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Medical Reasons to Postpone Exercise Postpartum

DrSugar Answers: Waiting Period For Exercise After Having a Baby?

Guest writer Kerri Walsh recently shared about taking baby steps on the road back to fitness after having her second child. The post prompted this question:

Medically speaking, why does a woman have to avoid physical activity for four weeks after giving birth? — Asche

Since DrSugar is in the house, I handed the question over to her to answer. Here's what she had to say.

I'm so happy you asked this question, as I think it is very important to review why doctors recommend avoiding exercise after giving birth. The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists recommends that each individual check with her obstetrician or nurse midwife before initiating an exercise program in the postpartum period. Depending on whether one had a vaginal birth versus cesarean section and if there were any complications, that may change the amount of time they will advise against exercise. Generally speaking, some women will be advised to hold off on exercise until the four-to-six-week post-delivery checkup, where the obstetrician or nurse midwife can assess the progress in healing. However, some women will be able to resume their normal routines soon after giving birth and some women will have to wait longer than four weeks before resuming activities.

To learn more, keep on reading.

During pregnancy, many changes occur in the body to accommodate the growing baby. Throughout the pregnancy, the body produces a hormone called relaxin. As its name implies, relaxin relaxes the body’s muscles, joints, and ligaments. The main effect of relaxin is on the pelvic joints, ligaments, and musculature, allowing them to stretch during delivery. The relaxin also affects other joints, ligaments, and musculature (such as the abdominal muscles and back muscles). Prior to delivery, the expectant mother must be careful during exercise as these changes can lead to overstretching injuries. Some women’s abdominal muscles split during pregnancy due to the relaxin and the growing baby. If this occurs, the individual’s obstetrician or nurse midwife will likely recommend avoiding exercise and abdominal muscle workouts until the abdominal muscles heal.

The reason there is so much discrepancy in how long women might have to wait to resume exercise is that every woman’s birthing experience is different. Some women have easy vaginal deliveries with no complications. These women may get the go-ahead from their doctors to slowly return to their normal exercise routine. Some women have vaginal deliveries with complications, such as vaginal tearing or excessive bleeding, which may require additional time for healing. Women who had cesarean sections are usually the group who has to wait the longest in terms of resuming exercise, as they must take extra time to heal from having surgery. Ultimately, the activity restrictions should be discussed with one's obstetrician or nurse midwife after delivery given the unique circumstances for every woman’s delivery.

According to the University of Iowa Health Care, the key to exercising safely after delivery is caution and moderation. The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists also supports this approach and recommends walking as a way to get back into exercising. Simple exercises, such as pelvic tilts and Kegel exercises, may also be done with the consent of one’s obstetrician or nurse midwife soon after delivery. I encourage you to visit the websites listed above as they have wonderful tips and information on postpartum exercise.

Exercising after having a baby is beneficial both psychologically and physically for most new mothers. However, it is important to remember that slowly increasing exercise over time is more important than starting right away after birth. It is extremely important that your physical activity plan is directed by your obstetrician or nurse midwife, so that injury or overexertion do not occur!

Have a question for DrSugar? You can send it to me via private message here, and I will forward it to the good doctor.

DrSugar's posts are for informational purposes only and should not be considered medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment recommendations. Click here for more details.

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