Earlier this week we chatted about the advantages of exercise for both before conception and during pregnancy. Today we are looking at getting back to exercise after the birth.
I want to start by saying that in the nine months its taken to grow your baby, your body has been through many complex and amazing changes. It makes me wonder why many Mums are in such a rush to get their ‘pre-pregnancy body back’. Especially when they’re trying to be Supermum at the same time.
A lot of the pressure comes from Mums themselves, but the media also has a part to play. I personally feel that if the media were kinder and more realistic, perhaps new Mums would give themselves and their bodies a break and the time they need to recover. Perfect images of celebrity pristine Mums set an unrealistic expectation for the majority of us. Don’t forget – behind every perfect picture there is a whole army of people who have assisted in that final look! I know for a fact that after I gave birth I did not want to wear tight clothing or high heels and, secretly, I bet those celebrity Mums didn’t want to either!
Instead I want to encourage every Mum to love and respect their post-baby bodies for the beautiful gift of life they have just given, and to really take the time to celebrate Motherhood.
It is so important that a new Mum should not neglect self-care. As a Pre & Postnatal Instructor, part of my job is to ‘save Mums from themselves’, so to speak.
How? By guiding them back towards a healthy sense of well-being in a practical, realistic and safe way. So release any thoughts of rushing back to exercise or taking up unsuitable activities, because by doing so you will open yourself up to the risk of long-term physical problems.
Returning to fitness and losing your pregnancy weight should be a long-term goal, not a quick-fix situation. This long-term goal can be reached by setting yourself achievable short-term goals – I will discuss these goals in another blog later on.
Ask for Help
If you are reading this blog, it suggests you are already interested in learning how to get back into safe activity after the birth of your baby. The fact that I am specialised in Pre & Postnatal means that I know how to train new Mums (once they have been cleared for exercise after their 6-8 week check-up). I know what exercises to use, and when and how to adapt those exercises to suit you. Each pregnancy journey and birth is unique, so my programmes are tailor-made to each special Mum who chooses to work with me. The form of delivery (such as a c-section or natural) will also have a part to play.
Seeking the help of a one-to-one PT is the way to ensure you are given the very best care and training.
But if one-to-one isn’t your thing, then you may opt for going back to the gym and group classes. The inclusion of postnatal women (just like prenatal) in mainstream classes is very common today. I want to emphasise that instructors teaching group classes have a responsibility and duty to provide safe alternatives, rather than just saying ‘take it easy’. Unconscious incompetence is very dangerous! So make sure you are being properly guided if you are in a group class.
When a Mum returns to exercise 6-8 weeks after giving birth, it won’t be a simple matter of starting where she left off, or returning to her pre-pregnancy training programme.
Training a Mum before or during pregnancy requires a totally different approach to how I would train a Mum after the birth. Each individual part of this wonderful journey has different aims, goals, and approaches of exercise, which need to be taught and implemented at the right stage.
When it come to beyond training (after the birth) Mums need to understand that major changes have happened within the structural support systems of their postnatal body. A body which will continual to be vulnerable, especially if breastfeeding. Postnatal women need a strong focus on the journey back to the prenatal body with particular attention being paid for poor lumbopelvic stability, reduced joint stability and postural changes. Incorrect muscle patterns and muscle imbalances have to be addressed before you can really start improving overall fitness. These issues must be a priority!
Mums also require guidelines on how to incorporate what they learn into their everyday lives and activities. There is going to be a lot of work involved when Mum is looking after her newborn, notwithstanding all the other roles she has. As I have mentioned before, new Mums should not start any form of exercise until the all-clear has been given around 6-8 weeks after the birth. For those Mums who have had a c-section delivery, recovery will be a bit longer.
NB: this is why it is so important to consider training before conception. Wouldn’t it be a comfort to all Mums if they knew they were strong and ready for the task ahead? Knowing that you did the very best to prepare yourself for the birth? So remember, as and when you make the conscious decision to become pregnant, don’t wait too long before thinking about exercise and nutrition. All three go hand-in-hand.
