It can be hard to gauge when to return to training after giving birth, particularly because there is little guidance surrounding it! Hopefully, after reading this article, you feel some solace in knowing that training after giving birth poses no real risk to you or the baby, if done correctly.

The first thing to keep in mind after giving birth is that it is entirely normal to feel more down than usual. Birthing a child is not only traumatic for the body, but it causes drastic fluctuations in hormones that can bring on intense feelings (1). It’s estimated that close to 50% of those that have given birth experience some sort of depressive symptoms (2). Exercise is commonly used to aide in depressive symptoms, including those that are post-partum (3)!

Unsurprisingly, it takes a lot of energy for someone to create and house new life. It takes so much extra energy, that expecting mothers may gain up to 16 kg (~35 lbs) throughout their pregnancy (4). After giving birth, a lot of the extra energy is retained to continue to provide for the newborn. While weight fluctuations are entirely normal, improved body composition can decrease risk of a variety of diseases, including diabetes and cardiovascular risk. Exercising during this post-partum period can help new mothers improve this all-important body composition (i.e., increased lean muscle, and decrease in body fat) (5).

Exercise may also help limit bone loss that often accompanies lactation. Maternal calcium often does not meet the nutritional requirements of the developing baby and mother simultaneously, maternal bone is often broken down to satisfy these demands (2). This process can carry on well into the postpartum period. Participating in exercises that load the lower back and the spine can help minimize the amount of bone density that is lost during these periods.

Aside from the benefits that return to exercise may have for mothers, there has been limited evidence to suggest that exercising may affect the quality or quantity of the milk produced for their babies. In fact, exercising may increase the amount and quality of milk (2)! One important note, however, is that following exercise, milk may have an additional sour taste (6). Coupled with the discomfort that can come from filled breasts, it is recommended that mothers feed their infants prior to engaging in exercise (2).

Although there are many benefits associated with exercise postpartum, it is important that new mothers ease back into their fitness programs. Performance is likely to return to pre-birth levels up to a year post-partum, but it does take time (2). Additionally, pain associated with cesarean sections, the pelvic floor, or other post-partum complications should be discussed with a physician and taken into consideration when programming. Lastly, postpartum exercise is only beneficial when mothers adequately feed and hydrate themselves (2).

Production of milk for newborns can require close to 600 kcal (Calories)/day on top of feeding your exercising self (7)!

While we love advocating for movement at Wild.AI, it’s always important to consult with your primary care physician before returning to activity following birth. However, when you are cleared and ready to return to movement, the Wild.AI app has training plans for you to follow!

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References

[1] “Postpartum Depression - Symptoms and Causes.” Mayo Clinic, https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/postpartum-depression/symptoms-causes/syc-20376617. Accessed 7 June 2022.

[2] Bø, Kari, et al. “Exercise and Pregnancy in Recreational and Elite Athletes: 2016/17 Evidence Summary from the IOC Expert Group Meeting, Lausanne. Part 3—Exercise in the Postpartum Period.” British Journal of Sports Medicine, vol. 51, no. 21, 2017, pp. 1516–25, https://doi.org/10.1136/bjsports-2017-097964.

[3] Teychenne, Megan, and Rebecca York. “Physical Activity, Sedentary Behavior, and Postnatal Depressive Symptoms.” American Journal of Preventive Medicine, vol. 45, no. 2, 2013, pp. 217–27, https://doi.org/10.1016/j.amepre.2013.04.004.

[4] Weight Gain During Pregnancy | Pregnancy | Maternal and Infant Health | CDC. 26 May 2021, https://www.cdc.gov/reproductivehealth/maternalinfanthealth/pregnancy-weight-gain.htm.

[5] Meyers, Katya, and Mee Young Hong. The Physical Effects of Exercise in Lactating Women: A Review. 2021, https://doi.org/10.14198/jhse.2021.164.01.

[6] Wallace, J. P., Inbar, G., & Ernsthausen, K. (1992). Infant acceptance of postexercise breast milk. Pediatrics, 89(6 Pt 2), 1245–1247.

[7] Wallace, Janet P., et al. “Lactate Concentrations in Breast Milk Following Maximal Exercise and a Typical Workout.” Journal of Women’s Health, vol. 3, no. 2, 1994, pp. 91–96, https://doi.org/10.1089/jwh.1994.3.91.

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