Returning to exercise post pregnancy

As females we have this extra amazing thing that our body can do – it's called pregnancy! Although this is generally a joyful time for most, the implications for exercise post can sometimes last a long period of time. Here are some of the common issues with pregnancy and how can you get back into exercise safely.

Pelvic Floor issues

No matter what kind of delivery you have, C-Section or natural, there has still been considerable extra weight sitting above your pelvic floor for a good three-six months which can affect its integrity. Some common signs that you might have some issues with your pelvic floor include slight leakage, urgency, not needing to go at all or not being able to reach the bathroom in time. If you experience these symptoms your first stop is your local women’s health physiotherapist who can assist with gaining back control and getting you back into exercise. If these symptoms only occur during exercise or training you need to look at the type of exercise that you’re doing and dial it back a bit to what you are able to do without issues, while incorporating some specific pelvic floor strength training. Remember your pelvic floor is a muscle that needs training too.

Abdominal Separation (Diastasis Recti)

This is an issue that can affect a lot of females as the baby grows and the body changes to accommodate. Diastasis Recti is when the abdominal tissue (abdominal facia) between the stomach muscles (rectus abdominis) increases in size causing gapping between the muscles resulting in decreased control and strength through the abdominals.

If you have this it should have been identified at your follow up appointments with your midwife or physiotherapist. If not, it is worth exploring as this will affect your return to sport.

Lower Back Pain (Sacroiliac Pain)

This is one of the most common issues that women have during pregnancy and can sometimes continue to affect them even after the  baby has been delivered. The pain in this area develops because of the hormonal changes and the effect on the muscles and ligaments with the bodies ever changing shape and weight distribution. If you do get this during pregnancy it is something that can be treated, it’s not something that you have to put up with.

So what does this mean for exercise post pregnancy?

This is not the same for everyone, it depends on your pre pregnancy level of exercise, the type of pregnancy you’ve had (complicated vs uncomplicated), the size of your baby and the type of delivery. It seems like there are a lot of variables, but really there are, and this is by no means an exhaustive list. The first thing  is to listen to your doctor and/or physio and follow the guidelines that they have for you. Complications of starting exercise too early can be quite debilitating so don’t try and fast track this. Not everyone can do a marathon within nine months of having a child so don’t try and compare yourself to others.  

Once you have been given the all clear for exercise slowly build up the amount, intensity and type of exercise that you’re doing. Starting with low impact exercises such as swimming, walking or cycling as these are great ways to improve your fitness without too much pressure on your pelvic floor. Once you are comfortable with these then slowly get back into higher impact exercises like running. Starting with something like a walk/run is a great way to slowly increase your fitness and allow your body to adapt.

As for strength exercises start with bodyweight exercises that are more about control and position. Slowly work into the harder exercises as your body allows you and again don’t push too hard too soon.

Remember your body is amazing and has just achieved an amazing feat. Respect it and slowly get back into things in order to decrease your injury risk and improve your fitness at a healthy rate.

Alissa has an extensive background in sport, competing at an international level for her age in Triathlon.  Alissa graduated from Griffith University on the Gold Coast in 2009 with a Bachelor of Exercise Science/Bachelor of Physiotherapy and since then has had experience with athletes, hospitals, community health, rehabilitation and chronic disease.