Your pelvic floor muscles are the base of the cylinder of muscles commonly called "the core". The pelvic floor muscles help in bladder and bowel control, support the pelvic organs and assist in sexual function.
During pregnancy and delivery the pelvic floor muscles are stretched and weakened. Taking part in high impact, heavy resistance or high intensity abdominal exercises during pregnancy and early after childbirth will further overload the pelvic floor muscles and may cause loss of bladder and bowel control or pelvic organ prolapse. With correct advice and exercises this risk can be reduced.
Let's get it right!
Getting back to exercise after having a baby is important for the body and mind but going back before your pelvic floor muscles have recovered can cause problems now or later in life. Seeking advice from a pelvic floor physio will help you make the right choices about exercise.
Exercise Guidelines after having a baby!
These general guidelines give you a starting point to plan your return to fitness.
Note: Check with your doctor, obstetrician or pelvic floor physiotherapist if you have any questions about your exercise program or before you start any new exercise program.
0-3 weeks post natal
• Postnatal deep abdominal exercises
• Pelvic floor exercises
Note: For exercising after a caesarean, please seek advice on how quickly you can return to exercise.
3-8 weeks post natal
It is recommended that you wait until your 6 week post natal check before commencing a group exercise program or getting back in to your gym program. You should also have your abdominal separation checked. Recommended exercises at this stage include:
• Swimming (once the bleeding stopped)
• Gym program – maintain posture, light weights, no breath holding
• Post natal deep abdominal and pelvic floor exercises
• Low impact post natal class
• Low intensity water aerobics classes (once bleeding stopped)
8-12 weeks post natal
• As for 3-8 weeks, increasing intensity/weights
• Progress post natal deep abdominal and pelvic floor exercises. Check with your pelvic floor physiotherapist for ideas
• Consider a pelvic floor muscle assessment
Below is a list of examples of cardio and resistance exercises to avoid while your pelvic floor is recovering and then safe alternatives.
|Star jumps||Water aerobics|
|High impact exercise||Walking in the water|
|Sports involving stop start running eg tennis, netball, hockey||Low impact exercise classes|
|Abdominal exercises eg sit ups and double leg lifts||Seated exercises eg knee extensions, biceps curls|
|Deep lunges||Dumb bell exercises on a swiss ball|
|Wide legged or deep squats||Shallow and narrow squats|
|Lifting heavy weights||Shallow forward lunges|
|Dead lifts||Wall push ups|
|Chin ups||Floor bridge|
|Full push ups||Supine bench press|
You can return to previous exercise levels once your pelvic floor muscles are back functioning normally. This is best assessed by a pelvic floor physio. If you feel any vaginal heaviness or incontinence during or after exercise you should reduce your intensity and again seek advice from a pelvic floor physio.
Can I get rid of my tummy?
If you would like a flat tummy, sit ups are not the way to go! They will tone your upper abdominals but not flatten the tummy. Overuse of the upper abdominals which occurs with sit ups can make the lower abdomen look like a pot belly. Low impact aerobic exercise will help shake off abdominal fat and correct pelvic floor exercises will help achieve a flat tummy.
Author: Belinda Henry from Gerringong Physiotherapy has a special interest in continence and women's health. She has completed a post graduate certificate in pelvic floor physiotherapy at Melbourne university. Information for this article was sourced from The Continence Foundation of Australia Pelvic Floor First website. For more information on Belinda Henry from Gerringong Physiotherapy please see Parents Guide listing or contact Gerringong Physiotherapy on 42344666.