Some people have just got it, don’t you think?! My great friend Liz is an ex-international athlete – bobsleigh and athletics no less! She’s also a professional photographer, mum of one and highly sought-after personal trainer who, despite her own fitness brilliance, has never once laughed at my post-baby exercise attempts (however tempting it must be!) After much bribery and nagging, I’ve managed to pin her down to write some words of wisdom for all us mums with new babies. Thanks Liz!
How to Approach Post Pregnancy Exercise and Tackle the Dreaded “Mummy Tummy”
So here’s the thing… You’ve been pregnant for the last nine months. You’ve watched your amazing body change and expand. Then all of a sudden, the baby’s here and your body looks very different!
Naturally we focus on all the numerous changes throughout pregnancy, but few of us pay as much attention to the fact that just as many physical changes will take place, over a similar period of time, to a woman’s body after childbirth. Added to those changes, a new mum needs to adapt to sleep deprivation, new routines and that sense of responsibility. I remember clearly the resulting “baby brain” for the first 6 months after child birth!
Post-pregnancy workouts/exercise is very important for every new mum’s mental and physical well-being – but there are a lot of factors that should be considered before jumping both feet straight back into the world of fitness and exercise.
General guidelines state that a new mum who had a vaginal birth should put post-pregnancy workouts on hold for at least the first 6 weeks and this is extended to 8 – 12 weeks for those who have had a Caesarean section (C-section). These are however, just guidelines, and some women will need more or less time depending on their circumstances (infections, tearing, complications etc.).
Even though 6 weeks is the minimum guideline, as soon as a new mum feels able to start being active again, they should be encouraged to start gentle/light activities. So for example, getting outside with baby and pushing the pram for a short walk are brilliant first steps to start the ball rolling again. Just going for a short walk every day or every other day in the first few weeks will help with a new mum’s recovery and also give them back a sense of “normal” at a time when often everything else seems to have changed.
I cannot stress enough, how the first few physical activities that a new mum takes part in, should be LOW intensity and LOW volume. Just remember, the goal is always to feel better at the end of the session/walk, than you did when you started.
Next Steps & Child Care Options:
Child care options are one other thing to consider before returning to a more formal type of postnatal exercise (Gym, Personal Trainer session, Fitness classes). Childcare is not easy or cheap – and, indeed, you may not want to leave your new baby! So try and find gyms and/or personal trainers/class instructors who are happy for mum’s to bring their babies to their sessions. My experience is that most gyms/ Personal Trainers these days will be more than happy with this, as they know that a new mum is much more likely to continue and stay engaged if this option is available.
The Mummy Tummy:
Many women after childbirth – me included – can become obsessed with weight loss. However the first goal in returning to exercise should always be to address and strengthen their core and stabilise their pelvic area again. Trying to participate in strenuous activity too quickly such as running or high impact exercises such as box jumps splits squats etc. could lead to injury and embarrassing leakages! Yikes! Make sure that the pelvic floor is rock solid first. The serious exercise routine to lose weight can then come after this first goal has been achieved.
The abdomen is the one key area affected by childbirth. There is a long, flat muscle that extends vertically the length of your abdomen and this lengthens significantly throughout pregnancy. This lengthening of the abdominal muscles means that they can become less effective at protecting the back and helping maintain a good posture. Some women will also experience a condition called “diastasis recti” which is a widening of the connective tissue between the front muscles of the abdomen. This normally occurs during pregnancy and the muscle shrinks back after birth. A small percentage of women can still have this condition up to a year after birth. This condition will also have an effect on a woman’s posture and pelvic control.
The key to abdominal recovery therefore is strengthening the innermost layer of abdominal muscle and the pelvic floor (the area that bears the most pressure from a growing foetus during pregnancy). A qualified Yoga or Pilate’s teacher or Personal trainer should be able to help retrain the correct alignment and recruit the deep core muscles using safe, low level exercise.
Relaxin is an important hormone in pregnancy that causes softening of the ligaments and is essential for birth. Relaxin can stay active in the body for a long time after birth. Breastfeeding will also increase the length of time Relaxin is in the body and some people believe that it will be present for up to a year after birth. The issue with Relaxin and exercise is that it does not just target those ligaments in and around the pelvis and abdomen area; it also has an effect on every ligament and therefore, joint in the body. Postpartum women should therefore take special care with regard to their joints for the first 12 months after childbirth. Overstretching and high impact exercises should be avoided as they could lead to possible injury.
There is no quick fix, but you can get your pre- pregnancy body back:
I know that every new mum just wants their pre-pregnancy body back as quickly as possible and this can be achieved – but there is no magic quick fix I am afraid. It’s important to remember it took nearly a year for the body to go through all those transitions when it was growing a baby, so it’s not unreasonable to expect the same amount of time to return to that pre-pregnancy state.
The key here is that new mums are taking care of themselves and not always putting themselves last. The right exercise boosts mental and physical well being – especially if you get together with friends! Happy mummy, Happy baby!
(Ex Dual International Athlete, Proud Mum of One and Personal Trainer)
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