Pregnancy, childbirth and those first few months of motherhood can be some of the most special and magical times of your life but also some of the most difficult. From the hundreds of mothers I've worked with over the last five years, there's not one story that is exactly the same as the next. Every woman's experience is unique because you are all unique and no matter what your journey, the act of bringing a baby into the world will transform you physically and of course emotionally.
The 'mums and bubs' fitness craze has gone bananas in the last few years and new mothers are hitting the gym with prams in tow, eager to get moving again. The benefits of exercise are undeniable but it's important to acknowledge that postpartum can bring with it; fatigue, atrophied muscles, general aches and pains and a weakened core so if your return to exercise isn't done safely, the negative repercussions on your body could be long term.
Conditions such as Diastasis Recti (abdominal separation) and pelvic floor dysfunction can worsen over time if not taken care of early on and there are other risk factors that leave you prone to injury such as the hormone 'relaxin' which is produced during pregnancy to assist with childbirth by relaxing the muscles, joints and ligaments. Recent studies have shown that 'relaxin' can stay active in your body for up to 12 months after weaning!
Don't get me wrong; exercise for new mums is amazing not just for the strength and fitness aspect but also for improving mental health and clarity. Exercise can be a great way for new mums to get outdoors, meet other mummas, relieve some stress and produce happy hormones but each of you has experienced a different pre and post natal journey and therefore your introduction to exercise should not be a 'one size fits all' approach. So if you're ready to get moving in the safest possible way then have a read of my six steps to returning to exercise safely for new mums.
1. Chat to your GP
Returning to exercise is generally considered safe six weeks after giving birth but this can vary so don't just assume that it's okay. In some cases you may be able to start exercising sooner than the six-week mark but it's better to be safe than sorry. Your GP or midwife should tell you if they advise against running or lifting weights too soon so make sure to pass this information on to your exercise specialist.
2. Learn how to activate your pelvic floor correctly
You can learn how to do this with a continence nurse, physiotherapist or osteopath. Some pilates and yoga instructors will teach cues for activating your pelvic floor muscles but it's important you get a check up to see that you're using the muscles correctly and not creating any further damage. There are ways of testing your pelvic floor function such as a ‘Real Time’ ultrasound machine. This machine uses a probe (just like a pregnancy ultrasound) and as you contract your core and pelvic floor muscles, the machine recognises how effectively you're activating them. Magic!
3. Start with low intensity exercise and build up
The best part about exercise is that you don't have to lift heavy weights and do a hundred crunches to get benefit from it. Something as simple as a walk with the pram can get the heart rate up in a safe way until your body is ready to work at a higher intensity. Swimming can also be a great low impact form of cardiovascular exercise but make sure to get clearance from your doctor especially if you've had a caesarean.
4. Stay hydrated
Staying hydrated is super important especially when breast feeding and if you're adding exercise into your day then your water intake needs to increase. Carry a water bottle everywhere or set a reminder on your phone if you're not good at remembering to drink water throughout the day (like me!)
5. Get some advice
Post natal safe exercises are best prescribed by an exercise professional. Start out with some one on one or group exercise sessions until you feel confident enough to start your own exercise program safely. If you have experienced serious abdominal separation or are having trouble with incontinence, it would be best to seek an exercise program from a physiotherapist before progressing to a gym or fitness centre.
6. Be patient
Whether or not you exercised before or during pregnancy, it takes time to build back strength and fitness after having a baby. The added demands of motherhood are tiring and sometimes it's okay to choose sleep over exercise especially in the early days. Listen to your body and slow down when you need to. It's important to look after yourself so you can look after the people you love.
If you'd like to know more about safe ways to exercise or to find out about our group fitness classes for new mums, please feel free to contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Here's to a happy, healthy and safe you,