Childbirth is a momentous event for many mothers, but it comes with its own set of difficulties. Postpartum pain can make the weeks after pregnancy difficult. Many mothers want to remove the pain and be able to do the things they want. Exercise after pregnancy provides the answer! The question is: how do you start with postpartum exercise?
Postpartum workouts are not as complicated as you think! By following a weekly schedule, you can quickly grow stronger and regain your vigour. A carefully constructed exercise routine like the one in this article can also help you avoid problems.
The article also discusses what postpartum pain is, as well as the benefits and risks of postpartum workouts. To make exercise more comfortable, this article also dwells on some basic guidelines for exercise after pregnancy.
Table of Contents
What is Postpartum Pain?
Pain is a natural consequence of childbirth, and its different types and forms are collectively called postpartum pain. During delivery, your uterus and abdominal muscles contract vigorously to push your baby out of your body. In the process, your cervix, vagina, and perineal tissues expand and stretch to accommodate the passing of your baby. All of these organs are flexible enough to handle childbirth, but this does not mean that they are impervious to damage. Some wear and tear do occur, leading to postpartum pain.
Generally, postpartum pain is perceptible in at least three distinct areas.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, the perineum is most prone to damage during childbirth. The tissues in this area need to stretch as the baby’s head and shoulders pass through. Many mothers feel some general numbness in this area due to all that stretching. However, others may feel soreness and pain, especially during the first week after giving birth. These manifestations of pain are typical, and they should subside over time.
The uterus grows gradually in size during pregnancy, putting some stress on the abdominal muscles. Many mothers find that their abdominal muscles separate slightly at the middle, forming what is called a diastasis. Even after giving birth, it takes some time to alleviate the diastasis. During this time, any abdominal muscle activity will be less inefficient and more painful.
During childbirth, the abdominal muscles contract to assist the uterus. Sometimes the contractions cause minor muscle strain, further contributing to abdominal pain. Muscle strain is more likely to occur if the muscles are unaccustomed to movement, such as if the mother has weak abdominal muscles. Exercise should help restore the abdominal muscles to their prior condition, but too much too soon can lead to more damage and pain.
During the first few days, you may also feel some painful contractions of your uterus. The contractions are typical, as they come from your uterus trying to repair damage and to shrink to its size before pregnancy. The contractions may sometimes persist for weeks, but they eventually taper off.
Of course, expect more abdominal pain if you underwent a cesarean section. The incision will take time to heal, and during this time you will find it very difficult to use your abdominal muscles. Avoid any unnecessary activities and play it down for a while, especially for the first few weeks.
The effect of hormone fluctuations during childbirth help prod the breasts into milk production mode. Particularly, childbirth and lactation help produce oxytocin, a brain chemical that makes the breasts produce more milk. However, the hormonal changes can also cause your breasts to feel full and tender. Mothers typically complain that the pain persists and that even changing bras does not help.
Breastfeeding can help alleviate breast pain and is also an excellent way to bond with your infant. However, note that breastfeeding stimulates the production of more oxytocin. Aside from milk production, this chemical also intensifies uterus contractions, which can be painful in some cases. It hastens the recovery of your uterus, but the pain will be something you should keep in mind.
Pain All Over the Body
Childbirth involves the entire body, not just the reproductive system. During labour, your legs might have been moved in different directions to assist the passage of your baby. Depending on the type of delivery, your body might be sore from holding a single position for hours. Despite what you might feel, be very careful with any movement during the first few days after childbirth. If you try to get up and do tasks too early, you might faint and sustain additional injuries.
Benefits of Postpartum Exercises
Postpartum pain can be a hassle, especially for mothers who want to see their bodies return to normal after childbirth. This process will take months, but there are ways to speed up recovery. In many cases, postpartum exercises will help reduce postpartum pain. Postpartum exercises have even more benefits, as shown below.
Exercise after pregnancy helps you recover faster.
Exercises help the body become stronger in many ways. Aerobic exercises help strengthen your cardiovascular system, improving blood circulation and ensuring that your body tissues are well-oxygenated. In turn, these improvements promote faster tissue repair and healing. On the other hand, anaerobic exercise works out specific muscle groups, making them stronger and improving their tone. This type of exercise is perfect for restoring stretched and weakened muscles to their former condition.
