Over the last few weeks I have been looking at the best way for a new Mum to recover following her 6-8 week check and all-clear to get going again. The process, as I have mentioned before, should be a slow and mindful one. After all it took you 9 months to get here! So it takes at least 6 months to start feeling and being yourself, whilst adjusting to the routine of having a newborn. All things being well, it will take around 9-12 months to have fully recovered. In today’s blog I am going to look at some of the foundations you will need when starting on this journey.
Getting Back On Track
In my latest blogs I have gone through the basics of getting back on track so that you will feel fitter, healthier and happier. Many muscles, particularly your core, have been stretched during pregnancy. So they now need to be shortened, whilst other muscles and ligaments have been shortened so they now need to be lengthened and strengthened. By following the correct exercises you will start to feel your body waking up and that sense of well-being will start to return.
A Good Foundation
Building a foundation is crucial; starting with posture. This includes addressing:
- The basics of lumbopelvic stability
- Re-correcting the pregnancy stance
- Addressing the muscles as mentioned above
- Addressing the pelvic floor and core
If you do not put these foundations in place, the consequences can vary. They can include on-going lower back pain, upper back pain, Pelvic Girdle Pain. There can also be ongoing pelvic floor issues such as stress incontinence or prolapse.
When I start working out with a new Mum, I dedicate the first few weeks to looking at the structure of the body and the physiological implications of pregnancy and birth. These combined will affect Mum’s return to exercise during the postnatal period. Exercise, can without a doubt, help the postnatal body recover quicker. But it is vital for me to understand how her body is working, before I prescribe a course of exercise. For me those first few weeks are so much more than how quickly a Mum can return to exercise. It is about setting the foundation upon which to build.
I Always Use the Imagery of a House
Picture these two:
In this first picture the houses are leaning to the side, the foundations are weak. Anything that is built on top will be unstable, and won’t stand the test of time or the demands placed upon it.
Now look at picture two. Very different from the houses above… strong, solid and built to last.
I often use this analogy with my Mums starting out because it makes perfect sense. You wouldn’t build a new house on sinking sand, so why would you do this to your body. Starting from a place of awareness is key for any Mum. This is so she can return to her life with a healthy sense of well-being. Especially if she is thinking of becoming pregnant again.
Further Benefits of Postnatal Exercise
- Functional Capacity for strength and endurance for daily living. Improved aerobic fitness. The increased ability to deal with the demands of a newborn. A reduction in fatigue, which will lead to increased energy.
- General Health will start to improve with a boosted immune system, improved sleep quality, circulation, healing and digestion.
- Body Composition with increased muscle mass, metabolic rate, calorific burning and fat loss.
- Social and Emotional Well-being will lead to that good-feel factor. Increasing the production of endorphins, enhancing self-image and self-confidence, together with personal satisfaction and a sense of achievement. Leading to a stronger sense of self and increased social interaction.
Before exercise, you need to have had your 6-8 week postnatal check-up. Be mindful that some GPs are more thorough than others, sometimes culminating in a simple ‘chat’. If you are at all in doubt about how you are feeling emotionally then ask for further check-up. If it is physical a referral to a Well-Women’s Physiotherapist or Mummy MOT expert.
Getting Your Foundations Right
- Breastfeeding. It is often recommended that a Mum should express before exercising so as to reduce the weight of the breasts and prevent leaking milk. Large amounts of fluid (water) should be consumed before, during and after so that Mum avoids dehydration.
- Food. Ensure that food is digested a few hours before to allow for sufficient digestion. However, depending on the type and amount consumed Mum may need to top up with a light carbohydrate snack or protein shake around 30 minutes before. Refuelling after is also important, especially if breastfeeding. There is a window of time to eat after exercising, around 15 minutes. This will take advantage of the body’s increased metabolic state, to absorb carbohydrates into the body. It also helps the muscles to refuel and repair ready for the next demands of round-the-clock baby care. Fluids topped up, stay away from caffeine and looked to water instead.
- Compromise. Making time for exercise with a newborn means making compromises. There will be times when baby is working to a perfect routine of naps and then for one reason or another, this is tipped upside down. Mum has to ensure on those days where her priorities lay…exercise or rest. Some days the answer is often taken out of her hands while on others she has a choice. So going forward setting small and achievable goals is a must, stopping Mum from getting too stressed about staying the course of an exercise routine and becoming too hard on herself. Exercise need not take up too much time and mini-programmes are a good way to go.
- Be mindful of overdoing it. Some Mums in their rush to get back to their pre-pregnancy will often result in aching muscles, coupled with a feeling of excessive tiredness the next day. This is a strong indication to slow down.
Wearing the Right Things
- Ensure you have on the right attire. Clothing should be layered, comfortable and suitable. Mum should wear a good supporting bra, designed to reduce movement. This will ensure comfort is maintained and there is no over-stretching of ligaments. Feeding bras do not provide such support. But if Mum is breastfeeding and baby comes to class too, then we recommended a sports bra is worn over the top. If swimming, a bra should be worn under the costume to provide enough support.
- Footwear. I have lost count how many times I’ve seen Mums turning up in old trainers with little or no support. Choosing the right footwear is so important for exercises that are land based, CV or resistance activities and classes. Making the right choice can make such a difference to providing sufficient support and shock absorption. During pregnancy fallen arches can occur, so Mum may have to be measured for a new pair. Any excuse to buy a shiny new pair of trainers!
When should exercise cease?
If you experience pain of any sort, never ignore it. Often exercises can be modified for a lower option but if the pain persists then stop immediately. Working through the pain barrier is a NO for a recovering Mum.
So to conclude, being mindful about how and why you want to exercise is key. If you are unsure then there are plenty of places to find out about how to get going. Just searching the internet will bring up a plethora of sites dedicated to this one subject and more. Or if you like the personal touch come and find someone like me, who specialise solely in Pre & Postnatal Training. Plus I have also had my own, so will train not only from a professional point of view but one of experience as well.
So what are you waiting for? Time to get started on that road back to recovery!
Happy Body, Happy Recovery, Happy You & Baby!
- Postnatal Fitness by Judy DiFiore
- Pictures courtesy of Prawny & Annalise Art