Postnatal exercise can be a valuable tool for new parents. Regular physical activity after giving birth can promote healing, increase energy, and improve mood. It's not recommended, however, to jump from the hospital bed right onto a treadmill. Specific exercises for the days, weeks, and months after giving birth can help a person recover without overtaxing their body.
Gentle walking is a low impact exercise many parents can do within days of giving birth. A new parent could take their baby on short strolls around the neighborhood, stopping if there's pain or they become too tired. It's important to ensure stroller handles are at the proper height for the arms to remain bent and the back straight while walking.
Gentle stretching is another way to begin moving again in those first few days. There are yoga routines specifically created for new parents, focusing on breathing and slow, careful stretches. Not all yoga moves are appropriate for the post-partum period and it's improtant to pay attention to your body and stop or modify if you experience pain or see an increase in vaginal bleeding.
The muscles of the pelvic floor, which support the bladder, rectum, uterus, and small intestine, can become weaker after birth, which makes it harder for some new parents to control urine flow.
Pelvic floor or Kegel exercises can help with these symptoms and typically are safe to start doing in the days after birth. While lying down or sitting with the body tilted slightly forward, clench the muscles around the vagina, as if attempting to stop peeing in mid-flow. Repeating this action ten times up to three times a day can be helpful.
In the first few days after giving birth, it can be hard to get out of bed. Luckily, some gentle exercises can be done without getting up. One example is [citation href="https://pogp.csp.org.uk/system/files/publication_files/POGP-E%26AA5%28UL%29.pdf" title="y Pelvic, Obstetric and Gynaecological Physiotherapy" desc="Exercise and Advice After Pregnancy"]knee rolling. A person lying flat on their back can lift their knees into the air and slowly roll them side to side as far as is comfortable, taking a few moments to rest with knees pointing towards the ceiling between each movement. This and similar stretches can be helpful for strengthening abdominal muscles and relieving post-partum gas and nausea. If you've had a c-section, be sure to check with a doctor for even bed exercises.
The timelines for starting regular exercise vary depending on the circumstances of each birth. New parents who've had a c-section or other complication may need more time.
Swimming and aqua aerobics are one low-impact exercise that can be started a few weeks after giving birth in many cases. Consult a doctor and wait at least seven days after vaginal bleeding has stopped before swimming.
After a successful six week post-partum check up, a new parent may be able to begin cycling again. An advantage of cycling is that it is low impact, meaning it does not put the same strain on the joints as jogging or running. An uncomfortable seat or overexertion can still cause problems, however, so it's important to use proper equipment and start slow.
While strengthening abdominal muscles can be beneficial, sit ups and similar exercises are not recommended until at least six weeks post-partum. Gentler abdominal exercises like yoga and knee rolling can help strengthen the abdominals in earlier weeks.
Stop the exercise and consult a doctor if you notice pain, an increase or recurrence of vaginal bleeding, or if the muscles in the abdomen appear to have separated.
A parent may be eager to return to a favorite sport after giving birth. Tennis, basketball, and soccer can promote fitness, but they are not safe immediately following pregnancy. Doctors typically recommend healing for at least three months before starting a high-intensity activity. Some people need to wait longer if there were complications during the birth or if their sport of choice has significant contact, such as rugby or football.
During pregnancy, ligaments and muscles are stretched, and this means that post-partum bodies can be more vulnerable to injury. It can take four to six months for high-impact exercises like running to be safe. Most experts recommend starting with twenty-minute sessions alternating between jogging and walking, slowly increasing the time and intensity over the following weeks.
Those who lifted weights before their pregnancy will typically need to wait at least three months before returning. Immediate heavy lifting can lead to muscle tears and joint injuries, so ideally, start back at a low weight and work up. A person can start with unweighted squats, then begin to lift small dumbbells or a kettlebell. It's important to breath through the lift — if you can't breathe while lifting, the weight is likely too high.
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