How To Safely Return To Exercise Postpartum
It’s a tale as old as time. Woman becomes pregnant. Woman goes to countless prenatal appointments where her health is closely monitored. Woman’s baby is born.
Woman has ONE postpartum follow up appointment and is left to put her body back together herself while caring for a newborn.
While many physicians continue to recommend little to no activity during the first 6 weeks postpartum, the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists recommendations state “Pelvic floor exercises can be initiated in the immediate postpartum period” for uncomplicated pregnancies.
SO WHEN CAN I RETURN TO EXERCISE?
YES! You really can begin healing on day one. But I’m not talking about jumping back on your bike or going to Barry’s Bootcamp. Early postpartum healing exercises include gentle breathwork, mobility, and basic biomechanics that help new mothers begin the healing process so they can care for themselves and their families.
As a pelvic health physical therapist, I know it can be difficult to find 15 minutes to dedicate to exercise in those early days. For this reason, I prefer to give my new moms an 8 week program with quick exercises they can perform throughout the day during the first few weeks to help prevent common postpartum issues including diastasis recti (abdominal separation), urinary incontinence (leakage), dyspareunia (pain with sex), pelvic organ prolapse, shoulder pain, mid back pain, and low back pain. .
CAN I DO CRUNCHES?
Within my 8 week program, I begin incorporating core work in week 4 as long as my patients are healing appropriately and have begun to reconnect with their pelvic floor and deep core muscles. While I do not include crunches as a foundational exercise, I understand that crunches may be an important part of many women’s exercise routines. Keeping in mind that no exercise is inherently bad, crunches do require a strong understanding of core engagement strategy to prevent excess stress on the linea alba where diastasis recti occurs and should not be started before grasping the fundamentals of core engagement.
WHEN CAN I RETURN TO RUNNING?
After completing 8 weeks of foundational strength program, my patients and I develop a game plan for safely returning to their exercise routine. Current research points to waiting until 12 week to begin a return to running program. However, if running is your goal, I have found that returning to running is highly dependent upon your running experience and postpartum symptoms and this plan should be highly personalized.
Remember that everyone heals at their own pace, so beginning a postpartum program day 1 is not appropriate for everyone. Also remember that it is never too late to begin healing whether it be 5 days, 5 weeks, 5 years, or 5 decades after birth!
If you are interested in a personalized 8 week postpartum plan or feel uncertain about returning to exercise postpartum, please schedule a free 15 minute consultation or reach out to me at [email protected].
Meghan Krill, PT, DPT
Owner Flora Physical Therapy, a pelvic health physical therapy practice in downtown Fairfield, CT