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Returning to sport or exercise after birth

Participating in sport, running or other high-impact activities early after childbirth may actually reduce pelvic floor muscle strength and cause long-term bladder and bowel problems or pelvic organ prolapse. You can minimise the risk of these developing with some careful precautions.

Postnatal exercise guidelines

It is important to check with your doctor, midwife, physiotherapist or continence professional before returning to sport or exercise after the birth. These general guidelines give you a starting point to plan your return to postnatal fitness:

0-3 weeks postnatal

  • Walking
  • Postnatal abdominal muscle bracing
  • Pelvic floor exercises

3-8 weeks postnatal

  • It is recommended you wait until your six-week postnatal check before starting a group exercise program or going back to the gym
  • Walking
  • Low impact aerobics or postnatal class
    • Low intensity water aerobics class and swimming (once bleeding has stopped)
    • Gym program (maintain posture, light weights, no breath holding)
    • Postnatal abdominal muscle bracing
    • Pelvic floor exercises

8-12 weeks postnatal

  • Follow the guidelines for 3-8 weeks, gradually increasing your intensity and weights
  • Progress your postnatal abdominal muscle bracing

12-16 weeks postnatal

  • Consider visiting a physiotherapist for a postnatal abdominal muscle check and pelvic floor muscle testing before returning to high-impact exercise, running, sport or abdominal exercise programs.

After 16 weeks postnatal

  • You can return to previous activity levels provided your pelvic floor muscles havereturned to normal and you are not experiencing any back pain, vaginal heaviness, or urine loss during or after exercise.
  • Seek further advice from a health professional if your symptoms persist.

Other factors to consider

You may feel more tired in the first few months after having a baby due to interrupted sleep, the extra demands of motherhood and breastfeeding. Fatigue and over exertion during exercise can increase the risk of injury. It is important to listen to your body and how you are feeling. Be aware of any warning signs of pain or discomfort and, slow down if necessary to allow this to subside, rather than pushing through the pain.

While you are learning to breastfeed (if you are breastfeeding) and looking after your baby, you may not have the desire to exercise in the first few weeks or months. During this time you can still be strengthening your abdominal and pelvic floor muscles in preparation for when you do feel ready to return to exercise. You may find that walking is an exercise that will get you out of the house and one that you can do with your baby, and maybe your partner or a friend.

It is recommended that you wait until your six-week postnatal check before increasing your intensity level. Low-impact exercise such as walking is recommended during this time. Aim to steadily increase back to high impact exercise over the 3–4 month period after the birth. It is important to check with your doctor, midwife or continence professional before returning to exercise.

Download our Returning to sport or exercise after the birth factsheet for more information.

Reproduced with kind permission from The Pregnancy Centre.