So you just delivered your baby.
You’re back home and your doctor told you to restrict your activities over the next several weeks?
Why? What’s the big deal?
Well, there are some risks you face if you exercise too soon in the postpartum period.
The risks of exercising too soon postpartum include bleeding, infection, and improper healing of your tissues.
Keep reading to learn more…
Although I am a doctor, I am not your doctor. This information is for informational purposes only and should not substitute the advice from your healthcare professional. All kinds of exercise and dietary changes are potentially dangerous, and those who do not seek counsel from the appropriate health care authority assume the liability of any injury which may occur. Please read my full Disclaimer for more information. Also, this post may contain affiliate links: meaning I may receive a commission if you use them.
Ok, moving on.
What Is The Risk of Exercising Immediately Postpartum?
You may hear stories of people getting back to an exercise routine a few days after delivery. In general, this is an exception, not the rule.
Whether you had a vaginal or cesarean delivery, your body needs time to heal.
Here are the things that can happen if you don’t allow your body the time it needs to heal properly.
C- Section Healing
In general, c-sections take longer to heal from. That’s because several layers of tissue were cut in order to get the baby out.
Every single one of these layers needs time to heal appropriately.
6 weeks is the recommended time frame.
This tends to be a very conservative number- but some women find that they don’t feel recovered even at the 6-week mark. Everyone is different.
Of all the layers that need to heal, one of them is the most important.
The fascia is the connective tissue that wraps around your organs providing support.
It basically holds your intestines inside.
If you exercise too early after a c-section, you might not allow the fascia to heal properly. This can lead to a hole forming in the fascia. As you could imagine, this is problematic.
If your fascial incision opens up, you can develop an incisional hernia.
A hernia occurs when a loop of your small intestine pokes through the hole in the fascia. This can present itself with a bulge in your abdomen, pain, and/or nausea.
Best case scenario, you live with the bulge and it causes minimal symptoms.
Worst case scenario, that hernia can become strangulated. This will require emergency surgery to fix.
Other Layers That Need To Heal
Besides the fascia, what other layers need to heal?
- Your uterus now has a big scar on it. This scar might be fairly large depending on how big your baby was at the time of birth. The only way to close the uterine scar is with 1-2 layers of stitches.
- Your rectus muscles (which are the 6 pack muscles) are stretched apart to access the uterus. Sometimes the muscles will be re-approximated with a stitch. Sometimes it’s not possible to bring them back together because of how stretched they are.
- Your subcutaneous tissue which was also cut into. This layer could be pretty deep depending on the individual, and requires stitching to bring the tissue back together.
- And lastly, your skin was cut. The only part of the surgery you can actually see. This is usually repaired using stitches or staples.
So as you can see, healing after a C-Section is pretty serious.
Vaginal Delivery Healing
Vaginal deliveries, on the other hand, require a different type of healing.
More than two-thirds of women experience what we call a vaginal laceration. This basically means that the baby’s head tore your vaginal tissue.
There are four types of lacerations: first degree, second degree, third degree, and fourth degree.
- First-degree lacerations are very superficial. They often heal by themselves. If necessary these lacerations will be repaired with stitches.
- Second-degree lacerations are a little deeper. These require repair through the use of stitches.
- Third-degree lacerations are deep; they reach your anal sphincter- the outermost part of your anus.
- Fourth-degree lacerations are not as common thankfully. In this laceration, your vagina tears all the way through to your rectum. These require extensive repair.
Most women experience a second-degree laceration which requires stitches.
The bigger your baby, the bigger your risk of a more severe laceration. Another reason to not “celebrate” the fact that your baby was born at 10 lbs.
So, if you exercise too soon after a vaginal delivery, these stitches could pop. Do you really want your incision opening up and causing you to bleed?
How long does this area take to heal?
Depending on the degree of laceration it can take anywhere from 2-3 weeks.
What if you didn’t get any stitches? Good job! You are part of the minority.
But you’re still not in the clear. Keep reading below to learn about other risks associated with working out too soon after delivery.
What About Episiotomies?
You might have also received an episiotomy. This is when your obstetrician purposely makes a cut in your vagina to widen the birth canal.
These procedures are becoming less common over the years. Back in the day, it was routine to do them on almost every woman.
Nowadays, episiotomies will be used if your obstetrician thinks that your baby is a little too large for your birthing canal.
That’s a topic for another post.
If you received an episiotomy, that area will also need time to heal. The last thing you want happening is your vaginal laceration opening.
If this is the case, that area will definitely need more time to heal.
The good news is, if the tissue comes back together nicely, episiotomies can heal just as quickly as natural lacerations.
So how long does an episiotomy take to heal?
About the same time- 2-3 weeks.
Other Risks of Exercising Too Soon Postpartum
Okay, so we talked about the healing of your wounds. Now let’s go over other complications you might have from working out too soon.
Have you ever heard of the word lochia?
