What effect on pelvic floor health does early return to exercise have after having a baby?
There has been a lack of research and evidence backed information about the safe return to exercise after having a baby. A recent research paper hot off the press this month (May 4, 2020) studied the long term impacts of returning to exercise in the first 6 weeks after birth. The physiotherapy researchers looked at the impacts of early exercise on urinary incontinence and prolapse in new mums 12 months after.
So, does return to exercise in the first 6 weeks of labour have any negative impacts on the pelvic floor 12 months on?
Here were the study’s findings:
- The exercising group undertook low impact exercise 3 times per week for 30 minutes (such as walking and swimming)
- The non-exercising group did just that!
- The strength and endurance of the pelvic floor muscles was no different in the 2 groups of women when tested at 12 months.
- The reported symptoms of urinary incontinence and prolapse were the same between the 2 groups at 12 months. So, this very early return to low impact exercise did not increase the incidence of incontinence or prolapse at all.
- The mums who did report issues with incontinence and prolapse at 12 months were overweight or were workers in physically strenuous occupations involving lifting and manual labour.
So, what tips can we take home from this study?
Tip 1. New mums should be encouraged to start general exercise within 6 weeks of giving birth. The importance in the physical and mental wellbeing benefits for new mothers of regular exercise at this time cannot be underestimated.
Tip 2. Exercise in the first 6 weeks should be low impact to not overload the pelvis and pelvic floor muscles after labour. This would include walking and swimming, or gentle mat based exercise.
Tip 3. There is no magical return to exercise guide for a new mum after this first 6 weeks. Each woman is different. Pelvic floor assessment for pelvic floor muscle strength, endurance and prolapse is encouraged for each woman. This, with added consideration of her labour, baby’s weight, her pre-natal fitness, hormonal situation, body type will allow for a safe and pelvic floor appropriate return to exercise of higher impact or load.
Tip 4. If a new mum is overweight or has had a strenuous occupation or activity level in the past, she has a higher chance of urinary incontinence or prolapse. Return to exercise after the initial 6 weeks may need to be adapted and risk factors modified. Again, this is unique to each new mum and a women’s health physiotherapist is the best health professional to guide these mums back to their exercise goals.
So new mums, start your gentle walks, or mat based exercise when you feel ready. But don't feel the pressure, go when you are ready! Finally, do make sure your women's health physio has assessed your pelvis and pelvic floor after this 6 weeks to safely guide you to through the next phases of exercise.