It is a common misconception that bladder and bowel control problems are normal consequences of having a baby.
Recent research suggests that nearly three quarters of new mums are pushing themselves to regain their pre-baby shape, however many do not think about the right exercises to safely shift those kilos (Continence Foundation Australia, 2011). Exercise is an important part of healthy living, so it’s important to ensure your exercise program is the right one for you.
Unfortunately early high impact exercise, such as running or netball, may increase the risk of damaging or further damaging the pelvic floor, and abdominal muscles, which can increase the likelihood of bladder, bowel and prolapse concerns, especially as these muscles are already weakened by pregnancy and childbirth. Similarly, low back, abdominal and pelvic pain are also very common.
After childbirth many women are looking forward to returning to exercise to regain their pre-pregnancy body shape, and fitness. High impact exercise, like running, can appear to be an ideal solution as it requires minimal equipment, is time effective, may be done with a suitable pram if desired, or can provide some welcome time to yourself during the week.
As a general guide, high impact activity, such as running, is not recommended for a minimum of 12 weeks post birth, allowing time for your body and pelvic floor to recover from the hormonal and musculoskeletal changes that have occurred during pregnancy and birth, in addition to adapting to having a new addition or additions to your family.
Symptoms that indicate you may need some assistance to strengthen your pelvic floor and abdominal muscles are abdominal bulging around the belly button or a feeling of minimal support around the abdomen, leakage with coughing, sneezing, lifting, walking or running, not be able to make it to the toilet in time, or perineal or vaginal heaviness, pain or sensation of a bulge or lump in the vagina, especially after the first 6 weeks.
The good news is that there are plenty of exercises you can do that help you to get back into shape, without compromising your abdominal, bladder or bowel control. These include low impact exercises such as walking, swimming or using a cross trainer, and specific abdominal exercises. An exercise program that is tailored by a physiotherapist with a special interest in women’s health and pelvic floor rehabilitation will ensure you achieve your goals, without compromising your future pelvic floor health.
Other vital considerations for new mums include ensuring adequate hydration and nutrition, and a supportive, well-fitting sports bra. Particularly if you are breastfeeding this should ideally be wire-free, and it will often be more comfortable to exercise post a feed, if the timing is possible!
Remember exercise also has the added benefits of improving mental health and self-esteem, both of which can be challenged during those early, post-natal months. The main message is no matter what your challenges may be, there will be safe exercises that you can do!!