Lochia refers to the discharge that comes out of your uterus after delivery. It is often bloody.
This is normal to have, as your uterus is evacuating whatever has been leftover from the pregnancy. In other words, it’s normal to experience some bleeding for up to 2 weeks after delivery. The bleeding will get lighter and lighter as the days go by.
That’s because your body releases a hormone called oxytocin after delivery. This hormone has several actions, but one of them is to help your uterus contract.
This contraction helps close off any remaining blood vessels that connected your baby’s placenta to your uterus.
It’s kind of like when you hold pressure on a cut to try to get it to stop bleeding.
Another thing that increases oxytocin is breastfeeding. This is the reason why you experience cramping whenever you breastfeed.
Anyway, exercising too soon can interfere with this process. Why? Because exercise leads to increased blood flow throughout your body.
And can you guess once place that will get a good chunk of that blood flow?
Especially since its at least 5x the size it normally is?
That’s why exercising too soon after delivery can lead to heavier bleeding.
You already lose enough blood during the delivery. You don’t need to lose any more by exercising too soon.
You Can Increase The Risk Of Infection
Bacteria is everywhere!
On your skin, on your clothes, in your vagina, and in your sweat.
If you exercise with wounds that haven’t yet fully healed, you run the risk of letting your sweat get into your wounds.
As nasty as that sounds, getting a wound infection is even worse.
And the infection could get bad.
The mildest forms can get away with just oral antibiotics.
However, the worst forms will need what we call an incision and drainage. Yup, that means another procedure for us to reopen the wound and clean it out.
Oh, and we don’t usually close these. They generally need to heal wide open.
Definitely not worth it.
You Increase The Risk of Muscle Injury
Do you remember what your hips looked like before you got pregnant?
And do you see how much wider they got before you delivered?
Well, that doesn’t happen by magic.
Your body actually releases a hormone called relaxin. Its name says it all.
Sometimes, scientists do a great job of naming things :).
Relaxin helps loosen all the ligaments around your pelvic area. It also helps loosen the muscles as well.
This is what can cause the condition known as diastasis recti.
Exercising too soon can put your muscles and ligaments under undue stress. Muscles and ligaments that are loose and weak from relaxin.
That’s why exercising too soon can worsen diastasis recti and lead to other muscle strains. Here’s how to tell if you have diastasis recti.
Which leads me to my next point.
You Can Increase The Risk of Back Pain
As your uterus gets bigger and bigger, more weight is shifted to the front side of your body.
This can tilt your pelvis forward causing a condition known as anterior pelvic tilt.
To keep things brief, your low back muscles are attached to the back of your pelvis.
When your pelvis tilts forward, the muscles in the low back have to shorten or contract. This puts them in a very bad position.
If you begin exercising and your not too sure what you’re doing, you can worsen the anterior pelvic tilt.
This can lead to really bad low back pain that’s hard to reverse.
Another reason why you need a good postpartum workout plan.
I’ve written an entire article on ways to relieve back pain in the postpartum period.
So When Can I Start Exercising Again?
I know that this article sounded scary. But it’s not meant to scare you away from exercising postpartum.
I’m not saying that you can’t do any type of exercise for 2-3 weeks or 6 weeks.
No one knows your body better than you do.
How soon you can give birth after exercise depends on a few things.
If you were very active before your pregnancy, you will likely be motivated to exercise sooner.
You can definitely start moving sooner than 2-3 weeks for vaginal deliveries and sooner than 6 weeks for C-sections.
Postnatal stretching is a great way to become active in the postpartum period and one I recommend before jumping into an exercise routine.
If you feel ready to start exercising, and have been cleared by your provider, check out my Guide to Getting Fit after Pregnancy.
With that said…
Always start low.
And listen to your body.
If something starts to hurt, or you notice heavy bleeding, then stop.
Always check with your doctor to make sure there aren’t any other concerns with your postnatal care.
To wrap it all up:
There are many different changes that happen to your body during pregnancy and during the postpartum period.
Whether you had a C-section or not, your body needs time to heal any wounds you encountered, and restore things back to the way they were.
Take your time, and reintroduce different kinds of activities one at a time.
But as always, check with your doctor to see what kind of clearance you have before doing any type of exercise.
How long did you wait after your delivery to exercise?
Did you experience any of these complications?
Leave a comment below. And if you know a new mom who is dying to exercise again, send this article to her.
See you later.
Other Posts Related to Exercise Postnatal
- What Activities Are Restricted Postpartum
- How To Exercise Before 6 weeks Postpartum
- When Can You Lift Weights After Having a Baby
- Postpartum Complications You Need To Be Aware Of
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Brittany N Robles, MD, MPH, CPT
Brittany Robles is a full-time OBGYN, a NASM certified personal trainer, and health & fitness, expert. She holds a Masters of Public Health degree in maternal health with a special interest in exercise and nutrition. She is also the co-author of The White Coat Trainer. Learn more about her here.
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