EXERCISE AFTER BABY!
Welcome to motherhood! You’ve created a miracle and you might be finding life is a little (or maybe a LOT!) different to before. You’re probably here because you know (or have heard about) how important it is to exercise after baby!
New babies can be a full time occupation and to begin with your time, thoughts and emotions are wrapped up in adjusting to the new, tiny but demanding, bundle of joy who now lives in your house.
But as the initial shock wears off and you begin to feel a bit more like your old self, your thoughts may begin to turn to getting “your body back”. Perhaps the reflection in the mirror looks unfamiliar or you just want to feel better and move. You’ve seen the celebrities and instagram stars who seem to ping back into shape after their babies like they’re made of human elastic, not a “mummy tummy” in sight, and you want some of that action for yourself.
Maybe you were the queen of the gym pre-pregnancy. Maybe exercise is an alien concept but one you are keen to try. Maybe you fall somewhere in the middle and just want to start getting back to yourself. Wherever you are on the spectrum the temptation can be to have your 6-week check, get cleared for exercise and jump in, all guns blazing.
What is postnatal exercise?
It is so tempting to rush back into exercise after you’ve had a baby. You may be tempted to sign up for that sweat-inducing high impact HIIT session or bootcamp and go all in… but in a kind of tortoise and hare cliche, returning to exercise post-baby really is a case of “slow and steady wins the race”. Once a postnatal body, always a postnatal body.
And there are considerations for exercise that a postnatal body needs, that perhaps your pre-baby body didn’t. That absolutely doesn’t mean your body can’t be stronger, fitter, faster, “better” than ever before. It just needs a slightly different approach.
Build a strong (core) foundation before you build your new home
You wouldn’t build a new house without any foundations. It might look great for a while, but eventually the strain would show and the walls would collapse. The same is true for your postnatal body. It has been through a lot and it needs some TLC to help it heal and recover fully. If you spend time now rebuilding the foundations of your core and pelvic floor, it will allow you to build your ideal, strong, functional body and help you avoid any future issues.
Jump into unsuitable, intense exercise too soon and the ‘walls’ may very well collapse and create dysfunction – incontinence, back pain, pelvic pain, prolapse – even if there was none present before.
Your body has done something amazing, it has grown a human and birthed that human (in whatever way). It took months to do that amazing thing and it only seems fair that we also give it months to heal from the experience.
That doesn’t mean no exercise or movement – far from it. We should be starting to exercise as soon as we feel able post-birth. But it does mean the right exercises at the right level. If you have just had a baby, or you had a baby a while ago but have not exercised, or have attempted exercise but struggled with leaking/pain etc. then you need to begin with gentle restorative movement that will re-connect you with your pelvic floor and core.
There’s more to pelvic floor exercise than kegels
Kegels absolutely have their place in pelvic floor exercise, but they shouldn’t be the only exercise we do. So what should you do?
- Work on your kegels but also on the opposite. Don’t just lift and squeeze your pelvic floor, allow it to also release and become soft. Symptoms of pelvic floor dysfunction, such as incontinence, can as easily be caused by tight, overworked pelvic floor muscles as they can be by weak, underworked ones.
- We need to look at our posture – do you thrust your ribs up when you stand? – can you bring the ribs down and feel more connected to the abdominal muscles?
Do you hitch your hip to one side or the other when you stand, particularly when holding baby? – try and check in every so often and see if you can stand more evenly with the weight distributed through both legs.
- Breathing – take long deep breaths in that expand the ribs to the sides and allow everything to relax, many of us breathe only upwards into our chests, increasing our stress levels. Spend a bit of time concentrating on your breathing.
- Do gentle core exercises and ensure you are activating and releasing your core as you breathe – lying leg marches, glute bridges, heel slides, fire hydrants – these will all begin strengthening the core without putting undue pressure on your abdominals and pelvic floor. They may seem simple, but done correctly they are incredibly effective. You can build up to more challenging exercise as you master these movements.
- Lift weights. Weights are your friend! Build lean muscle, burn fat and strengthen your core without impact.
It may seem frustrating, especially if you have exercised intensely previously, but I promise you it will be worth it in the end. Get the foundation functioning well and you will be much more able to get where you want to go.
Why would I need a personal trainer qualified in postnatal exercise?
It is vital post-baby that any exercise you do is suitable for your own situation. A qualified postnatal fitness specialist will be able to work with your own personal needs and prescribe exercise that helps to both strengthen and heal, as well as not worsening any issues you may be experiencing.
A postnatal personal trainer is someone who is qualified to train you after you have had a baby (no matter how long ago that was), in order to ensure the exercise you perform will be optimal for your postnatal stage and keep you safe and injury free.
The extra knowledge and experience that a postnatal fitness specialist brings with them will enable them to create a series of exercises that are entirely customised to your physical needs. They will also be able to take into account any issues you may be experiencing postnatally, such as diastasis recti or pelvic floor issues, or even just a night with no sleep, and adapt the exercise regime in accordance.
You can exercise safe in the knowledge that the person prescribing your exercise is always mindful of any issues or changes (medical, physical or emotional) that may come up and will refer you to the relevant medical or health professional, should the need arise.
What are the benefits of postnatal exercise?
Getting back to exercise after a baby is an important step, remember to be kind to yourself and take into account everything you have been through (pregnancy, birth) and everything you are still going through (lack of sleep, hormonal changes, healing) and you will soon be on the right road to a fit, healthy post-baby body.
- You’ll have more energy. It may seem contradictory and it might feel like the last thing you want to do when you’ve been up and down all night with a demanding baby… but exercising when you feel tired can actually help to raise energy levels, making you feel much better than you would if you take a rest.
- Avoid back pain. Back pain is one of the most common complaints of new mums, you are constantly lifting and holding or bent over feeding and changing, and this can take its toll on your body. Strengthening the ‘posterior chain’ of your glutes, core and back will help to encourage good posture and remedy some of the inevitable aches and pains.
- Feel better mentally and emotionally. Exercise helps the body to release neurotransmitters such as serotonin, dopamine and norepinephrine which act as mood regulators and boosters. These help combat some of the symptoms of depression and could help some women avoid the baby blues altogether.
- You’ll sleep better. You may not be getting perfect unbroken sleep, but exercise promotes better quality of sleep. So you’ll feel better and more rested in those moments when baby does allow you to catch some zzz’s.
- Improves strength and stamina. Having a new baby is hard work, your body is still healing and you don’t have the luxury of allowing yourself time to rest. Postnatal exercise will improve muscular strength and stamina, as well as promote healing of the core and pelvic floor, so you’ll be better able to handle the demands on your body even when you feel exhausted.
- You’ll be an awesome role model for your kids. Active parents are more likely to have active kids. With childhood obesity on the rise, anything that helps encourage children to be active should be a priority. Your baby may not be aware of it now, but as they grow you will be setting them a great example of what an active and healthy lifestyle looks like, kudos to you!
Not had your baby yet? Read about why you should exercise during pregnancy.
Don’t want to hit the gym? Find out how you might have what you need to workout at home.
Let Me Train You
Looking for someone who can help you recover from child birth? Find out about the pregnancy & postnatal personal training packages EmilyG can offer.
With our postnatal personal training packages you will be able to work out, at a level that is suitable for your personal needs, in a safe, guided environment. The sessions will help you to feel confident in your abilities and safe in the knowledge that the exercises being prescribed are.