Postpartum: Return to Exercise

At the six-week post-partum visit, most women are given the green light to return to exercise. The general recommendation is that return to exercise should be gradual and based a woman’s postpartum health status. Exercise can help to decrease post-partum depression, decrease stress, improve energy, and promote weight loss. In addition, exercise will help build strength in order to prevent low back pain and instances of urinary incontinence. Finding a safe and effective exercise program is an important part of every postpartum experience.

It is estimated that 75% of postpartum women will have low back pain immediately after childbirth and up to 50% will have back pain six months postpartum. Causes of post-partum low back pain can include muscle weakness, diastasis recti, and/or positioning while caring for your baby. An effective way to build strength while staying safe when returning to exercise is to work on large muscle groups. Activities such walking, squats, lunges, and swiss ball exercises are great places to start. Urinary incontinence is common in the postpartum period, but often persists if no steps are taken to address it. Working on isolating and strengthening the pelvic floor muscles as well as strengthening your abdominals will help to decrease the instance of incontinence.

It is easy to see why returning to exercise is important, but adding an exercise routine when you have a newborn is difficult. The following recommendations is an easy place to start when trying to add strengthening back into your life:

  • Pelvic floor strengthening: Strengthening the muscles of the pelvic floor will help reduce the risk of incontinence, prolapse, and low back pain. Make sure to focus on contracting only the pelvic floor.
  • Abdominal strengthening: Less is more when you are getting back to core strengthening. Pick gentle exercises that focus specifically on the lower part of your abdomen. Examples would be a curl up and a modified plank.

  • Including your new little one: One of the biggest struggles with returning to exercise can be finding the time to exercise. Try to combine spending time with your baby and gentle exercise by taking your little one on a walk outside, performing small marches on a swiss ball while holding your baby, or gentle squats and lunges while holding your baby close to your chest.

While the benefits of exercise are obvious, it is important to not rush the process. Progressing your exercises too quickly can lead to pain or discomfort in the low back, knees, and neck. It is important to remember that your exercise routine will not look like it did before pregnancy and giving birth. Focus on large movements that will work on the whole body before moving to harder and more specific strengthening exercises. We might not be able to do much about the stretch marks (thanks, Mom), but by taking these simple steps above and applying them to your postpartum period, you will be on the right track for great results.

If you are having any issues with pain, abdominal wall separation (diastasis recti), incontinence, or weakness –  an Axes specialist can conduct an assessment and provide recommendations for next steps.

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