Altogether, these exercises will help you get back up on your feet as fast as possible. In addition, postpartum exercises can reduce the chances of developing postpartum complications. Weak muscle groups cause many of these conditions, and some of them can be dangerous. Doing whatever you can to prevent them from developing in the first place can save you time, money, and sometimes even your life.
Postpartum exercises help you lose weight.
A good part of the weight gain associated with pregnancy is not actually from the weight of the baby. Instead, it is due to the growth of supportive tissues meant to support you and your baby during pregnancy. Your body also increases its fat deposits in order to ensure that you have enough energy stores for pregnancy and breastfeeding. These tissues take time to disappear even after childbirth, and fixating too much on weight loss can harm you and your baby.
Fortunately, exercise can also help here. Physical activities increase your metabolic rate, which refers to the number of calories you consume per unit time. Hence, your body gradually has to use up its excess fat stores. Exercise also strengthens your muscles, enabling you to increase your activity levels and burn even more calories. Hence, exercise promotes a positive feedback loop that ends with you returning to a weight close to your weight before pregnancy.
Postpartum workouts strengthen your muscles.
Many of the muscles that are affected by postpartum pain are stretched during pregnancy, causing some level of injury. In addition, pregnancy would have reduced your activity levels. All the inactivity could have weakened these muscles over time, especially if you were unable to exercise correctly during pregnancy. To restore these muscles to full health, you need to work them out. Through exercise after pregnancy coupled with enough rest, you give these muscles the opportunity to repair themselves and to function healthily.
Exercise improves your mental wellbeing.
Exercise improves more than just your body. The medical has also established the role that exercise plays in improving your mental health. Exercise helps increase blood circulation, which benefits organs like the brain that requires a steady flow of oxygen and nutrients. Exercise also regulates the levels of neurotransmitters, which help control moods. In particular, physical activity promotes the release of endorphins, which are neurotransmitters that bring about feelings of wellness and energy.
The mental health effects of exercise are crucial after childbirth, especially given that postpartum depression tends to hit some women weeks after giving birth. Exercise may be able to reduce the chances of getting postpartum depression. It may also help alleviate symptoms and make recovering easier.
Best Exercise After Pregnancy
Before giving birth, start talking with your obstetrician about exercise regimes after childbirth. You need to establish a game plan on how you will proceed with exercise after pregnancy. Preferably, you should receive a week-by-week guide that progressively challenges your muscles without overexerting yourself.
The week-by-week guide in this article is meant to give you a general idea of exercise after pregnancy. Your schedule might vary depending on your condition, but many programs should be similar to the timeline presented here.
Week One & Two: Focus on getting enough rest, but start doing Kegel exercises.
Do not expect to be able to run around just hours after giving birth. You will probably have to spend a day or two on bedrest as you allow any wounds to seal and give your body time to adjust to life after pregnancy. Get as much rest as you can, and be very cautious about standing up for extended periods. Your cardiovascular system might be unable to handle excessive activity, leading to fainting spells that can injure you.
However, it is usually safe to do Kegel exercises at least a day after childbirth. Kegel exercises are pelvic floor exercises that will help reduce pain and heal you faster. To do them, get up on a sitting position and contract your pelvic muscles as you would do when trying to stop peeing. Hold for a few seconds without contracting your thighs or buttocks, then release and repeat. Gradually increase the number of repetitions as the muscles become stronger and do this as often as you can.
After the first week, you are probably strong enough to do some household chores. Try some light cleaning, or perhaps prepare a simple meal. Household chores will help you rebuild some endurance, readying you for more intense postpartum workouts in the coming weeks. However, rest whenever you feel tired, and stop if you feel like fainting.
Week Three & Four: Do some stretches, toning exercises, and light cardio.
You can start taking short walks after the first two weeks. Walking is an excellent way to start building endurance for heavier postpartum workouts. This exercise can also be a great way to bond with your baby if you use a stroller. Aim for moderate activity, which is when you feel your pulse quicken and your body becoming warmer but still being able to hold a conversation. Just make sure to watch out for signs of exhaustion.
