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Postpartum Exercise: A Comprehensive Guide to Navigating Symptoms and Safely Returning to Sport

November 11th, 2023 | 5 min. read

Postpartum Exercise: A Comprehensive Guide to Navigating Symptoms and Safely Returning to Sport
Carrie Heidrich

Carrie Heidrich

Licensed Physical Therapist, PT, DPT // EW Motion Therapy Homewood

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Motherhood brings a myriad of changes, both joyful and challenging. For the female athlete, returning to sport postpartum can seem like a mountain to climb. Knowing what symptoms you might experience and how to prepare your body for athletic activities is a crucial part of the journey back to your sporting life. In addition to self-care, enlisting the right team of professionals can make all the difference. Our women’s health team at EW Motion Therapy loves helping our postpartum athletes return to their sport safely and confidently. However, even if you decide that our services don’t fit your needs, you can still read on to learn more about symptoms postpartum female athletes experience, tips on preparing the body for a return to sport, and the best professionals to guide your journey toward improved performance. 


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Symptoms female athletes may experience postpartum


Physical changes

From muscle tone alterations to joint stability, female athletes face unique physical challenges postpartum. The hormone relaxin, which prepares your body for childbirth by loosening joints and ligaments, can stay in your system for up to five months post-delivery. This can affect your athletic performance and even raise the risk of injury if not managed properly. Additionally, you may experience more specific symptoms, such as:


  1. Incontinence: Leakage can occur during exercise or general daily activities.
  2. Pelvic floor pain: For vaginal births, your pelvic floor needs time to heal and return to its normal function.
  3. Abdominal separation (diastasis recti): Your abdominal muscles separate as your baby grows, and it may take some time for them to return to their original elasticity.
  4. Prolapse: Prolapse of the pelvic organs occurs when one or more of the organs sitting within your pelvis descends and bulges into the vaginal canal. It is a common symptom for vaginal births, and physical therapy can usually help mild cases.
  5. General muscle pain: Both vaginal and C-section births are strenuous on the body, and it is expected to experience muscle pain after.


Emotional and mental symptoms

While physical symptoms are often discussed, you can’t ignore emotional and mental health postpartum. Issues like postpartum depression and anxiety can severely hinder your focus, performance, and enjoyment of your sport. Acknowledging these emotional challenges is crucial for a well-rounded recovery.


Preparing the body for a return to sport


Consult healthcare providers

Before getting back into your training routine, a thorough consultation with healthcare providers is a must. A team of doctors, physical therapists, and perhaps even sport-specific trainers can offer you a well-rounded view of what your postpartum athletic life can look like.


Gradual reintroduction to exercise

Starting slow is the key to a successful return to sports. Focusing initially on core stabilization and pelvic floor exercises can prepare your body for more strenuous activity later on. As you regain your strength and stamina, you can gradually incorporate more intense and sport-specific workouts into your routine.


Best professionals for a safe return to sport


Physical therapists

Physical therapy can be a cornerstone in your postpartum athletic journey. A skilled physical therapist can offer targeted exercises and treatments to address your specific needs, such as improving joint stability or regaining muscle tone. The focus on individualized treatment makes physical therapy an invaluable resource for female athletes postpartum.


Obstetricians and gynecologists

Your OB/GYN knows your pregnancy and postpartum journey better than anyone. They can offer specific advice on when it is medically safe to return to high-intensity training, as well as any limitations you should observe based on your childbirth experience.


Certified personal trainers

Certified personal trainers with experience in postpartum athleticism can be a great asset. They can offer sport-specific exercises that are designed to suit your postpartum body and help you regain your former athletic prowess more efficiently.



Your dietary needs can change postpartum, particularly if you are breastfeeding. A nutritionist can offer you a balanced diet plan that fulfills your increased nutritional requirements without compromising your athletic performance.


Considerations for high-impact sports


Importance of core and pelvic floor exercises

High-impact sports like basketball, soccer, or gymnastics require a strong core and pelvic floor. These muscle groups are crucial for executing complex movements like jumping or sprinting. Working with a physical therapist can help you identify the proper set of exercises for your needs.


Listen to your body

Always pay attention to what your body is telling you. You should address any sign of pain, discomfort, or extreme fatigue immediately. Adapt your training schedule according to your body's feedback and consult professionals as needed.


Returning to sport after childbirth is a personal journey and varies from athlete to athlete. By understanding potential symptoms, enlisting a team of professionals, and adopting a gradual, personalized approach to training, you can navigate the postpartum period with greater ease and assurance. With the proper support and information, you can make your comeback not just possible but also fulfilling and safe. We consider it a privilege to do this for our postpartum athletes at EW Motion Therapy through individualized, sport-specific treatment plans. If you had a C-section and are curious about how to best care for your scar, click the button below to download our free guide.


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