‘I want to remind women that before and after having a baby, they absolutely deserve and have every right to a body that works and makes them feel good.’
Remember: Every woman is unique, and so is every pregnancy! As such, all information on this page is general and must be taken as a guide only, and not used as medical advice. You should seek individualised advice from your GP and/or midwife before trying any exercise.
The world’s changed, or perhaps it’s changed again. And, for some mums, that means there could be a level of pressure to be on your a-game right away.
‘Certainly, in our culture, there’s a huge and unhealthy emphasis on bouncing back and getting your body back to looking a certain way,’ explained Powell.
But she implored new mums to be gentle and look after themselves.
‘A lot of women feel disempowered following birth experiences. It’s your body, and you deserve for it to work and to feel good again.
‘That means you shouldn’t be peeing yourself when you sneeze or jump, your core shouldn’t hurt, and neither should your back.
|‘Women shouldn’t settle for lack of basic function and dignity and confidence, certainly post-baby.’|
So, how soon after giving birth can you exercise?
Each of our experts said it’s important to seek guidance from your doctor, and – in some cases – a women’s health physio, to clear you for exercise.
‘As a general rule, women can start some basic exercises four-weeks post vaginal birth, and six weeks post a caesarean,’ explained Mangahas.
Powell said certain exercises could start the day after, if possible.
‘If you’re talking getting back to the fundamental core and pelvic reconnection work, then the day after birth is fine,’ she said.
‘However, if you’re talking about more intensive work, then you shouldn’t be ramping anything up until at least six to 10 weeks postpartum, depending on how the birth went, and on whether there was any trauma or complications.’
Exercise tips zero – six weeks postpartum
Settling into motherhood, letting your body heal and doing gentle walking are some of the top goals during this time.
However, Powell, Reynolds and Mangahas all agreed that starting some pelvic floor exercises is crucial in your journey to recovery. They also touched on the issue of abdominal separation.
Let’s delve a little deeper into what they told us.
Pelvic floor exercises after pregnancy
‘The pelvic floor is really important in providing stability to your pelvis and spine,’ Mangahas said.
‘The pelvic floor is usually weakened during pregnancy and needs to be “woken up” again before any exercise program begins.’
Powell reminded us that when it comes to ‘waking up’ the pelvic floor and strengthening it, you must be sure you’re actually engaging the correct muscles – and not other, larger muscle groups, like your glutes.
‘So, you need to learn how to contract, engage and relax your pelvic floor and understand how to coordinate that all with your breathing.
‘You then apply that every time you lift up your baby, to push or pull or jump or sneeze or laugh.’
|Step 1: Relax your entire body as you inhale|
Step 2: As you exhale, lift your pelvic floor and draw everything up inside you
Reynolds also reiterated that women should be educated on where their pelvic floor is and be properly assessed on whether they can achieve a good contraction of these muscles.
‘I often recommend women to have a postnatal assessment at six weeks post-delivery by a women’s health physiotherapist.’
Reynolds explained this would help identify any ongoing issues and to ‘guide them on return to exercise, return to sexual activity, etc.’.
|Have a postnatal|
assessment to identify
any ongoing issues
|Walk every day – even|
if that’s simply moving
around the home and yard
|Work on pelvic and|
core reconnection –
seek guidance from a
if you’re unsure of
how this should feel
Treating abdominal separation after the birth
Abdominal separation, also referred to as ‘diastasis recti’, occurs when the left and right sides of the rectus abdominis muscle separate. The rectus abdominis muscle makes up those ‘six pack’ muscles, which meet in the middle of your stomach area.
This condition may occur throughout pregnancy due to the increased tension of the area.7
‘Every woman will develop some degree of abdominal separation towards the end of their pregnancy – this is normal,’ said Reynolds.
‘Some women will go on to have ongoing issues whilst other women will make an easy recovery within weeks of giving birth.’
Reynolds said she overall recommends women who are diagnosed with abdominal separation to make an appointment with a physiotherapist who specialises in pregnancy and postnatal.
