Working in the field of women’s fitness and specialising in the wellness of the post-natal woman, this question comes up again and again. Every individual is different and every birthing experience comes with varied recovery issues. We all know the woman who bounced back, and we all know that not everyone does. Not straight away. The last few years of education has exposed me to many people who make female health their business; in the field of physiotherapy, integrative pelvic health, midwifery and educators of the fitness professional, and one thing I know for sure is that depth of knowledge on the recovery of the postnatal women reaches a long way and yet answers are still ambiguous.
Here’s some statistics provided by a woman’s health physio who generously came and spoke to the Buggyfit trainers on Sunday:
- 42% of women experience urinary incontinence in pregnancy
- These women are 5 times as likely to still suffer this 5 years post-natally
- 7% of women will experience faecal incontinence post-natally
- 40-50% of women who have had children will experience pelvic organ prolapse at some point in their life.
So, the 6-8 week GP check usually clears the post-natal women to exercise. To exercise…… by which we mean what? Run?
Running is a high impact exercise. The impact is transferred through the lower limbs to the pelvic floor and all the connective tissues and muscles of the abdominal wall. These muscles and all of their supportive ligaments and other soft tissue need to be sufficiently toned and strong to withstand this load. Think about it…….9 months of increasing weight, postural change, hormonal changes to the connective tissue and this is before the stresses on either the abdominal wall in a c-section or the pelvic floor in a vaginal delivery, with or without tears and stitches. Now, I am certainly not in the ‘do nothing’ camp (I’d be out of a job if I was!!) however it has never made sense to me to get straight back to pavement pounding after the 6 week check.
The healing process takes time. How much time depends on many factors, but one thing’s for sure, building back to pre-pregnancy levels of activity needs to come through building blocks. Scientifically, we have stages of healing. Take a look at this graphic from Burrell Education:
or another way to think about it:
It takes 6-12 weeks for soft tissue recovery, then a MINIMUM of 12 weeks to build strength back into the muscle. Makes the 6 months before running fairly understandable right?
Let’s take a different body part; a different event…. you go skiing and you damage your knee. Soft tissue damage? Cruciate ligament perhaps? Maybe surgery is required, perhaps physio. One thing is for sure…. 6 weeks later, you wouldn’t be back on your skis. Your physio might sign you off but then your trainer would put in stepping stones to get you back on the pistes. A gradual return to allow the strength to regain to meet any increased demand.
So it’s the same with running or any other exercise that involves impact. Soft tissue recovery first, then build strength and functionality; stepping stones to get you to your end goal. Yes, you’ll run again, but with the foundations in place to avoid further injury. Take your time.