You just got a clean bill of health and the blessing from your ob-gyn to resume all activities at your six-week postpartum check up. If you prudently waited until six weeks to go for your first post-labor run or try a HIIT Gravity or CrossFit session, you're probably thrilled to get back to the stress-relieving, calorie-torching activities you participated in freely before pregnancy likely slowed you down.
But before you lace up and head out, you might want to reconsider if the timing is right to resume intense, high-impact activities like running so soon after giving birth. Recent research challenges the six-week milestone. A study published in the Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise Journal revealed that, relative to pre-pregnancy performance, women were weaker and less fit in the early postpartum period but improved in these areas by 27 weeks post-delivery.
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"We tend to think of the six-week check up with the ob-gyn or doctor as the holy grail—once women get the OK from the doc, they're off and running, literally. Often the doctor isn't even doing an internal exam anymore," says Jessie Mundell, personal trainer, owner of JMG Fitness Consulting and coach who specializes in postnatal recovery. "The core has not healed in that six-week time; it's just too soon [to resume high-impact activities]."
Even with healthy clients who receive the postnatal six-week go-ahead from their doctors, Mundell takes a conservative approach and favors low-impact cardio exercise such as walking, swimming, strength training intervals and even cycling during the first six months post-delivery. You read that right: No running, plyometric or other high-impact activity for six months after giving birth.
"As much as I'm saying no high intensity, high impact early postpartum, I do advise activity and movement but we need to do it safely and effectively," says Mundell. "Running and high intensity activity will come."
Alignment changes occur during pregnancy because there's so much weight on the front side of the body and, in order to adjust, the pelvis drives forward and the rib cage falls back to counteract the new weight on the front side of the body, Mundell says. The body doesn't resume pre-pregnancy alignment once the baby is born; it's a process that takes months to gain back core stability and pelvic strength. This is why women who return to high-impact activities, such as running, too quickly and with too much volume initially can end up with injuries that originate from the hip and pelvis.