Returning to sports after pregnancy

16. September 2020

There is no clear definition as to exactly how and when women should or may start doing sports again after giving birth. General practitioner Gaby Aebersold highlights the most important points that need to be considered.

Ms Aebersold, how can women return to sports training after giving birth?

It is essential to start with pelvic floor exercises as soon as possible. A strong pelvic floor is crucial, as it is weakened after giving birth, which can lead to incontinence and the prolapse of internal organs, for example. In addition, the core muscles need to be strengthened to restore the muscular balance as soon as possible. Only then can your specific, usual training be gradually resumed.

What does this mean in days or weeks?

If there are no complications, it should be possible to restart the sporting activity that you did before pregnancy after six to eight weeks. However, this phase depends very much on the individual. Each type of sport places a different strain on the body, and women should specifically prepare themselves for this.

What about running?

Jogging puts the pelvic floor under great strain, which is why it is essential to do pelvic floor training in advance alongside the already mentioned core strengthening exercises. After that, it would be ideal to walk first, and as soon as that goes well, easy runs can be undertaken. After this you can start doing advanced training, which means: the load should initially be low, and the training should be slower and shorter than usual. You can then increase the frequency first, followed by the duration. And only then at the end should you increase the intensity.

What about other types of sports?

Cycling, for example, does not place any strain on the pelvic floor, so women could start doing this again earlier. However, it depends on the size of the episiotomy, because depending on the scar, this can be extremely uncomfortable in the saddle.

What happens if you start training too quickly or too intensely?

After birth, the ligaments are less taut than before. If you start training too intensely - especially in the case of running - you run the risk of complaints and blockages in the pelvic area. Pregnancy also puts a heavy strain on your back. If you don’t build up your core muscles, back problems often occur.

Are there any other risks?

If you start training too quickly and abruptly increase it, this can result in overload symptoms such as tendinitis or joint pain. Breastfeeding mothers should also observe the effects of their sporting activities: training too intensely or not drinking enough fluids can impair breastfeeding. Furthermore, it is recommended that women get examined by a doctor to see whether they have enough blood. Most women have anaemia after giving birth and therefore feel tired when doing sports. If you have enough iron reserves, you can quickly correct anaemia again. If the iron reserves are too low, however, anaemia will persist, which will result in a drop in performance.

In what way do amateur and competitive sports differ?

Competitive athletes already have better muscles before giving birth, so they usually recover significantly faster after birth than occasional athletes. The pregnancy itself is also often less stressful. Top athletes also usually have a good body feeling and can estimate fairly well as to when their body is ready for an increase in load.

In the hospital it is sometimes recommended to wait up to six months after birth before doing sports. What do you think about this?

There is no scientific basis for this. Six months is too long! If you do strengthening exercises on a consistent basis, the muscles that have been stressed by birth and are out of balance are built up again after three months at the latest. Six months without physical training would lead to a major decline in physical fitness.