Do's and don'ts of postnatal exercise
“How much weight did you gain?”
“Are you back to your pre-baby weight yet?”
If you haven’t been asked these questions, chances are you’ve thought about them anyway. How much more ‘baby weight’ there was left to lose was a common topic in mummy groups after I had my babies.
And then there are the magazine articles and classes telling you they can help you get your pre-baby body back.’ And, unfortunately, a lot of the things new mums think they should to be doing when they start postnatal exercise after baby are not always what they need to be doing.
So, to help you get started, here are 8 Do's and Don’ts of postnatal exercise.
1. DO go easy on yourself.
You know that ‘get your pre-baby body back’ phrase I mentioned? I hate it.
Not that there’s anything wrong with wanting to change how you look. I remember what it’s like to look down at your tummy after giving birth! But I hate the focus on it. You’ve just created life and been through some huge physiological changes.
Instead of focusing on how you look, focus on how you feel.
Don’t put pressure on yourself. Don’t compare yourself to anyone else. Yes, work on getting your fitness back, but do it gently, and do take care of your body, not punish it back into shape.
You should finish a workout feeling better than when you started it! And please bear in mind that lack of sleep causes stress on the body.
Exercise is a form of stress too. In normal circumstances a manageable one, but not when you’re sleep deprived. Unless you’re one of the lucky ones whose baby sleeps through from 6 weeks (haha!) then please don’t force yourself to train when you’re exhausted. I meet mums who do this, and it will do more harm than good.
2. Do be mindful of your pelvic floor.
Do you remember that feeling in your pelvic floor whenever you coughed or sneezed after giving birth? I do. But fairly soon I felt ok down there again.
Thing is though, it wasn’t. Every woman will be different, but we’re looking at months, even a year +, until it’s fully restored.
There are so many factors to consider, for example whether you had an assisted birth or whether you have diastasis recti (separation of the abdominal muscles). If you do, it will put more pressure on your pelvic floor. So…….
3. Don't do impact exercises too soon.
Following on from the last point, here’s an example of what can happen to your pelvic floor if you do overdo it.
Over 50% of women suffer from pelvic organ prolapse (POP), but it is seldom discussed. Physiotherapist and pelvic floor expert Sue Croft says patients often present to her 6 months after starting pilates/bootcamp. Here’s a link to her blog with all the information you need.
Make sure if you do feel any ‘heaviness’ there you stop immediately.
Another reason to be cautious of impact is that you will produce the hormone relaxin for up to 6 months after giving birth, or longer if you’re breastfeeding. This means your ligaments are looser, and joints less stable. Which means a higher risk of injury with impact.
My recommendation? Get fit to run don’t run to get fit: make sure you do some postnatal appropriate conditioning work before you progress to running or aerobics. Walking (especially with a buggy/ babywearing up a hill!) is such fantastic exercise.
4. Don’t ignore ‘little leaks.
Incontinence is common, but never normal. Unfortunately, it’s often discussed as if it is. You know, just one of those things that happens after children. And don’t get me started on this crossfit video
I think it’s great that women are becoming more comfortable talking about it (I know it can be embarrassing), but I want it to be in a ‘how can I fix this’ way.
The take home point I want to make here is - if there’s a problem with your pelvic floor/ core that results in a little leak now, it could develop in to something worse like POP, so please don’t ignore it.
5. Do see a Women's Health Physio.
I never knew this until I started working in postnatal fitness, but there are physios who specialise in the pelvic floor. Makes sense- it’s a muscle too! And a pretty amazing one.
If you have incontinence, pelvic organ prolapse, or severe diastasis recti 8 weeks after giving birth (more than 3 fingers width, or very soft along the gap), you need to see one. You can be referred by your GP, or see one privately.
In fact, even if you don’t have these problems, I’d still recommend seeing one privately. Look at it as an MOT for your body. I’ve seen one since my second, and definitely have more peace of mind from it. If you want to know more about what it involves feel free to get in touch.
6. Do restore before you strengthen.
All your abdominal muscles attach to your midline, called the linea alba. This stretches and pulls apart during pregnancy, something that is called diastasis recti. Often, this is the cause of a tummy that still looks pregnant when your baby is a few months old.
So if you try and strengthen or build the muscles there before they've healed, they're going to pull on your midline and stop it from healing. This means you'll be doing extra work and getting worse results!
The postnatal exercise you need to do are really subtle, starting with making sure you are using the correct breathing pattern and activating your transverse abdominus muscle correctly, along with your pelvic floor. Which bring me to…
7. Don’t do crunches!
Or planks. Or pilates 100's. Or any exercise that creates pressure within the abdomen that you can’t control. You want to get a flat and stable core, rather than a 'domed' effect that these exercises can create.
I’m not saying never do these exercises again, but you have to build back up to them.
Core exercises such as the glute bridge and heel slides are not only restorative, but more effective at getting a flatter tummy than crunches!
8. Don’t feel guilty for taking time for yourself.
It takes at least a year for traumatised tissue to really recover, and healing is retarded when we’re stressed! You need to be at your best to take care of your little one, so make sure you prioritise some ‘me’ time once in a while. Because without effective healing, you can’t have effective postnatal exercise.
Parents & Co would like to thank:
Vanessa is a personal trainer based in Watford, specialising in postnatal fitness. She can be found at www.vanessabarker.com on her facebook page, out and about in the local parks and toddler groups with her 2 boys, or taking postnatal classes for Mums of Steel.