Exercise is very important in assisting your recovery during the postnatal period. However, your body has been through a lot and therefore your return to exercise should be gradual. It is also important to be aware that the changes your body has experienced are not only physical but also hormonal, and that this will influence your recovery.
Because everyone’s body is different, we recommend speaking to a Women’s Health Physiotherapist who will be able to advise you on when you can start doing different kinds of exercises. However, there are some general guidelines that postnatal women can follow.
The following example exercise progression is from the British Journal of Sports Medicine* and provides a general timeline on when you can start to do different kinds of exercises:
0-2 weeks: start with pelvic floor and basic core exercises such as pelvic tilts and begin to take short frequent walks
2-4 weeks: increase your walking distance, continue and gradually progress core and pelvic floor exercises, gradually adding basic squats, lunges and bridges
4-6 weeks: start low impact aerobic exercise such as static cycling
After 6 weeks: Every woman should have a postnatal check with their GP at 6 weeks post delivery. However, if it is not possible to see your GP we recommend that you at least have a postnatal check with a Women’s Health Physiotherapist. From 6 weeks, you should generally be safe to return to activities like Pilates or Yoga and you can increase your low impact exercise to add resistance for lower limbs and core.
Keep in mind that you should stop if you experience any uncomfortable symptoms during these activities such as pelvic pain, leaking, heaviness/dragging in your vagina or bleeding.
8-12 weeks: You can gradually increase the intensity of land based cardio and resistance exercises, and introduce swimming as long as all wounds have fully healed.
You should wait until after the first 12 weeks before returning to high impact activities, such as running or HIIT classes. Even at this point, we would recommend working with a physiotherapist to design your exercise program to ensure that you safely return to a high level of physical activity.
*Donnelly GM, Rankin A, Mills H, et al Infographic. Guidance for medical, health and fitness professionals to support women in returning to running postnatally - British Journal of Sports Medicine 2020; 54: 1114-1115