Immediately after delivery, your attention will be on caring for your newborn baby. Including adjusting to your new family life. But you mustn’t neglect yourself and your own needs.
For the first few weeks feeding your baby and getting some sleep is the primary concern for most mums. But as life adapts to a new routine it’s time to start getting back in shape. This isn’t about being slim or superfit. It’s about recognising that pregnancy changes your body and you need to help your body return to normal.
During pregnancy, the strap muscles (six-pack muscles) running down the middle of your tummy may separate and lengthen. It’s important to strengthen those muscles again. Humans rely on both their tummy and back muscles to be able to walk upright. Without the strength of our tummy muscles, we put ourselves at risk of back problems. This can be an issue when we bend to lift anything, including our baby.
The easiest exercise to start with is gentle abdominal squeezes. Lie on your back and gently tighten your tummy muscles. Draw the muscles back into your body as if you were pulling on your belly button down into the floor or surface that you are lying on. Hold for 10 seconds and release and repeat that 10 times. You can start this a few days after birth even if you’ve had a caesarean section.
You can also start to build up exercise tolerance by taking your baby for a daily walk in the buggy. Pay good attention to having an upright posture. This will build up your cardiovascular fitness.
More vigorous exercise should wait a few weeks. You should discuss this with your doctor. Advice will depend on your individual circumstances and your exercise routines pre-pregnancy.
Pelvic Floor Exercises
It’s very important to start pelvic floor exercises (PFE) as soon as possible after birth. You should do PFE even if you had a caesarean birth. The pressure of the baby’s head can affect how the pelvic floor muscles work.
You can get advice about PFE from your doctor or a physiotherapist. But the simplest ones are to lift and tighten your pelvic muscles. As if you were trying to stop passing urine or passing gas/wind. Lift tighten and hold for a count of 5 and release. You should aim to repeat this 5 times. It’s recommended to do this 5 to 10 times a day but simple advice is to do this every time you wash your hands. You are standing up and can’t do anything else while you are washing your hands so it’s a good use of time. No one will notice what you are doing. We all wash our hands at least 10 times a day when changing nappies and preparing food. So it should be relatively easy to fit your PFE into your new routine.
If you had a vaginal delivery and had a tear or an episiotomy during delivery you will have needed stitches. These are dissolving stitches which should come away 5 to 10 days after birth. You will feel sore for a few days but this is an area of the body that heals very quickly due to its good blood supply. If your pain improves but then gets worse, this could be an infection. It is important to seek advice from your obstetrician or GP.
As soon as you feel comfortable you can start making love again. In most cases, this will be at least 4 to 6 weeks after delivery and once the lochia has stopped.
Don’t forget about contraception. Or you may have another addition to your family sooner than planned.