It’s crazy how little is known about getting back into shape after having a baby. Yet you’re at a point where the most changes to a human body have concluded. Hormones, baby, weight gain, back pain – they’re all part of the process. Parents are typically prepared for everything leading up to the birth of the child, which is great. However, the black hole is always the following:
- Getting back into shape after having a baby, and…
- When to start exercise after normal delivery.
Before knowing what to do, it’s important to know why to do it. Let’s begin our discussion by describing the physical state of a mother right after giving birth.
The Body’s State After Having a Baby
1. All joints are looser than normal
Throughout the pregnancy, a hormone called Relaxin is released throughout the body. Its action is to, as the name implies, relax (and loosen) all the joints of the body. The reason this happens is to accommodate the formation of a birth canal, especially at the pelvis.
With the joints all loosened up, the mother’s pelvis can stretch as needed. Amazing right? Yes, for the most part. However, because all the joints get loosened up, some areas take a beating. One of them is the lumbar spine (low back).
Think about where all the weight distribution goes on a pregnant woman for a second. A lot is placed at the front of her body, pushing her belly forward. However, to counteract that, her body will naturally adopt a posture that pulls her upper back and shoulders backwards. This posture puts her low back in extension, and pelvis in an anterior tilt – basically a highly arched low back. This is maintained after she gives birth as well.
The combination of loose joints and low back posture puts increased stress on the lumbar spine. It’s the most common reason pregnant women report low back pain.
2. The abdomen’s integrity is decreased
We’ve all seen how far the belly sticks out during pregnancy. What many don’t know is that this puts enough pressure on the abdomen to create a gap down its midline. The result after pregnancy is what is termed diastasis rectus. For it to be considered one, it must be at least 2.7cm in width from end to end. Let’s be clear though – this is normal for pregnancy! It’s the body’s way of creating space for another human body.
It’s important to know that the diastasis recti post-pregnancy compromises the core’s integrity and strength. Something to consider for that post-pregnancy workout life.
3. The immune system is weakened
Why does the immune system weaken during pregnancy you ask? There’s one really good reason actually: Your body doesn’t want your immune system to attack your baby. That’s right, the body will literally lower its defences just so it doesn’t accidentally consider the baby an intruder.
The immune system eventually restores back to normal, although the timeline is not well characterized. It can typically take anywhere from 6 months to a full year to recharge back to 100%. In this time, the body is more prone to sickness, infection, and slower rates of recovery from injury.
When to Start Exercise After Normal Delivery (First 2-4 Weeks Post-Pregnancy)
The next important point is when to start exercise after normal delivery. Regarding surgeries such as caesarian birth (c-section) or complications, extra precautions given by your healthcare professionals need to be considered on top of the advice we’re about to give.
1. Active Rest
Yes, we’re telling you to take it easy. But active rest doesn’t mean lying in bed all day. We encourage you to carry out your day-to-day tasks and chores. Just do them in a way that doesn’t cause increases in sharp pain or put you at a higher risk of injury. For example, avoid trying to lift awkward objects like couches.
Active rest is important because the body is under a state of recovery. During this time, it’s key to make sure you don’t overexert yourself. Since the immune system is at its weakest, anything requiring high levels of exertion can temporarily lower your immune system even further. This can put you at a higher risk of illness. What does overexertion mean? We’re implying not to take anything to failure – i.e. if you’re working out, it’s the point at which you can’t complete another repetition.
2. Deep Breathing Exercises
Postpartum benefits of deep breathing include a reduction in anxiety, decreased overall muscle tension, and improved energy levels. These are so easy; you can do them everywhere.
Begin by laying on your back. With both knees bent, place one hand on your belly and the other on top of your chest. Have a small pillow to support your head. In this position, inhale deeply through your nose, and exhale slowly out your mouth. Try breathing into your stomach. Visualize this as inflating your belly with air like a balloon.
It’ll be hard at first, but that’s why we placed the hands in certain positions. Try minimizing how much your chest lifts up towards your head and maximizing how much your belly lifts up for each inhalation. We recommend doing 10 deep breaths in a row, at least 3 times a day.
3. Core Activation
“What kind of workouts can I do after giving birth?” If there’s one thing that answers this question more than anything else, it’s core activation. The core is often thought of as just the six-pack muscle (i.e. rectus abdominus). But that’s like saying Winter is the only season of the year (although Canadians will sometimes argue for this).
Your core also includes your pelvic floor, your lumbar erector muscles, and your diaphragm. Without getting into details about each of their roles, the fact is that core activation is important. It has a reparative role beyond just strengthening.
Begin by getting into the same position as the deep breathing exercise (lying on your back with your knees up). Then do each of the following separately:
- Draw your belly button in towards your spine and hold for 10 seconds
- Curl your back upwards and hold for 10 seconds
- Complete 3 deep breaths
- And the weirdest one: using the same muscle you’d use to hold in your poo/pee and activating it for 10 seconds straight (in other words, a kegel).
Able to do all that? Perfect. If not, speak to a registered professional for more information and training.
Once you’re able to do all four separately, the next step is to do them all at the same time. Complete these holds for 10 seconds at a time. 5 reps at least 3 times a day is the way to go.
Getting Back into Shape After Having a Baby (4-6 Week Mark Post-Pregnancy)
Able to successfully complete the exercises mentioned above without any pain or struggle? Then the stage is set for your fitness goals. You’re well on your way back to a regular workout routine!
We’d recommend avoiding a few workouts initially as they put the core, low back, and pelvis under more stress than other workouts: heavy squats, sprinting or long-distance running, and jumping exercises. Once you’re able to go a few weeks without these, slowly transition them in if that’s your goal.
Getting back into shape after having a baby shouldn’t be an unknown process. Although there’s a lot of repairing the body must go through in the first few weeks, there’s a lot you can still do.
However, at the end of the day, this serves as a guideline. Always refer to health care professionals for additional advice on how to proceed. This is especially important in the case of complications or other factors not discussed here such as prolapses.
But never feel left in the dark! Contact us if you have any questions about the pregnancy process (pre, during, and post) and would like to schedule a free consultation. Our clinicians are more than happy to educate you further on this topic.