Editor’s note: Any medical advice presented here is expressly the views of the writer and Red Tricycle cannot verify any claims made. Please consult with your healthcare provider about what works best for you.
Exercise has always been my sanity and after having my son, all I wanted to do was go for a run! As a new mom I couldn’t wait to get back out there, but I had so many questions! Here are some of the most common questions about exercise, so you can feel good without hesitation.
“What should I know about my body as it heals postpartum?”
The body undergoes tremendous change and adaption throughout pregnancy. Every system in the body is impacted, the musculoskeletal, cardiovascular, endocrine, pulmonary, renal and nervous system. Respecting the natural healing process after childbirth is paramount.
“When can I safely return to exercise?”
For moms, exercise is a great way to socialize and get out of the house, increase their fitness, and live a healthy lifestyle. Research shows that exercising postpartum can reduce the chances of postpartum depression. When returning to exercise postnatally, slow and steady always win the race. The timeline for returning to exercise postpartum varies for everyone.
Most women can begin exercising during the first month postpartum. Start with deep breathing, pelvic tilts, submaximal pelvic floor contractions and gentle, easy walking. By six to eight weeks, most women are able to return to more intense activities such as running, cycling, lifting and aerobic exercise. If you have had a C-section, return to exercise may be a little slower. Walking soon after a C-section can help with scar mobility and circulation. Bleeding is normal during the first several weeks, but if there are increased or excessive amounts of blood, it is often a sign of overexertion.
“Can I exercise while breastfeeding?”
There’s no reason a breastfeeding mom should not exercise. However, if she’s going to exercise while breastfeeding, she needs to be aware that breastfeeding requires increased energy consumption, an increase in caloric intake, and bone mineral density is impacted.
In order to exercise and continue to breastfeed without injury, women must be able to balance the needs of their body and their desire to be active. Research demonstrates that the energy needs of a breastfeeding mom are greater than those of a pregnant woman. Women may need an additional 500 calories per day for adequate milk production and energy needs even before exercise is added into the equation. With exercise, the caloric intake increaes further.
Many women attribute their “milk drying up” to exercise, but that’s a myth. If the mother is getting adequate food and fluid to account for the extra water and calorie loss with exercise, she will be able to maintain her milk supply. If milk supply decreases with increased activity, that may be a sign that it’s necessary to increase calories and/or fluids consumed.
Another lesser-known fact is that stress fractures can be more common in the postpartum period. Bone mineral density (BMD) is affected during this time, particularly with breastfeeding. This occurs because the calcium in the mother’s bones mobilizes to meet the increased demand for calcium in her milk. In most women, BMD loss is reversed with cessation of breastfeeding. BMD loss is associated with osteopenia and osteoporosis later in life, and is a factor in bone stress injuries.
Breastfeeding increases the energy demands on the body, and it can also negatively impact bone mineral density. Despite these facts, there is no reason why any women should not exercise while they are breastfeeding. The key to remaining healthy, injury-free and active during this time is to stay hydrated, eat enough, listen to your body, and get plenty of rest.
“What are the best exercises to do postpartum?”
Every pregnancy is different, but here are some exercises that will benefit anyone no matter what their experience was like. They’re written in order of difficulty.
1. Diaphragmatic Breathing and Pelvic Floor Muscle Activation / Relaxation
Pelvic floor dysfunction is common after childbirth and may lead to things such as urinary or fecal incontinence, pelvic organ prolapse or pelvic pain. Taking time to rehabilitate these muscles in the early postpartum period can improve or prevent these symptoms.
Lie on your back with your knees bent. You can also try this lying on your side or on your hands and knees. Take a deep breath in. Feel your ribs expand and your chest and belly rise. As you exhale, your ribs should move down and inwards, and the chest and belly should fall. All 3 areas – chest, ribs, belly – should be involved. When these muscles are coordinated that indicates good diaphragm function. Once you feel comfortable with breathing, turn your focus to the PFM.
As you inhale, the diaphragm contracts and flattens and the PFM relax some, and lengthen. When you exhale, the diaphragm relaxes, becoming more dome-like, and the PFM begin to contract. Work up to holding it for 10 seconds CONTINUING TO BREATHE.
Goal: 10 repetitions, 2 times a day
2. All-fours Knee Lift
Begin on your hands and knees, with your hands under your shoulders and your knees under your hips with a neutral spine. Take one breath to prepare, activating the PFM as you exhale. On the next exhale, lift one knee off the floor, enough that you could slide a piece of paper under it. Hold 5 seconds and return to start. Continue, alternating sides. For a challenge, try straightening one leg behind you without arching or twisting the trunk.
Goal: 3 sets of 5 repetitions on each leg, once a day
3. Side Plank
Lie on your side with your trunk on your forearm, hips stacked, and knees bent. Take one breath to prepare and activate the PFM as you exhale. On the next breath, exhale. Imagine you’re pulling the inner part of your support arm toward your torso, lift your ribs and then your hips. You’ll be in a side plank position. Hold for up to 10 seconds. For a challenge, begin with your legs straight.
Goal: 10 repetitions, once a day
When you begin exercising postpartum, remember that slow and steady wins the race. If you’re tired, rest. If you feel good keep going. Every woman is different and will get back to exercise as their body is ready.