Postpartum Return to Exercise

Back to the Gym After Motherhood

Navigating motherhood can be one of the most challenging and exhausting tasks a woman takes on throughout her life.

While you are taking care of your new little one, it is equally as important to take care of yourself! Exercise can be a wonderful form of self-care and now after having a baby, you need self-care more than ever, momma. The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) lists multiple benefits of postnatal return to exercise – strengthening and toning of abdominal muscles, improve energy, help to combat postpartum depression, improve sleep, decrease stress, return to pre-pregnancy weight.

You might be thinking, ‘where do I even start?’ If you are a freshly postpartum mom (0-2 weeks), the most important thing is to bond with your baby. Enjoy a lot of snuggles and skin-to-skin contact. Allow yourself to slow down and enjoy this special time with your new family. During this two-week period, focusing on little things such as good posture and body mechanics when holding and lifting your baby as well as practicing good diaphragmatic breathing can make all the difference. Staying hydrated and fueling yourself with nutrient-dense foods is also vital especially in this stage. Your body is still going through a lot of changes physically, hormonally and mentally and it is OKAY to allow yourself time and space for that.

Following the 0-2 week period of postpartum, it is okay to start adding in some light walking either outside or around the house. Start to become aware of and engage your pelvic floor muscles (often referred to as a kegel) as well as activating your lower abdominal muscles.

TL/DR – watch a short video instead.

At 6 weeks postpartum, most women have a follow-up with their provider (OB-GYN, midwife, etc). This is an appointment to check in on you, mom, and see how YOU are feeling. It is at this visit where your physician will determine if you are cleared for intercourse and return to ‘regular’ exercise. With all of the online information, advice, opinions, and social media accounts, it can be very stressful to determine when you should return to exercise and, more importantly, what you should be doing. It is hard to know what is or isn’t safe for you and your body. The BEST thing to do is to set up an appointment with a pelvic health physical therapist. That way, you can get a very individualized assessment and plan that is tailored specifically to you, your body, your needs, and your goals. Your therapist will assess core strength and check to see if you have any separation of the abdominal muscles (known as diastasis rectus abdominus or DRA).

They will assess transitional movements such as: squat, single-leg stance, and transferring to/from sitting and laying down. Your PT will also perform an internal pelvic floor muscle evaluation. This is very important! Whether you deliver vaginally or via cesarean, your pelvic floor muscles do A LOT of work throughout your pregnancy and delivery. It is important to assess strength, endurance and coordination as well as assessing the overall tone of your muscles. Often times postpartum women either have increased or decreased tone through their pelvic floor muscles. Both situations are fairly common and very important to assess. There are a lot of online sites that tell a woman to return to kegels for strengthening and they will see a resolve of their issues fairly quickly. This is NOT always the case – I cannot stress this enough! There are times when kegels can be detrimental to healing, especially initially if you have increased tone through your pelvic floor muscles already. Your physical therapist will be able to determine all of this and get you on the right track with a plan made just for you!

There is often an unrealistic pressure placed on postpartum women by society to ‘bounce back’ or return to their pre-baby body. The keyword in that previous sentence is UNREALISTIC. Remember, you are exactly where you are supposed to be in this season of life. You have just taken on one of the most sacred and special roles of being a mom and that is pretty darn awesome.

At Apex, our pelvic health team includes five board-certified providers waiting and wanting to help you! You can either visit our locations or call us at (701) 364-2739 with any questions or to set up your appointment!

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