Continue with the workouts you started during the first two weeks. You should also do some upper body and core exercises, as you will need strength in these areas for more intense postpartum workouts. You can do easy push-ups by going on all fours, then using your arms to lower and raise your chest. Try one set with your elbows near your body to work out your triceps. Afterwards, try one set with your elbows pointing outwards to focus more on your chest muscles.
Shoulder blade squeezes are also an excellent postpartum workout. Stand up with feet apart, then squeeze your shoulders toward each other and downwards. Repeat for at least ten times.
As for head and shoulder lifts, lie on your back and lift your head and shoulders off the floor. Slowly go back down and repeat for 20 times.
To further work out your pelvis, try pelvic tilts. Lie on your back, then curl using your abdominal muscles to push your lower spine on the floor. Aim for at least ten repetitions.
Finally, do a cat and dog pose. Go on all fours, then arch your back so that it points upward. Return to the neutral position, then bend downwards.
Week Five & Six: Do more cardio and progress to more intense workouts.
After four weeks, you can move on to more intense workouts. Progress from brisk walking to taking longer jogs. You can also start running; however, be mindful that you do not overexert yourself. You can also consider aerobic activities such as cycling or swimming in order to work out other muscle groups while still stimulating your heart and lungs to work.
You should still be doing Kegel exercises at this point. However, consider a variation when you also do a wall sit simultaneously. Stand while placing your back on a wall, then go into a partial squat as you do the Kegel exercise.
You can do squats and hold your baby at the same time. Make sure to place your feet apart while standing, then slowly drive your hips down while keeping your back straight. Repeat for at least five times.
Another fun exercise with your baby is the overhead press. Using your baby as a weight, keep her to your chest before raising the baby with your arms. Slowly lower your arms, then repeat.
At this time, you can also start with a double crunch. Lie on the floor and lift your upper body while bringing your knees towards you. Repeat for at least 15 times.
After the sixth week, you can probably resume with the exercises you used to do before becoming pregnant.
Risks of Postpartum Workouts
Note that any form of exercise can pose some risks. There are some particular risks you have to watch out for when doing exercise after pregnancy. Knowing what they are can help you become more prepared.
Vigorous exercise can hamper wound healing.
Too much movement of muscles near an incision site can potentially stretch the wound, delaying its healing and causing extreme pain. Sometimes, excessive force can cause it to rupture, which can lead to life-threatening blood loss. For example, doing core muscle workouts such as planks a few days after undergoing a cesarean section is a terrible idea.
Even when there is no visible wound, muscle injury due to childbirth is still a reason to take things easy for a while. These muscles are less able to cope with heavy activities, so working them out too much can increase their injuries. Make sure to take account of their condition and to adjust the intensity of your postpartum workouts accordingly.
Loose joints increase the chances of an accident occurring.
During pregnancy, your body produces relaxin in preparation for childbirth. Among other things, this hormone loosens your joints by making your ligaments and tendons more flexible. The increased flexibility tends to extend your range of motion during pregnancy. The effects also tend to linger for a few months after pregnancy ends.
If you did stretches during pregnancy, you would have observed that you were able to bend your joints more than usual. However, the extra flexibility also means that it is easier for you to hurt yourself by overstretching. Getting a torn muscle or stretched ligaments can potentially hamper your movement for weeks. In addition, loosened joints are less able to support your motions properly. Hence, the risk of accidental injuries during physical activity increases.
Weak pelvic muscles can worsen postpartum complications.
The pelvic floor is one of the muscle groups most impacted by childbirth. Muscles in this area must stretch to accommodate the passage of an entire baby. Childbirth can weaken these muscles to the point where they cannot perform their duties well. These roles include supporting the organs in the abdomen as well as assisting you in peeing or pooing.
Some complications of a weak pelvic floor include urinary incontinence, where it becomes difficult to stop peeing at the wrong time. You might also pass gas more frequently. A more dangerous complication is organ prolapse, where abdominal muscles start to sink lower into the weak pelvic floor. It can potentially lead to your uterus dropping into your vagina, and advanced cases can be life-threatening.