Advantages of Postnatal Exercise
Without a doubt, exercising after the birth improves physical and mental wellbeing:
- Helps restore muscle strength and tone up your body
- Energy levels increase, helping you feel less tired and improving your sense of wellbeing
- Helps promote weight loss
- Improves cardiovascular fitness
- Improves Mum’s mood, relieves stress and helps prevent postpartum depression
Types of Postnatal Exercise to Get You Going:
- Brisk walking
- Aqua Aerobics
- Low impact aerobic workouts
- Light weight training (my area of expertise!)
How to Create Time for Postnatal Exercise
Caring for a newborn can be all-consuming, especially if he or she isn’t the only child you are looking after. So finding time for exercise can be challenging. There will be days when you simply feel too tired for a full workout. It’s totally understandable, but doesn’t mean that you should put your exercise onto the back burner completely.
So as I wrote at the beginning of this blog, don’t be in a rush to get fit. Don’t put yourself under pressure to get back to how you were pre-pregnancy. Take your time.
Here are some suggestions on how to gently start rebuilding your fitness:
- Look for support from your partner, family and friends. If possible exercise with a friend to stay motivated.
- Ease yourself back in. Focus on low impact options such as walking (an excellent way to start the process and all you need is a pair of comfortable shoes and a decent buggy for baby). Start off gently, and then as and when you can, increase the pace and time up to 30 minutes a day when possible. It’s free, you can walk any place or time, and it’s a great way to get baby to sleep too.
- Start with gentle stretching, and strength training with resistance bands or light weights.
- Pelvic Floor exercises can be started straight after birth as the majority of Mums are taught these during pregnancy. To help strengthen your pelvic floor concentrate on correct posture and proper alignment. Try Kegels and other pelvic floor exercises. If you are unsure what exercises to do in this postnatal phase, ask either your midwife or contact a trained Pre & Postnatal professional like myself.
- Abdominal exercises. If you have had a natural birth you can start after the all-clear. For a c-section it’s usually recommended to start a couple of weeks after the 6-8 week period. Avoid core exercises such as crunches, sit-ups, push-ups and planks. You can have your baby lying next to you on the floor, whilst you do abdominal exercises.
Strengthening Your Pelvic Floor
Pelvic Floor and abdominal exercises can be done almost anywhere, either sitting or standing. For example you can do pelvic floor when you’re breastfeeding or standing in a queue… anywhere, anytime. If you haven’t done this whilst pregnant check out the many and varied Squeeze Apps to download onto your phone. They are a great aid so you won’t forget!
- Once you’ve taken the time to strengthen your core and pelvic floor, then you are ready to move onto the next level. Some other Mum friendly forms of exercise include Barre, Buggy Fitness (great place to meet other Mums), Water Aerobics (once the bleeding has stopped) and Pilates.
- Spread out your exercise during the week and break it up into smaller chunks of time during the day. That way you won’t be overwhelmed or stressed about fitting a longer workout in, especially if baby needs your attention. Think about subscribing to an online Pre & Postnatal exercise group with shorter workouts to start, anywhere around 15 to 30 minutes and gradually build from there (if you have the time).
- REMEMBER don’t beat yourself up if your well-thought out exercise plans go skywards! If the intention is there you are doing the very best you can. Eventually you and baby will settle into a more predictable routine, allowing you more time to yourself.
General Safety Exercise Suggestions
Always be guided by your doctor or midwife or other professional trained in Pre & Post.
However, general suggestions include:
- Choose an appropriate sports bra that will offer good support. Best not to reply on your pre-pregnancy support one, because your back and cup size are very likely to have changed. So get measured for a new one.
- Any exercises you do should not hurt. Should you feel or experience any kind of pain or any other unusual symptoms STOP IMMEDIATELY and consult your doctor, if necessary.
At the end of the day, whatever type of physical activity you decide to embark upon, look for instructors who are certified, knowledgeable and experienced. If you engage a PT (like me) do a taster session with them first. There is no point training with 1-2-1 if you don’t feel confident with who is training you. The same goes for a class based activity. Turn up a little before class and speak to the instructor, ask a little about their background to ensure they have an understanding of how to provide adjustments to the class workout based on your postpartum needs.
Last but not least, listen to your body and allow yourself time to recover after the birth. Get signed off before exercise and ease yourself in gently. Should the need arise for you to pull back then do so. Either way enjoy your baby, don’t stress about getting fit or losing the weight, take one step at a time.
Happy Body, Happy Mind, Happy Mum!