Your Postnatal Body & Exercise

Through pregnancy and then childbirth, your body has experienced significant changes and will need time to recover.  Many women believe that by their 6-8 week check up with their doctor all of these changes will have resolved but in fact, for most women, full recovery will not be complete yet.

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Be kind to yourself and give yourself time to heal and rest. Remember there is no finish line to race to; you do not have to compete with other women.  Each pregnancy is different, each labour is different and each child you have will put different demands on both your body and mind. 

After your baby’s birth there are some helpful suggestions to help your body recover and rehabilitate, in a similar way to how you might care for another muscular injury. 

  • REST: Lie on your back for 30 minutes, twice a day. Resting in this way will take weight of your pelvic floor and and lower abdominal muscles and help to reduce swelling and minimise any pain and discomfort.  

  • ICE: after a vaginal birth or an attempted vaginal birth, there will be a lot of swelling and discomfort in the perineal area and stitches may have been required. Application of ice helps to reduce pain and swelling in this area. Initially, ice should be used every for 20-30 minutes every 2-3 hours and can be continued until pain and swelling cease, which may take several days to settle. Ice can be placed inside your maternity pad and often maternity wards will have specially made ice packs for this exact purpose.  

  • COMPRESSION: firm, supportive underwear are a good idea to help support the perineal area and minimise discomfort. 

  • EXERCISE:  pelvic floor and deep abdominal activation exercises can be safely commenced one to two days after the birth of your baby, provided there is no increase in your pain.  

For more information on recovery immediately post giving birth, there is a wonderful hand out from The Royal Women’s Hospital which explains this in more detail and includes helpful information on safe pelvic floor exercises, safe ways of getting in and out of bed, as well as some useful tips about using your bowels and bladder during this time. 

Some other helpful advice for the postnatal period: 

  • Commence gentle walking as soon as comfort allows

  • Gradually increase your walking speed and distance as you are able, paying attention to your body’s cues

  • Avoid other strenuous and high impact exercises during the first 12 weeks (e.g. weights, sit-ups, running and cross-fit style exercise).

  • Commence your pelvic floor exercises

  • Be aware of sleep deprivation! Whilst gentle exercise may improve your energy levels when you are tired, be mindful that you may need to reduce the intensity and duration. 

To get more support during this period seek ought a professional with experience in postnatal rehabilitation and exercise. This may be a physiotherapist, exercise physiologist or a suitably qualified pilates instructor or personal trainer.