Some exercises aim to strengthen the pelvic floor muscles, but doing them incorrectly or insufficiently can prevent your muscles from becoming stronger. Doctors will usually give you specific instructions on how to do these exercises correctly. Make sure to do these exercises as early as you can without injuring yourself. Do not worry too much if you can only hold the contraction for a few seconds, as your muscles will become stronger over time as long as you stick to the program.
General Guidelines for Postpartum Workouts
Similar to exercises during pregnancy, postpartum exercises require you to follow specific guidelines in order to account for your particular physical condition. Many of your muscle groups are still weakened from inactivity as well as from exertion during childbirth. While exercise after pregnancy will help you regain your strength, you still have to follow some rules to minimize the risk of injury and make your workouts more effective.
Consult first with a medical professional, especially if you underwent special procedures during childbirth.
As with starting any exercise program, you should first discuss your plans with a medical professional. This rule becomes more important right after giving birth so that you can manage some of the risks associated with postpartum workouts. Otherwise, you risk injuring yourself needlessly. Make sure to follow medical advice, even if it involves avoiding certain activities at first. It would also be useful to give updates on your progress now and then so that adjustments can be made to your routines, if necessary.
If you had anything other than a natural vaginal birth, heed even more caution. A cesarean section cuts through your abdominal muscles and your uterus by definition, so exercising too early can cause extreme pain and a possible rupture. If you have had an episiotomy, excessive movement can cause pain in your perineum. Make sure to clarify these procedures to your medical professional so that your exercise routines can be appropriately modified.
Avoid pushing yourself too hard.
Again, you are not yet in your optimal state after exercise. Even if you were able to run ten miles a day previously, nine months of pregnancy and childbirth would have taken their toll on your body. It is normal to lose some of your physical fitness, so your postpartum exercises should take this into account. Given that your joints are looser than usual and that your muscles are still weak, going into full-blown workouts will only lead to pain and injury.
Do not worry if all you can do for now are five-minute strolls. Your body will become stronger over time as long as you stick to your program. In addition, fight the temptation to keep on exercising even when you are tired. Exercise becomes less effective and more dangerous when you are tired. Remember that proper rest complements exercise in making your muscles stronger.
Monitor your lochia.
You will have a vaginal discharge that changes in colour over time for the first few days after giving birth. This discharge is called lochia, and it is composed of blood, uterine tissues, and other leftovers from pregnancy. Lochia is initially red but gradually turns whitish. However, when you exercise too much, your lochia might suddenly become redder in colour. Flow rate might also increase abruptly.
If the characteristics of your lochia change suddenly, decrease the intensity of your workouts. Increase the amount of rest you get, and check whether you get enough sleep. Your lochia should return to normal afterwards. Otherwise, consult with a doctor to rule out any underlying medical conditions.
Go slowly but consistently.
At the start, you might feel surprisingly weak. You might not even have the endurance to do household chores. Do not fret. It will take weeks or months to go back to your previous condition, but you will get there eventually. Feel free to take matters slowly, especially since your body is still healing.
However, consistency is crucial. Experts still recommend around 30 minutes of physical activity for most days of the week, so make sure to follow this rule once you are strong enough. Working out until you are exhausted then missing the next three workouts will not work. Even if you feel disappointed by your recent performance, follow your exercise routines. You will become stronger with each workout.
Can I do pelvic floor exercises even when I underwent an episiotomy? Yes, as long as you get clearance from your doctor. Pelvic floor exercises will help you heal faster when done correctly. By increasing blood flow to the genitals, wounds and stretched tissues take a shorter time to recover. Do pelvic floor exercises as soon as you’re allowed. Just make sure to stop if you feel any pain.
How do I find time to exercise? You should be able to have enough time for exercise, seeing that you are not expected to work as you recover from childbirth. You will probably have a lot of spare time on your hands. If your concern is about finding time to exercise and bond with your baby at the same time, do not worry. Many exercises, such as the ones described in this article, allow you to interact with your baby during postpartum workouts.