Returning to exercise after having a baby

September 27, 2016 | By More

Healthy Mother And Baby Girl Running On Beach

Returning to Exercise after having a baby

Part 1: 5 exercises new mums should avoid

By Catherine Browne

Chartered Physiotherapist specialising in Women’s & Men’s Health




This is probably not what you want to hear but if you are experiencing any of the following symptoms your body is telling you that it is not ready or strong enough to return to exercise:

  • Do you experience any back/hip/pelvic pain during or after exercise?
  • Do you leak urine during exercise (or any time for that matter)?
  • Do you feel any pressure/heaviness/dragging “down there” when doing exercise?
  • Is there any bulging, doming or straining around your abdomen during exercise?
  • Has your post-partum posture improved?
  • Does your core feel unstable or “wobbly”? Have you been following a post-natal recovery program?

There is so much pressure on mothers these days to get their figures back. Everywhere you look there are images of celebs looking slim and glamorous immediately after childbirth. As a result, many mothers want to instantly return to their pre-pregnancy exercise routines. While we all know the importance of regular physical activity, new moms need to return to exercise with caution. Here are 5 common exercises that should be avoided or modified during the post-natal period. Rushing straight back into these particular activities may actually cause more harm than good.

Why do I need to avoid particular exercises?

When you think about the core chances are you think about your abs. Believe it or not your core is not just your “six-pack” muscles. Think of a cylinder (or picture a can of coke), your pelvic floor at the base, your diaphragm at the top, your abdominal muscles wrap around the front and your spinal muscles at the back.

The function of this core cylinder is to maintain pressure (intra-abdominal pressure) and keep everything where it should be. If any of the muscles around your core are not functioning properly, the rise in pressure can get too much for these non-functioning muscles and can cause some or all of the symptoms listed above. C-sections, episiotomies, tearing and instrumental deliveries can contribute to abdominal and pelvic floor dysfunction. It is important to remember that you cannot strengthen muscles that aren’t working!


Figure 1: The core cylinder

Even if you kept active, lifted weights and ran during your pregnancy, your core is not how it used to be. Postural changes during pregnancy (increased arch in the lower back and stretching of the abdominals) can result in muscular imbalances and difficulty maintaining that intra-abdominal pressure. The exercises below may increase your risk of Diastasis Recti (abnormal separation of the Rectus Abdominis muscles) or increase your risk of prolapse.

medically accurate muscle illustration of the rectus abdominis

Figure 2: Rectus Abdominus Muscle

  1. Planks

Probably the most well-known “core” exercise but unfortunately it is often performed incorrectly. For example, you could hold a plank position for 60-90 seconds without engaging your core at all!

Planks done correctly, with deep core engagement are of course an excellent exercise but may not be the most ideal choice immediately post childbirth. The plank position increases intra-abdominal pressure and if those abdominals and pelvic floor muscles are not strong enough, the lower back is going to work even harder.

It is easy to over-arch the lower back in the plank position (see image below), which can aggravate low back pain. If you do not have the support from your pelvic floor and deep core muscles your rectus abdominis may over work which may increase that tummy gap (read more here about separation of the abdominal muscles



Woman Doing Plank

Figure 3: Overarching the low back in a plank position


2. Burpees

Everyone hates burpees so there should be no problem avoiding this one J

A burpee is a chest to floor movement followed by a jump and clap overhead. The chest to floor movement is a variation of a plank and we know the plank increases intra-abdominal pressure so it should follow suit that a burpee isn’t the most ideal post-natal exercise.

The repetitive high impact jumping on a weak pelvic floor may lead to some urinary leakage and bladder control issues. This combined with plank position mean burpees may not be everyone’s best friend after all.


3. Kettlebell swings

As a mother you spend all day lifting your baby, car seats, buggies, shopping, the list is endless. So what’s the big deal spending 30 minutes swinging a 12kg kettlebell?

It may be a surprise but the constant repetitive action of swinging a kettlebell puts more pressure on the pelvic floor than your daily lifting activities. Kettlebell swings (even with correct technique) can overload the pelvic floor with the downward pressure, increasing risk of pelvic floor dysfunction or even prolapse.


4. Box jumps/Plyometrics

Plyometrics or jump training are exercises in which muscles exert maximum force in short intervals of time, with the goal of increasing power (speed-strength). Box jumps are also high impact landing exercises. The pelvic floor needs to be strong and functioning well to counteract the considerable landing forces on the pelvic floor associated with vertical jumping.

Repetitive jumping of any sort such as skipping or star jumps should be avoided for the same reason.


5. Sit ups/crunches/oblique or Russian twists of any sort

Another favourite core exercise among women. Unfortunately sit ups and crunches will not give you a flat tummy. It all comes back to the intra-abdominal pressure. Sit-ups encourage the over-use of those rectus abdominis muscles and you may often see doming or bulging around your middle. This means your pelvic floor and deep abdominals are not working to maintain that pressure. So crunches can actually increase that tummy gap, causing more harm than good!


After a lifetime of pushing your body to the limits if can be difficult for some women to take a step back from exercise and many carry on despite the leaking, pain or instability. But this is not a time for a no pain, no gain attitude. To regain your pre-pregnancy strength, we must first your pelvic floor and deep abdominal muscles functioning correctly. Part 2 of this blog will outline the key exercises that you should focus on to begin rebuilding that core.

If you are experiencing any of these symptoms or to discuss returning to exercise in more detail, call today on 091 727777 to book an appointment with Catherine Browne – Chartered Physiotherapist in Women’s and Men’s Health. You may also be interested in our Mummy MOT or our FitMum programmes. Alternatively you can get in touch using the contact page.

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