Postnatal recovery – Why patience is key!

Postnatal recovery

In pregnancy, there is so much focus on the upcoming birth and on baby’s arrival that we often forget one of the most important aspects of the whole process – mom’s postnatal recovery.

Whether you have a vaginal birth or a Cesarean section, how you rehabilitate will have long-lasting effects on your body. Not only does internal and external healing play a role, but the lack of sleep you will be experiencing along with adapting to this new little pair of feet in your house takes a toll on your mental health as well. You need to be gentle and patient with yourself – after all, you didn’t gain all that baby weight overnight so you can’t expect to just drop it in a few days’ time either!

Movement and exercise are an essential part of helping to rehab and strengthen your body, feel energised again and start getting back to your old self. Isn’t that what any new mom wants?

But where do you start? When are you allowed to train again? What kind of exercises are safe to do postpartum? Most new moms feel uncertain.

The first 6-weeks postpartum – postnatal recovery

The first 6 weeks after birth is called the postpartum period and is still seen as part of the pregnancy. This is how long it takes for your body to heal and to physiologically go back to its pre-pregnancy state.

However, just as pregnancy is different for all women, so is the recovery phase afterwards. It is a very individualised process! You will be surprised to hear from women who were advent prenatal yogis or extremely active during their whole pregnancy that even for them their bodies feel tired, weak and just not their own – your body truly does need time to recover.

So how soon can I start training again after giving birth?

According to the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG), it is safe to resume light, low-impact exercise as soon as you feel up to it and as soon as your gynae or midwife have given the green light. Most doctors only do this after the 6-week check-up.

If you had a normal vaginal delivery and you were active throughout your pregnancy, you may well feel up to exercising earlier than that.  It’s important to listen to your body and to not overdo it. If you weren’t active during your whole pregnancy or you tapered off towards the end, then it will take longer before you can resume your fitness regime.

If you had a Caesarean section it is most definitely not advised to do any physical activity until your doctor has given you the green light. Remember – you had a major operation and the body needs even more TLC to recover than it does after normal vaginal birth.

Which postnatal recovery exercises are considered safe?

Even if you were active during your whole pregnancy it is recommended to start off gradually and build up on your strength as time progresses. Start off with basic, low impact activities such as walking. This will also help with healing, improve blood circulation and can help prevent blood clots from forming.

Before doing strength training again, consider consulting with a specialist in the field of postpartum recovery to ensure they know how to heal the body through corrective exercise. Pregnancy results in some specific complications that will need extra consideration during exercise.

One of these is called Diastasis Recti, which happens when your ‘sixpack’ muscles separate in the middle, leaving you with a pooch that may stubbornly refuse to go away. Not all personal trainers are informed about this matter and can do more harm than good by just prescribing “normal” exercises. You may end up actually worsening the condition. Good postpartum abdominal exercises should minimize stress on your lower back and mid-line.

Another factor to take into consideration is that you might feel like your joints are a bit wobbly. This can be due to the hormone Relaxin that is released in the body during pregnancy to help soften the joints and connective tissue. It doesn’t just disappear overnight and you need to be especially careful with jerky, high impact movements to protect your joints. Relaxin can still reside in the body up to 5 months post-birth.

Lastly, damage to your pelvic floor will also take time to heal. Exercises increasing pressure in your abdomen can worsen this. You will need an exercise regime that helps you strengthen the core and supportive muscles that in turn supports your pelvic organs. You may well need help to do this.

So in short, exercise is very good for you, but too much too soon could also be worse for you than rather just resting 6-weeks and then picking it back up. Your body needs time to heal and you need time to adjust to your new role – being a mom and bonding with your little one!

At GlowFit Training we will help and guide you every step of the way to regain your confidence and reach your health and fitness goals in a safe and effective manner. Let me help you – Contact us today for your postnatal programme and let’s get started on getting your mojo back!

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Annéke da Silva completed her degree in B.Sc Human Movement Sciences & Nutrition at the University of Potchefstroom. She was thereafter admitted into postgraduate study where she completed her B.Sc Honours in Sport Science. She spent a considerable amount of time completing the Pre/Postnatal Corrective Exercise Specialist course facilitated by FitForBirth™