As an athletic woman, you may think your body can handle any physical challenge easily. Though when it comes bouncing back after pregnancy, there are some things to consider. No matter how old you are, how many pregnancies you have had, or what type of delivery you experienced, postpartum rehabilitation should be a priority after giving birth.
For women who have recently given birth, rebuilding muscle and regaining tonicity are very important before resuming sport and other forms of physical activity. As a first step, women should begin to strengthen the perineum and abdominal strap and follow up with overall muscular strength. Particularly emphasizing back and abdominal exercises will help avoid lower back pain.
A progressive rehabilitation supervised by a therapist will allow for a safe and smooth transition back into sport and a return to your initial pre-pregnancy physiology.
We often talk about the nine months of pregnancy and then about the nine months of recovery. However, this timeline of recovery may not work for every woman’s body. It is important that women take their time easing back into sport.
Be careful and do not hurry the rehabilitation process by running or doing any sport too early. This might have a significant impact on the body if tissues are still recovering from birth.
For a woman in recovery, the main steps to remember are:
1) Perineal rehabilitation
Perineal rehabilitation begins with a visualization and awareness of the perineum muscle, which, in my experience, is often unknown to women.
The perineum is a set of muscles lining the pelvic floor, whose role is to support the pelvic organs.
To ease into re-strengthening the perineum after birth, the exercises are performed first in a lying position, then sitting and finally standing to increase difficulty. This article from Medium outlines some examples of perineal strengthening exercises.
2) Abdominal Rehabilitation
The deep abdomen is composed of the transverse and obliques. It is a real muscular corset protecting the organs in the front of the body. Unlike exercises aimed at the straightness of the abdomen, which are superficial and bring out the stomach, reinforcing these muscles allows women to regain stomach tone and improved posture. A wide variety of these exercises, including those recommended by Livestrong, exist and they can be adapted to all levels.
3) Resumption of Sport:
During the abdominal rehabilitation phase, women will be able to resume in parallel sports such as Pilates, yoga and swimming with full respect to the principles of posture and breathing.
When women feel that their perineum and abdominals are adequately strengthened, they can then gradually resume high-pressure ground impact sports such as running, boxing and tennis.
Timeline for Rehabilitation:
While it is important for women to stick with a timeline they feel comfortable with, rehabilitation can be started as early as three weeks postpartum following a caesarean delivery, and six weeks after vaginal delivery. One month of daily strengthening exercises are needed to gain real strength. Then comes the abdominal reeducation, then finally the gradual recovery of the sport.
Marion Codino is a physiotherapist based out of Paris, France. She specializes in women’s health and also works on the professional tennis circuit as a physio.