Getting back into exercise following child birth can either seem daunting or something to look forwards to. Exercise has been suggested to help ward off or help with post natal depression and anxiety, giving you time for yourself and reconnecting with your body. However, it can all seem rather daunting. There is lot of information out there, some of it good, some bad, some very outdated and some based on new research. These tips will help give you a guide on how to get started safely.
1. Wait until your postnatal check up before starting any formal exercise
It’s important to wait until you have seen your health care provider before embarking on any new formal exercise plan, including classes and one to one. This is because the instructor will probably not be insured but also for your own health. It gives your body time to start healing, stitches to dissolve or be removed, and scars to heal (C-section). The check allows your health care provider to check for infections and screen for any other problems that may be made worse by exercise.
2. Get your abdominal check for separation
This can be done by trained health care practitioners such as midwives, physiotherapists and GP’s and also trained fitness and movement professionals. By checking for any separation you can then avoid movements that may make things worse and focus on one that will help you heal.
3. Don’t neglect your pelvic floor
Your pelvic floor takes a lot pressure during pregnancy and vaginal births, forceps, ventouse and tears/episiotomy will also add to the trauma. But don’t be fooled, those that have had a c-section can have weakened pelvic floors too! Start doing gentle lifts as soon as you can and increase slowly from there. If you feel like there is nothing there, or are experiencing pain/discomfort/incontinence, seek guidance from your health care provider, as they may refer you to women’s health physiotherapist.
4. Download an App for your pelvic floor
Look up the NHS Squeezy app. This nifty little app will help you remember to do your pelvic floors. I’d recommend at least 3 times a day, picking maybe breakfast, lunch and dinner to do them. Never do them when you are on the loo and going, this a great way to promote infections – leave it until you are finished. That being said you can do your exercises in any position- sitting, standing, lying etc.
4. Start with the basics
Once you have been given the all clear, start with the basics. You squat and lunge all day – how do you get in and out of a chair or tidy the kids’ toys up? Start by doing these movements with good form and incorporating your breath, deep abdominals and pelvic floor. Breathe out as you stand, lift the pelvic floor and draw in the tummy below the belly button. But NO squeezing hard!
5. Don’t be tempted to start impact too soon
I get it – running is free, it’s easy, you can do it anywhere, anytime. However, it is a strain on your joints and pelvic floor. You will still have some vulnerability in the joints from the hormone relaxin. Combined with a (probably) weakened pelvic floor it’s probably best to avoid running until around 3 to 6 months after having a baby. If you have pelvic floor weakness, prolapse, PGP/SPD or abdominal separation it may be best to seek advice from a good women’s health physio or exercise professional to start working on these areas first.
6. Take your time to progress
Why the rush? Now is a good time to build a solid foundation for your body. Start with those basics, work on your deep abdominals – Pilates will be good for this. Focus on excellent technique and build up from there. It really doesn’t matter if you can’t lift the weights you used to or swim as many lengths as you did. You will get there. In time.
7. Don’t focus on the weight
Now is not the time to focus on getting back into the skinny jeans. If you’re breastfeeding, your body will need extra calories and so will be storing them. You have a new baby, you’re probably slightly sleep deprived, running around like a lunatic, and feel generally rubbish. Why add more stress to your life? Instead focus on what your body can do – can it do 10 squats with great form, or 10 leg slides without your tummy bulging, or even hold your baby without hitching the hips? These are better things to focus on.
8. Fuel your body
Make sure you eat enough! That means carbs, protein and fats in every meal! Your body needs energy to function with a baby, extra if you breastfeed, so if you’re exercising it needs fuel for that too. Eat sensibly, try to snack on fruit and veg, nuts, seeds, etc. On the other hand if you really fancy a biscuit with that (cold) cup of tea. Go ahead the world won’t stop!
Drink! Water, herbal teas, weak squash. Making sure you are hydrated, not only will help your body heal but it will help keep you from becoming dehydrated. Drink when you are thirsty and keep a bottle in your bag. Drinking first if you’re feeling hungry may also stop you from eating when you’re actually thirsty.
10. If in doubt, walk
Walking is great, you don’t need special kit, you can go on your own or with the baby. It’s free, you can be outside or inside. You can go fast or slow. Aim to raise your heart rate slightly with each walk for about 10 minutes a day. Even if it’s just a pop to the shops or mouch around the mall, it’s still exercise.