Which exercise is safe for my pelvic floor during pregnancy?
Exercise generally has great benefits for both mother and baby during pregnancy, but should always be done under the advice of your obstetrician and medical team, as some high-risk pregnancy conditions mean that exercise isn’t safe and needs to be avoided.
For uncomplicated pregnancies, regular exercise is important for the health of mother and baby. It promotes healthy weight-gain, reduces risks of gestational diabetes and pre-eclampsia and can reduce back and pelvic pain. Gentle exercise can also reduce constipation in pregnancy, which is important for protecting the pelvic floor from unnecessary strain.
Generally, there are some exercises that are best to avoid during pregnancy to protect your pelvic floor; including high impact bouncing, jarring movements, and leaping. Exercises with a potential of falling like horseback riding, rock climbing, or other extreme sports or with potential for extreme contact like football or soccer are also not advised during pregnancy.
While running and high impact is okay early on in uncomplicated pregnancies, exercise intensity should start to decrease in the third trimester. High impact exercises will be replaced by lower intensity such as walking, yoga, gentle pilates and bodyweight strength training. Swimming and water-based exercise are great options for those experiencing any joint pain when walking.
No matter what type of sport or exercise you are taking part in during pregnancy, it should never cause bladder leaking or heaviness or pain in the pelvic floor. To reduce these effects, and to improve pelvic floor recovery after delivery, pelvic floor training is an important aspect of exercise during all stages of pregnancy. Pelvic floor training and light abdominal exercises have also been shown to improve recovery after delivery, reduce risk of incontinence and even reduce the time spent in active labour!
When can I return to sport and exercise after having a baby?
For the first 6 weeks after delivering your baby, rest is one of the most important aspects of the recovery of your pelvic floor and abdominal wall. As well as plenty of laying down rest, for most people, gentle walking can begin in the days after delivering your baby.
It's safe to start gentle pelvic floor “squeezes” or contractions after delivery, however if you have tearing or stitches you may feel more comfortable to wait until your pain reduces. Gentle pelvic floor exercises can start to help recovery of your pelvic floor. You may also start some gentle core exercises under the guidance of your physiotherapist, but aim to avoid sit-up or crunch type movements that strain your abdominal wall.
If you've been cleared by your medical practitioner, and have no concerns with your pelvic floor or abdominal muscles, you may start to increase your exercise to low impact weights, pilates, walking, bike riding and swimming from 6-12 weeks after having your baby.
Running, jumping and high impact activity is not recommended until at least 12 weeks after delivery, and may need to be even longer for those with pelvic floor injury or severe abdominal separation. Remember every body and birth is unique, so it's important not to put too much pressure on or compare oneself to others when it comes to recovery time. Increasing load on the pelvic floor too quickly and without adequate strengthening can increase the risk of pelvic floor dysfunction, so it's best to listen to your body and slowly progress back to high level activity.
Alongside completing pelvic floor muscle training, a review with a Pelvic Floor Physiotherapist is recommended before returning to sport and exercise, to reduce any potential risk of pelvic floor problems occurring.