You've had your six-week check-up and are keen as mustard to get back into the kinds of exercise you love. After all, you've been waiting for 9 long months for a good hit of endorphins! But before you race back to your local boot-camp, there are a few do's and don'ts every Mama should know.
Here, mum-of-three and the founder of the Fit Mummy Project App, Kimmy Smith shares her expert advice on how to return to exercise safely after having a baby.
1. You’ll Still Need To Roll Over To Sit Up #Truth
If you have given birth recently, you may have been surprised to see that your belly still looks pregnant. Your muscles, fascia and organs all take time to return to their pre-pregnancy position, thickness and strength. You may also have stomach separation. A separation of the right and left sides of your abdominal walls. This can cause your belly to look bloated or distended. It will also mean that your core isn't functioning the way it should.
So how do we create a strong belly after baby?
1. Continue to protect your core by rolling onto your side to move from seated to lying. Avoid strong abdominal exercises that cause your belly to pop or dome.
2. Begin to train your deep core muscles. Your transversus abdominis is your deepest layer of abdominal muscle. It wraps like a corset around your mid-section. Begin to engage and strengthen this muscle with gentle breathing exercises. As you exhale, imagine you’re are gently drawing your hip bones together. Release on the inhale. Repeat 10 times each time trying to maintain that connection for an extra breath.
3. Stand tall! Your core doesn’t function properly when you are hunched or slouched. Get rid of that pregnancy slouch. Sit and nurse your baby with a neutral spine to help activate your core muscles.
4. Around 6-8 weeks postpartum, see a women’s health physio who can assess your core for stomach separation and function.
2. You Shouldn’t Do Any Exercise ‘Till 6 Weeks After Birth #Myth
In the first six weeks, it is often recommended to do nothing. Whilst we can all agree that our focus should be on resting and connecting to our bub, most of us don’t actually do nothing. We walk our babies in prams. We hold our babies all day long. We carry shopping and baby bags, we lift our babies in and out of cars. These are all forms of movement and exercise and need a basic level of core function and control. If we do these things without having any core support, we may suffer from back pain, pelvic pain or worse.
In the first six to twelve weeks after your baby is born, focus on the following types of movements:
Thoracic Mobility. Start your day with some gentle shoulder and chest stretches to release tension through your upper back and chest.
Pelvic Floor and Core. A strong core and pelvic floor is the key to being able to return to the types of exercise you love.
Functional Exercises. Spend all day rocking your baby to sleep? Add some squats with a gentle rotation to your program. Bending over 10 times a day. Add some bent over rows to your workout. Adding exercises that mimic the movements you do in real life will help you to build strength in the way you need it most.
3. Your Pelvic Floor Needs Some Serious Love #AlsoTrue
Pregnancy places a huge strain on your pelvic floor. Whether you gave birth vaginally or via Caesarean, in the early postpartum period your pelvic floor muscles may be weak and sluggish. A weak pelvic floor may lead to complications such as urinary incontinence or pelvic organ prolapse.
As soon as you are able to post-birth, begin with gentle pelvic floor exercises whilst lying on your back (this helps to take away the force of gravity). Concentrate on doing longer holds, quick pulses on and off and some power contractions.
4. After Your Six Week Check-UP You’re Good To Go #AlsoNotTrue
You’ve had your six-week check and your doctor has told you that it is safe for you to start exercising again. Yay! But before you hit the gym or boot camp, hold-up! You can sometimes do more harm than good if you push your body beyond what it is ready for.
Returning to exercise with postpartum safe exercises that focus on core strength and stability will help your body to repair (tick!). It also means that you will be way more likely to avoid common post-natal injuries (double tick). Postnatal pilates classes or programs like the Fit Mummy Project are the perfect place to start.
5. Mums Need To Be Strong - Make Weights Your BFF #FORREAL
Being a mum is a physical job. Lifting a baby carrier is the most awkward movement you will do in your life. As your core strength builds, begin to include strength workouts into your week. Aim to do 1 - 2 strength sessions a week.
Start with body weight exercises or use your baby as a cute weight. A good guide in those early postpartum days is to lift a weight that is around the same weight as your baby. As your strength increases, you can then begin to increase the weight you are lifting and the number of reps you are doing.
6. Leaking is completely Normal #SONOTTRUE
There is a saying in the women’s health world that postnatal incontinence is “common, but not normal”. What this means is that although a lot of women experience leaking, no amount of leaking should be considered normal.
If you do experience leaking, there is nothing to be ashamed of. It happens to the best of us! But it is a sign that you should seek further advice and support. It might also be a sign that the type of exercise you are doing is putting too much strain on your core and pelvic floor.