Baby... Now what??- Recovery in the first 6 weeks after birth

By Physio Laura

Congratulations on the birth of your baby. What a whirlwind but beautiful time these first 6 weeks after birth will be. Now is the time for the postpartum recovery process!

No matter how good you might feel, your post-partum body has been through the wringer and needs adequate recovery time. 

If 9 months of pregnancy hasn’t yet taken it’s toll then delivering a child (whether vaginally or via C-section) certainly will.

This is a precious window of time for rest and recovery.

For the modern woman this can be a challenge when you are used to “go, go, go”. I promise you though, these 6 weeks will pass and you will feel so much better on the other end if you respect your body and rest appropriately. What a perfect reason to bond and connect with this perfect little human you’ve created.

I strongly recommend all women rest as much as possible in the first 2 weeks after birth. This means horizontal rest, actually lying down. This will allow your pelvic floor and abdominal muscles to recover properly. Regardless of how you deliver, these muscles will need to rest from the pregnancy itself. Horizontal rest also allows your body to recover from the hormonal toll that pregnancy and birth have taken on your system.

Many women have recently discussed the idea of “post-natal depletion”.

Post-natal depletion arises from the demands of pregnancy, birth and motherhood taking their toll on your physical, hormonal and emotional states, leaving women severely “depleted”. This state of energy depletion can be managed by resting well in the initial 6 weeks, eating well, reducing stress and gentle exercise.

Guidelines for all postpartum recovery (regardless of delivery mode)

•    Start gentle pelvic floor exercises once you feel comfortable. If you’ve had tearing or stitches this may initially be a little bit uncomfortable so wait until the pain settles. Start with gentle 3 second holds and repeat 5 times. Aim to do this every time you feed your baby as it is an easy (and regular) habit to associate with. Otherwise, you will find yourself always forgetting to do them!

•    Avoid constipation as if your life depended on it! You do not want to be straining on the toilet after you’ve delivered a baby. Increase your fluid and fiber intake, and if this isn’t enough speak to your doctor for medications to help soften your stool.

•    Start with small 10-15 minute walks after at least 1-2 weeks to gently move your body and get some fresh air.

•    Think about investing in a support garment in the first few weeks to help support your tummy and pelvic floor. You can purchase tubigrip bandages, recovery shorts, belly bands or even just supportive shapewear.

Recovery after a vaginal delivery…

•    Ice your perineum regularly. You can purchase specific perineal ice packs or just fill a condom with water and freeze it. Ice the perineum for 10 minutes, at least 3 times/day in those first few weeks.

•    Wear supportive and compressive underwear to support your perineum better.

Recovery after a C-section…

•    Wear a support garment around your tummy to support your abdominal muscles.

•    Avoid lifting anything heavier than your baby

•    Avoid “sit-up” motions. Make sure to roll to the side to get out of bed.

Gentle home exercises to try:

These exercises are appropriate for women 2-4 weeks after a vaginal birth or 4-6 weeks after a C-section.

Always be guided by your body, if you have pain or discomfort make sure to stop and consult with your women’s health physiotherapist.

Bridges

Lie on your back with your knees bent. Squeeze your butt cheeks (gluteal muscles) and lift your hips up as far as you feel comfortable. Repeat x 10-15 times.

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Ball squats

I like these squats with the ball because it provides low back support, however they can also be done on their own. Try to stick your bottom back like you’re sitting on a chair and make sure your knees are in line with your toes (no knock-knees!). Start with a small range and go deeper as you feel comfortable. Aim to do 10-15.

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Chariot pulls

These are fantastic for strengthening the core and postural muscles. You will need to get your hands on a resistance band. Loop it around a door handle or pole and pull the band back, just past you hips. Remember to keep your elbows straight and engage your deep core and pelvic floor muscles. Don’t sway your hips forward when you pull the band back. If you notice any bulging in your tummy then you will need to get a band with less resistance or stop this exercise until you have seen your physio. Repeat this 10-15 times.

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Pelvic tilts

One of my faves. So easy to do. Tuck your pelvis up like you’re trying to point your front hip bones to your ribs. Then tuck it back the other way like you’re trying to lift your tailbone up. Repeat 20 times.

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Side lie leg lifts

A great exercise to start increasing your gluteal strength to support your pelvis better. Lie on your side with your hips stacked on top of each other. Lift your top leg up approximately 30cm and then lower back down. Repeat x 15 each side.

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You can aim to do these exercises for 3 rounds if you’re feeling pain-free and comfortable.

Many women think that once they hit the 6 week mark and they’ve been cleared by their doctor or midwife that they can resume their usual pre-pregnancy activities. This is something I strongly disagree with. Your body does not miraculously recover after 6 weeks. It takes much longer than that for you to regain your pre-pregnancy strength.

Every woman is unique and will recover at different rates so the best option is to consult with your local women’s health physiotherapist for a thorough post-natal check up to see where your body is at and what exercises and activities will be appropriate for you.

Generally speaking, after the 6 week mark the following exercises are safe to start: Walking, cycling, swimming, postnatal yoga, postnatal pilates and light strength training.

Again, make sure to get yourself checked first!

Here is a link to pelvic floor physiotherapists in Australia (cfaphysios.com.au) if you’re unsure of who is available in your local area.

Look after yourself Mama!

Physio Laura xo

Dominique Ben