‘These physiotherapists can:
Powell explained that abdominal separation isn’t the problem itself – it’s a symptom of a core that isn’t functional.
‘So, it’s not about just closing that gap; it’s about reconnecting those deep core muscles, the transverse muscles and the pelvic floor so that the whole muscle system can get back to where it’s supposed to be.’
When it comes to reconnecting those deep core muscles, Powell says it’s not a forceful movement.
‘You want to make sure that every time you inhale, it’s a full relax of everything.
‘Then, it’s literally a very gentle drawing in of your lower abs and pelvic floor as you exhale. You’re not sucking in your tummy, and you’re definitely not holding it in.’
|Accessing treatment postpartum|
An extras health insurance policy can help you access a range of subsidised out-of-hospital services, including physiotherapy and psychology – both of which may be invaluable in your road to recovery and adapting to life as a mother.
Am I covered for Pilates classes under extras health insurance?
If your Pilates class forms part of your physiotherapy treatment, you can still access rebates on these classes, up to the limit of your cover.
However, you can no longer claim Pilates classes on your extras policy if they fall outside of physiotherapy, as per the 2019 health insurance reforms.
Find out more about how an extras policy may help you.
Exercise tips six to 12 weeks postpartum
Reynolds said many women could introduce postnatal yoga, Pilates, swimming and other body-weight exercises.
When it comes to strengthening your body, Mangahas said the process should be slow and gentle, particularly for stomach and ab exercises.
‘A lower intensity will allow the stomach and pelvis to heal from any stretching that may have occurred during pregnancy,’ he said.
‘Aside from this, exercises that focus on the muscles of the buttocks and between the shoulder blades should be priority.’
|‘Strengthening the muscles between the shoulder blades will help improve posture, and may also help reduce headaches, neck or shoulder pain.’||‘Buttocks exercises will strengthen the hips and further support the lower back.’|
Exercise tips 12 weeks+ postpartum
This is the point, according to Reynolds, where women can slowly start introducing their normal routine – although getting back on top of the pre-baby routine may take some time.
‘It takes a woman nine months to grow a baby; we have to expect it to take at least nine months for their body to fully recover,’ she said.
Mangahas explained that exercises from this point should be about ‘tailoring your program to gradually increase the strength in the stomach, hips and upper back’.
This also applies to your overall strength.
‘You’ll need your legs to be strong to be able to cart a stroller around, plus good arms to help hold and play with your new baby!’
|‘Pilates is a great way to exercise after pregnancy, as all|
of the exercises can be adjusted to be suitable for any stage postpartum.’
— James Mangahas, Studio Pilates International Head Trainer
What should you keep in mind if you’ve delivered via c-section?
Powell and Mangahas said that after a c-section, understandably, the incision area is going to be sore.
‘C-sections might happen every day to thousands of women, but it’s still major surgery,’ said Powell.
‘The operation literally cuts through some of the stomach muscles, so we have to respect that,’ Mangahas said.
‘The layers of tissue need healing, circulation and hydration,’ explained Powell.
‘It also needs to move – not in terms of rigorous exercise, but walking every day will help with that healing.
‘Also, when you’re doing any core engagement or core connection exercises post-c-section, you’re not going to feel much in that area as there’s a lack of sensitivity around the scar site.
‘That means you need gentle movement.’
|‘Avoid coming straight up from lying on your back. This can put extra pressure and force on the weakened abdominal wall.’||‘Instead, roll to your side first.’|
So, there we have it! The experts’ tips and insights into exercising during and after pregnancy.
Above all, remember that every pregnancy and every post-labour experience is different. This means your exercise routine may look quite different from another’s – and especially from your pre-baby routine.
‘You’re not going to be aiming for your personal best in the same way,’ said Powell.
|‘But you’re a lot more useful to your kids and to your family when you feel good about yourself when you feel strong, fit, healthy and energetic.’|