For the first days and weeks after having a child, you’re probably going to have a lot on your mind. Like learning the various ropes of caring for said child (and dealing with their bodily functions), enduring sleepless nights, and generally getting by.
Exercise may not be at the top of that priorities list straight away, but when you are ready to wade back into the fitness waters there are a few things you need to know first. If you’ve undergone a C-section, it’s especially important that you don’t launch straight back in to your pre-natal workout routine.
“The main reason is so you don’t injure that surgical site. Your abdominal muscles have been cut through, so you’ve got layers and layers of stitches in there — they start from the innards and come further up to the surface,” explains Becky Dyer, a women’s health physiotherapist, pilates instructor, and co-creator of Body Beyond Birth, an online post natal exercise program.
“All those stitches need to hold, so you don’t want to break out into exercises that are going to stress your abdominal muscles too much by either actually doing sit-ups or straining, [which could] press on those stitches and increase your inter-abdominal pressure.” (Post continues after gallery.)
In the immediate post-Caesarian period, Dyer says it’s best to avoid any kind of structured workout — this isn’t really surprising, considering it’s recommended you also avoid driving or lifting anything heavier than your baby during that time. However, that doesn’t mean you have to be totally dormant.
“If you’re sitting or standing and you gently draw your navel toward your spine, you are activating your abdominal muscles and probably turning on your pelvic floor a bit. You can start doing that stuff from the get go, and doing gentle contractions like that can pump the swelling out of the area,” Dyer explains.
Otherwise, hold off on exercising until you get the green light from you obstetrician at your first check-up, which usually happens six to eight weeks after you have your baby.
Exercises to do
"Keeping it low-impact with gentle cardio and focusing on core strengthening is your best exercise technique to do in the first six months out. That way you'll protect your abdominals, your incision and your pelvic floor," Dyer says.
Pelvic floor exercises are important for all women, but particularly after childbirth, as that part of your body takes a major hit throughout pregnancy.
"You've been holding a bowling ball on those muscles of the pelvic floor for about 40 weeks, so you need to tone it up again as it'll be a bit slack and wimpy," Dyer explains.
Pilates is a great post-partum workout, as it'll allow you to strengthen your abdominal region without lengthening the associated muscles too much.
"It's more important to sure up the abdominal muscles and pelvic floor, versus something like a yoga class where you're really stretching and need lots of range of motion, because that can still tug on your incision site," Dyer says.
If you're craving some cardio, go for walks. The best part? It costs absolutely nothing, and bub can come along for the ride.
Need some guidance? Personal trainer Jessie Mundell recommends these two circuits of strengthening exercises for mums who have had c-sections. (Post continues after videos)
Exercises to avoid
Say it with us now: no sit-ups. (Admit it, you're probably not disappointed by this.)
"Sit-ups put a lot of stress on the abdominals, and you've just had surgery there. Also, if you've just had a baby your abdominal muscles can have a rectus diastatis, which is a splitting down the middle," Dyer explains.
"They're likely to split even further when you're doing situps. But if you're doing pilates or core strengthening, you're actually turning on the deeper abdominal muscles that draw those superficial muscles together, so it's actually facilitating closure."
Running is also on the no-no list. In fact, steer clear of any high-impact aerobic exercise for at least six months. "You definitely don't want to go running, because it's a lot of force through your pelvic floor, with the gravity and the pounding," Dyer says.
When to ease off
Finding the motivation to exercise after giving birth is a great thing — but it is possible to go a little too hard, even if you've taken all of the above into consideration. If you feel any pain in your groin or abdominal region, it can be a sign you need to ease off.
"After you've given birth the muscles are all stretched out and weak and thin and scrawny, and then you're making them work really hard. So you can get a muscle strain or tear in your abdominals," Dyer says.
Not at the post-partum stage yet? Here are the safest and unsafest gym classes for pregnant women: