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RETURNING TO EXERCISE AFTER HAVING A BABY

an image of a pregnant woman's belly wearing a blue bikini with the caption how to return to exercise after having a baby and the planet mama logo

Your little bundle of joy is finally here! You can sleep on your tummy, touch your toes and eat all the sushi your heart desires. Although you are now a mama, hopefully you’re also even starting to feel a little bit more like yourself too. 

And now after your six-week check-up you feel ready (and maybe even super keen!) to get back into the kinds of exercise you love.

But hold up a minute: before you race back to your favourite Barry’s class, here are a few things you should bear in mind when returning to exercise after you have given birth.

TAKE IT SLOW

It wasn’t too long ago that your baby was nestled within your body and although they are here on the outside now, things don’t instantly go back to how they were.

Every BODY and every pregnancy is different. Whether your tummy has gone down pretty much straight away or you still feel that you look pregnant, what has happened inside is more or less the same. Over 9 months your muscles and fascia have been stretching, your organs and bony structures have shifted and maybe even your stomach muscles have separated to create space for your growing baby. 

You and your body have also gone through labour and delivery which is a huge trauma on the body, emotionally and physically, whether you delivered via vaginal or c-section.

Don’t underestimate the impact that growing and birthing a human (!) has had, and be patient with yourself. Your body needs time to heal and repair. Plenty of rest, good nutritious food, water and time. 

FOCUS ON CORE REHAB

From quite early on in your journey you can start reconnecting with your core and pelvic floor through breath. Full expansive inhales and exhales, breathing 360*. 

  1. EXPANSIVE, CONSCIOUS BREATHING: Visualising the lift of the pelvic floor and the wrapping around of your deep transverse abdominals – your internal corset. Expand as you inhale, then as you exhale imagine you’re gently drawing your hip bone and two floating ribs together. Start lying down, imprinting your lower back on the mat, so you don’t have to contend with gravity.
  2. MINDFUL MOVEMENT: Be mindful of how you move, try not to jack knife out of bed, or do anything that means you push out into the abdominal wall. Practise exhaling and wrapping around those deep abs as you come to standing or pick up your little one. If you see something resembling a toblerone in the middle of your stomach, don’t be alarmed, just refrain from doing what you’re doing until your deep abs are stronger.
  3. THINK ABOUT YOUR POSTURE. Stand tall, especially if you have had a c-section. This will help to combat any pregnancy slouch and engage your core. Try and think about this when you’re nursing your baby too.

Then, at around 6-8 weeks for a vaginal birth and 12-14 weeks for a c-section, try and see a women’s health physio who can access your core for any separation and see how it’s functioning.

YES TO DOING YOUR PELVIC FLOOR!

Pregnancy places a huge amount of strain on your pelvic floor and whether you gave birth via vagina or c-section it’s super important you do your exercises. I promise your future self will thank you! 

Post giving birth, as soon as you are able to, begin with gentle pelvic floor exercises. It is important to work both your slow-twitch and fast-twitch muscles, in that order.

Slow-twitch: Start lying on your back, relax your glutes and abs to first try a few long holds. To do this inhale and see if you can notice a gentle release then exhale as you lift and hold. Try to hold for 10x seconds or until your abs or glutes switch on. Make sure you fully release as you inhale and then repeat.

Then work the fast-twitch with some fast on/off pulses. Try a few sets of 10 to start. Same rule with the glutes and abs 🙂

Try to build up to do 5-10×10 slow and 10×10 fast, twice a day if possible. Remember to release fully though and if you have any concerns, reach out to a women’s health physiotherapist. For a really useful, in-depth explanation of pelvic floor exercises read this NHS guidance.

DON’T BE SCARED TO MOVE

During the first six weeks post-natal we’re often told to do nothing. Whilst we can all agree that our focus should be on resting and connecting with our baby, life with a newborn rarely means you’re just lying in bed for 6 weeks. We’re picking up our babies, putting them down, walking with prams, maneuvering prams, trying to get prams up stairs etc! These are all forms of movement & exercise, so need a basic level of core function & control. If we do these things without having any core support we may suffer from back pain, pelvic pain or worse.   

So please try to make sure you move, get on to the mat and do a little wiggle, daily if possible.

  1. Include some stretches through your back with some gentle shoulder and chest stretches.
  2. Start to gently engage through your pelvic floor and core by using your breath. This will slowly reconnect the neural pathways between the brain and these vital muscles.
  3. Maybe begin including some gentle functional exercises, such as some sofa squats and kneeling hip hinges, maybe with some rotations. Things that mimic the movements you’re now doing with your baby. All gentle, unloaded movements focusing on breath and form.

SLOWLY BUILD IT BACK UP

Think of your journey back as a smile. If you exercised before birth you most likely slowly decreased the intensity as you got closer to birth. Now on the other side you can slowly build it back up. If you are new to exercise, you might have realised that life as a mum is a physical job and you need to be strong!

Lifting a baby carrier is tricky and awkward, trying to put a baby down in a cot without waking them up… near impossible! We need strength in places and specific movements we didn’t even know about.

Whilst your core strengthens, start to incorporate some specific strength exercises into your weekly routine. 

Start with bodyweight exercises, then start to use weights similar to the weight of your baby. As your strength increases you can start to increase the weights you’re lifting and the reps you’re doing. If you’re not sure what to do, please reach out and we can help. 

FINALLY, LEAKING…

Leaking is a common fear and can also be a deterrent for new mums returning to exercise. Firstly, please do not be embarrassed. Whilst we need to be careful about normalising leaking (as it is a sign of pelvic floor dysfunction), it is something that is VERY common and is just a sign that your pelvic floor muscles need some attention. Unfortunately we can’t just pop in a pad, ignore it and get on with life as it can lead to further dysfunction and more serious injuries if left untreated.

The good news however is that it is fixable! In most instances you will notice a dramatic improvement if you do your pelvic floor exercises consistently over a 12 weeks. Try to incorporate them into day to day movements and activities.” If you are struggling please don’t suffer in silence – this is exactly what our Women’s Health Physios are here for. Let’s talk and support you on your journey.

Lettie, Founder of Planet Mama x