and improve your overall fitness. 

Remember, you also want to eat well and drink enough water to support your recovery after giving birth, and to help you recover from exercising. 

Exercising if you have Diastasis Recti

Diastasis recti is when your abdominal muscles separate. They part along the linea alba which is in the centre line down the middle of your tummy area. It’s a very common condition after mums give birth. Managing diastasis recti requires special attention and targeted exercises to help heal the area, close the gap, and rebuild ab strength and integrity.

You can test yourself for a diastasis recti gap at home. In the weeks after giving birth, do not do traditional ab exercises like crunches. They could make diastasis recti worse.  You should also avoid intense core workouts. Instead, focus on exercises that work the deep core muscles. These exercises reduce intra-abdominal pressure. You can work with a physical therapist or a postpartum fitness specialist. They can give you tailored exercises and guidance.

Pelvic Floor Rehabilitation

The pelvic floor muscles help support the pelvic organs, including your womb, bladder, and bowel. They also support sexual health. 

Now because pregnancy and childbirth can weaken these muscles, this can cause bladder leaks or even pelvic organ prolapse.

Strengthening and rebuilding the pelvic floor muscles is crucial for recovering after childbirth.  The right exercises can help you heal your pelvic floor muscles properly. This includes:

  • Reconnecting with your pelvic floor muscles to improve strength and control.
  • Exercises that engage the deep belly muscles promote core stability and avoid making diastasis recti worse.
  • Practising breathwork is all about learning to breathe in a way that engages and activates the pelvic floor. This helps improve muscle function so you can regain control of your bladder.
  • Exercises that support functional movement will help you learn how to use your pelvic floor while moving in real life.

Conclusion: Getting fit after childbirth takes time

Getting fit after childbirth takes time. It needs patience, perseverance, and understanding. You need to understand your body’s needs and abilities.  You can get your strength and energy back. Focus on slow progress for now, and look forward to the progress you will make in the long term. This way you will soon be strong enough to return to all your favourite workouts or activities!

Thank you for reading.

Wendy Powell
Wendy Powell
Wendy Powell, Dip PT is Founder and CEO of MUTU System. Wendy is a highly certified postpartum specialist and master trainer, as well as a speaker, Femtech entrepreneur and mentor.

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FAQs

The standard recommendation for returning to light, aerobic exercise postnatally following an uncomplicated vaginal birth is just a few days postpartum or whenever you feel ready and comfortable doing so. ‘Light exercise’ includes walking, gentle stretching, pelvic floor/ kegel therapy, and tummy exercises.

It’s best to build up to more vigorous activity. This generally includes any exercise where you work out hard enough to not speak comfortably through the activity and more strenuous muscle-building exercises like yoga, Pilates, lifting weights, and body weight exercises. 

If you were an athlete or otherwise practiced more strenuous workouts prior to giving birth, you may be able to comfortably and safely return to working out sooner in postpartum. It’s a good idea to check in with your midwife, GP, or OB to get confirmation on your general healing before resuming heavier exercise post birth. 

It is a good idea to talk to your primary care provider about your plans to return to working out following any operative (forceps or vacuum assisted) or surgical (cesarean) birth. You can start this conversation within the first few days of recovery, when you have providers monitoring and assessing your healing and continue through your routine check-ups post birth. 

There are some complications which may require longer rest periods, but most women will be able to start light exercise relatively soon after more complicated births, as well. 

Every body can benefit from at least 20-30 minutes of physical activity five days a week for overall health. The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists suggest breaking these up into 10 minute walks or light stretching a few times a day early in postpartum if that feels more comfortable for you.

There are many benefits to working out, both physically and mentally. Pregnancy, birth, and postpartum are all part of an incredibly transformative process, and our bodies feel these massive shifts. Whether you were a gym regular before, played sport, had a committed yoga practice, loved walking meditations, or wasn’t much for exercising at all, the benefits of including a workout in your postpartum recovery plan are enormous. 

The majority of international guidelines for postnatal wellbeing list maternal mental health as being one of the primary functions of postpartum exercise. Even short walks each day have been shown to lower incidences of postpartum mood and anxiety disorders (PMADs) over remaining inactive. 

Regular physical activity in postpartum can also help with hormonal regulation, which can improve sleep and healing. Stabilizing mood and fatigue can have broad ranging effects on managing the always-fluctuating nature of the early months with a new baby. 

Thoughtful postpartum exercise plans can also address common concerns new mothers experience like feeling reconnected with their bodies, regaining physical strength, feelings of body confidence or revived sensuality, easing back and hip pain, staying fit enough to play and engage with older children, adding some structure and routine into postpartum, and losing weight post birth. All are valid feelings through the birthing journey, which might be addressed through fitness at any stage. 

You are the primary care provider for your own body and the best judge of how it’s feeling. Though you may get a “pass” from a midwife, doctor, or physical therapist at 6 weeks or sooner, if you don’t feel ready to start or resume certain workouts, listen to your gut. 

Listen to any new or unfamiliar pains, discomforts, or increased immobility. If you are experiencing increased vaginal bleeding after working out, it might be a good idea to return to less intensive workouts briefly and discuss your observations with your care team. 

Using a guided workout plan like MUTU, designed and led by postpartum fitness experts based on sound science with built-in community support can be an excellent resource in helping you stay motivated to work out while keeping you from potentially going too far too fast.

Diastasis-recti (DR) is the separation of the two parts of the rectus abdominis muscles in pregnancy due to excessive intra-abdominal pressure and is a common occurrence, not an injury. 

There is a lot of incorrect or incomplete information out there about exercising post birth with diastasis-recti. You can workout safely if you are experiencing DR, but with some parameters. It’s a good idea to workout along a clinically-proven system of exercise designed specifically for postpartum bodies — like MUTU — to help guide you toward strengthening your abdominal and back muscles, realigning your core, and addressing pelvic floor tone to help bring your muscles back together after birth. This will help you not only address the possible symptoms of DR (droopy or “still pregnant looking” belly, lack of coordination, bad posture, core weakness), but to treat the issue effectively and holistically. For more information on building core strength safely in postpartum with us, check out the MUTU pages on diastasis-recti here

Postpartum can be a tough time to make any sort of plan, but it can be a good idea to work some exercise structure into your recovery plans. You may want to join a scheduled class (virtual or in person) or download a guided system like MUTU to help you visualize a plan for postpartum workouts and get started. Ask your postnatal support crew if they can help with house and baby care for a few hours a week so you can take this time for yourself to exercise. 

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