After giving birth, when can I start exercise again?
It is important to allow your body time to rest and heal postpartum. The first three weeks after labor should be spent in or near the bed, bonding with your baby. Avoid lifting, straining, and prolonged standing. You should not lift anything heavier than your baby- keep in mind laundry, a grocery bag, and a vacuum are all heavier than your baby and should be avoided during these early weeks. This period of rest allows your tissues and organs to heal appropriately and return to the proper lengths and positions. Trying to push through what would ordinarily be simple chores, errands, or exercise can cause a great deal of harm.
Around three-weeks postpartum, assess your healing and listen to your body. Progress very slowly back to exercise and discontinue immediately if you’re feeling any pain, heaviness, or excessive fatigue, or if you see an increase in bleeding or sense anything that doesn’t feel quite right.
After giving birth, what core work can I do?
Similar to during core work during pregnancy, anything that looks like a crunch or sit up can cause strain to the abdomen and high pressures at the pelvic floor and therefore, should be avoided. For the first six weeks postpartum, you should also avoid anything that requires elevated hips such as bridges.
Get checked by a provider for a diastasis recti before returning to core strengthening, and see a physical therapist if you want to return to higher-level workouts, similar to those performed prior to pregnancy.
Should I do kegels?
Yikes! Big question. Although this is a common practice, kegels do not help restore every postpartum body. Kegels, or contractions of the pelvic floor (like you’re holding back urine and gas), are only appropriate for some patients. They might be a good fit for you but could be the absolute wrong fit for your body. A large percentage of people perform them incorrectly.
Please seek assessment by a pelvic floor physical therapist before starting this practice. They should never be recommended in a broad sense during pregnancy or postpartum as a simple, general healing practice.
It’s important to be assessed by a physical therapist:
In other countries, it is the standard of care for everyone to see a pelvic floor physical therapist following delivery- whether it be vaginal or cesarean- to assess muscle and tissue healing, to address any complaints, and to give recommendations for safe return to exercise.
It is NOT normal during pregnancy or postpartum to pain in the abdomen, genitals, back, or hips; to feel pain during intercourse; to experience urine or fecal leakage; to experience feelings of heaviness in the pelvis; or to suffer from significant problems with constipation. If you experience any of these problems, get assessed and get help.
Your birth provider will typically clear you for an internal exam with a pelvic floor physical therapist after your six-week checkup.
Christina McGee PT, DPT is a pelvic floor physical therapist at Sullivan Physical Therapy in Austin, Texas.
Extra reading: “Staying Active After Baby” by Stephanie Carrol