Just about every soon-to-be or new mom has thought about how to get their body to bounce back after birth. Not only do some moms want to get back into their exercise routine for their physical health but also mental well-being. But postpartum exercise is not something that can be rushed—after all, it took your body nine months to get where it is, it’s going to take time to feel normal again.
But how do you know what you can physically do postpartum and when? Dr. Jessica Shepherd, OB-GYN at Sanctum Med + Wellness in Dallas, says there is a general rule you can follow: Don’t overdo it. “There are some hormonal changes which can impact the joints, which makes them a little bit softer, more flexible,” Shepherd says. Because of those changes, injury can be more likely.
C-SECTION VERSUS VAGINAL DELIVERY
Is there a difference if you have a C-section versus vaginal delivery? Shepherd says that while the delivery methods are different, the pelvic floor muscles and abdominal muscles take the same impact during pregnancy.
“Regardless of the route of delivery, there still is some pelvic floor dysfunction that can occur,” Shepherd notes. With that in mind, recovery should be forgiving no matter your type of delivery. In fact, recovery time can range anywhere from immediate postpartum to up to 12 weeks postpartum.
But there are still some differences to pay attention to. “From a C-section standpoint, you want to make sure that you don’t engage your abdominal muscles too quickly because the C-section requires an incision through the abdominal muscles; we need that to heal before undertaking any exercise,” Shepherd explains.
“From a vaginal standpoint, there’s some disruption to the pelvic floor as a baby goes through the pelvic outlet. That needs to be healed before undertaking strenuous activity, such as squats, leg lifts and anything that has to do with a lot of pelvic floor pressure.”
This is why Shepherd suggests working with a pelvic physical therapist is very important, as well as talking to your physician about your individual delivery process so they can provide you with the best recommendations.
KEEP AN EYE OUT FOR SIDE EFFECTS
But let’s say you’ve received the “all-clear” to get moving again from your doctor. Are there things you should watch out for that indicate you’re overdoing it? Most definitely. The key thing, Shepherd says, is pain.
Ask yourself is there any pain that is acute, sudden or causes severe discomfort? If the answer is yes, then there’s an issue with your exercise and Shepherd says that exercise should be immediately stopped.
Another side effect to watch out for is excessive vaginal bleeding. But because there are so many changes that go on with your body throughout pregnancy and postpartum, Shepherd recommends talking with your doctor in order to take everything (this could be something as simple as bladder leakage) into account while you exercise.
POSTPARTUM EXERCISE STEPPING STONES
In order to prevent overdoing anything, Shepherd suggests three steppingstones you can focus on and work toward:
1. Talk to your doctor before beginning any exercise postpartum. Remember, everyone starts at different points.
2. Consider making an appointment with a pelvic physical therapist. “Even if it’s just to do one assessment, [it will help] make sure there’s not any unforeseen injuries to the pelvic floor that an OB/GYN may not even know [about],” Shepherd notes. If there are these unforeseen injuries, those could be exacerbated by starting exercises.
3. Be kind to your body and start slow. Even if you were incredibly athletic pre-baby, your body did an amazing thing and went through a lot. “Start out with slower exercises or with more pelvic geared exercises such as yoga or Pilates to make sure that you can do that,” Shepherd says. Then maybe you can progress into things that require more impact. Some other exercises Shepherd recommends include walking, swimming and cycling.
FIRST-TIME MOMS VERSUS SUBSEQUENT PREGNANCIES
If this is not your first time postpartum, give yourself a little more time. Shepherd says that first-time moms tend to see a quicker recovery because you have muscles that didn’t have severe disruption prior to pregnancy.
In subsequent pregnancies, your muscles are going through more “wear and tear,” so the recovery will not usually be as quick. “I always want women to know that this is going to be a long process to get your body back to how it can recover as it did pre-pregnancy,” Shepherd adds. “[They] should be kind to themselves.”