Returning to Exercise Considerations
There are a number of considerations to take into account when you are returning to exercise after giving birth. Depending on who you listen to you could be overly cautious or over zealous in your approach. This article aims to give you the facts so that you can make the most informed decision possible.
Factors that need to be taken into consideration are many and varied. With the exception of any complications that may have occurred during the birth, the most pressing factor is what type of condition you were in before you got pregnant and before you gave birth.
Exercise Before Giving Birth
If you were a well conditioned, fit individual, you will probably be able to return to exercises you were used to much more quickly than if you were out of shape when you gave birth. That's a big reason why it's important to be in shape your whole life!
Exercises you were used to before giving birth will be better choices than new stimuli. You must also remember that you will have lost some fitness so returning to the same intensity of training you used to do is a bad idea.
Getting Back Into a Regime
Most doctors will recommend a six-week lay off period to allow your body to recover from the birth. This is sound advice for most people. Very fit individuals who strength trained through pregnancy may be able to return to training sooner.
Either way there is something to be said for listening to your body and being your own coach while making these decisions. If you had a smooth birth, feel fine, are in good shape and want to test the water with light training much sooner than the six week mark there's nothing to say that this is inherently dangerous. Just don't start out with a high intensity activity like sprint training or tennis straight away!
On the other hand if you are relatively new to training, have little experience and / or had a rough birth, you may want to take a more cautious approach.
How Relaxin Can Affect You
One of the considerations every woman must take into account is the hormone relaxin. This hormone is released during pregnancy to increase the mobility around joints, such as the pelvis, in order to give the baby room to grow. Studies show that this hormone takes a while to reduce back to baseline levels after giving birth. As a result its effects of decreased stability, particularly around the pelvis, are present for up to 6 months after giving birth.
The implications of this are that unstable, ballistic or multi directional activities are contra indicated during the first stages of returning to exercise post pregnancy. Unfortunately there is no one size fits all recommendation about exactly how long to leave it before introducing these activities into your training regime.
Factors such as pre-pregnancy mobility and stability, strength levels, coordination, pre-conditioning to specific movements and even some nutrient levels in the body can make a huge difference between individuals. For example, a woman who plays tennis 4 times per week, does resistance training twice per week and has good levels of stability will obviously be able to re-introduce tennis faster than a woman who enjoys the occasional game and suffers from hyper mobility!
Stress and Exercise
Stress levels are another important factor to consider. In terms of the body's stress response, all stress is added together. As much as we may try to separate stressors in our lives emotionally and psychologically, we do not do that physiologically.
So if you are sleep deprived, running a household with other small children and your partner is working long hours to pay the bills, adding training sessions on top could tip the balance the wrong way.
On the other hand, if you have a membership at a gym with a creche, feel good, have no other children and your own car why not use it. The baby does not have to be a reason not to train for 40 minutes 4 times per week! In the grand scheme of things, the exercise is well worth the time investment in terms of health effects.
We all, at any stage of life, have to deal with stressors and try to achieve balance in our lives. Having a baby is no small addition and demands adaptation just like any other good or bad stress.
Your Life and Exercise
The point is that you simply must consider the big picture when deciding when and how much to train. Training should be a positive stress, an activity that gives you a break, gets you blood flowing and promotes feelings of wellbeing and happiness. Training after pregnancy should not be a chore, a negative stress, an inconvenience or promote feelings of anxiety, time pressure or hardship.
Takeaway the message that there are many considerations to take into account when returning to fitness after giving birth. These include your pre-conditioning, fitness levels and training experience, exercise selection, other life stressors and other health issues such as birth complications.
Detailed articles on each modality of training and a template for phased return to training are available in the exercise section of the website.