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How to Start Exercising Postpartum with Multiple Sclerosis (MS)

Starting or resuming an exercise program postpartum can seem daunting or nearly impossible, but it doesn’t have to be. First, get clearance from your OBGYN and speak to your neurologist about possible symptoms related to MS and how it might impact your ability to exercise.

If you experience any symptoms that make you feel off, take a break and get medical advice before you resume exercising. If you had complications during delivery or a c-section, make sure to speak to a healthcare provider for more guidance before exercising.

Women postpartum experience increased joint laxity due the hormone relaxin, which is responsible for expanding your pelvic region to accommodate a growing baby. Studies have shown that this hormone can stay for six to twelve months postpartum. This equates to increased joint instability and muscle weakness, making you more prone to injury and pain. To help decrease this risk, it’s vital that you incorporate pelvic floor and strength training into your routine. There are many studies that show strength training reduces overall body inflammation and improves connections throughout the nervous system. This is beneficial for the postpartum period and for MS.

But where the heck do I start???? This is one of the most common questions asked at Neuro Mama Tribe. So here we go:

  1. Start with smaller, meaningful movements for shorter durations. Try to exercise 1-2 times per day for 5-15 minutes depending on your schedule and energy level. Avoid large, fast and ballistic movements. Work into longer ranges of movement when your muscles start to get stronger.

  2. Try to start with 5-10 repetitions for 1-3 sets per day per exercise.

  3. Give yourself rest days. If you try to exercise every day, you are much more likely to experience fatigue, pain and burnout. Your body and mind need time to recuperate. Many women postpartum with MS start with at least 1-2 rest days per week. Listen to your body and rest when you need to. On rest days, do light activities or gentle yoga/stretching. If you need to be in bed, go for it!

  4. Daily chores and activities also constitute as exercise and meaningful movement. Lifting laundry baskets, chasing after your kids and making your bed all requires muscle strength and energy. If your day consists of more chores, do less reps or sets of exercises that day depending on how you are feeling.

  5. Vary your exercise routine. Make sure to include postural exercises, cardio, upper and lower body exercises, postural exercises, yoga, balance and agility work and fine motor. Save balance and agility work for later postpartum once you have more muscle strength and stability.

  6. Try to designate a time to exercise when you have more energy (easier said than done with little ones). Many moms report more energy either in the mid-morning or early afternoon. Even a walk at night with your partner and baby is a great way to get in some extra exercise.

  7. Set up your space with a small fan, cool water and ice packs. While it’s beneficial to exercise if you have MS, you need to stay mindful of your body temperature and avoid overheating. Wearing a cooling vest or neck scarf are great options, too.

  8. Modify as needed. Make sure to adapt your movements to reduce muscle damage or avoid certain movements altogether that provoke your symptoms related to MS. If you experience significant onset of symptoms during or after exercise, take it easy and gradually build up your tolerance. If you are wiped out the next day, experiencing muscle pain or increased weakness or feel off, that’s another sign you are overdoing it.

  9. What if I had a c-section? Stay tuned for a blog coming out August 2023

  10. If you had a rough night or day, focus on more gentle and restorative movements. This will help calm your nervous system so you can bounce back more quickly. It’s not worth exercising, if you are tired, upset or not able to focus. Click here to learn more.

  11. What if I experience an exacerbation? If possible, start the conversation early with your partner and support group to put a plan in place. It's important to rest, avoid activities that provoke your symptoms and reduce stress as much as possible. Try to take pressure off yourself, this will help you recover faster. Stay tuned for upcoming blog in the fall 2023.

  12. Make sure to add at least 10-15 minutes for an appropriate warm up and cool down. Click here for more on appropriate warm up and cool down strategies.

  13. Don’t compare yourself to others. Society tends to create unrealistic expectations for women to “bounce back” postpartum. Go at your pace and do what feels best for you.

Starting a new exercise routine, especially postpartum can be overwhelming due to all the physical, mental and emotional changes that occur. Ease into it and do things that feel good and are meaningful. Reflect on ways of adding appropriate exercises and activities if you have a certain functional goal. If you have more questions or need guidance, you can always contact Irina for a wellness consultation (available anywhere) or physical therapy evaluation (Irina is licensed in California and Nevada).


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