After nine months of pregnancy, you might be wanting to get moving again and add some exercise to your daily routine. Before you do, give these 11 tips a read…
By Lucy Gornall, Health Journalist of the Year (HFMA) and personal trainer specialising in pre and post-natal fitness
Whether you’re a new mum or you’ve recently given birth to your second or third (or fourth!) child, you may find yourself wondering when and how to get back into fitness and exercise. After all, your body has just gone through an incredibly testing time, so it’s wise to be careful and not over do it. Follow these 11 nuggets of advice and ease yourself back into exercise safely.
1. Before You Start…
It’s important to get the go ahead from your doctor before partaking in exercise. If you had a natural birth, it’s advised to wait six weeks. If you had a caesarian, it’s advised to wait 12 weeks, however you can certainly start work on strengthening your pelvic floor before then and movement as oppose to actual exercise, is most definitely ok!
2. Work Exercise Into Your Day
You don’t have to wait until your postnatal check to build up movement. Take the stairs when possible and walk instead of using the car. If you feel up to it, you could carry your newborn in a baby carrier to give your arms some freedom.
3. The Wonders Of Walking
It’s such an underrated form of exercise, yet humans have been walking since the dawn of time. And, you can enjoy walks as soon as you feel up for it. Start gently, and in time as you begin to feel more comfortable, increase the pace and walk more briskly.
Walking with a pram isn’t just a great way to help your little one to nod off but being outside in the fresh air can help boost your own wellbeing, as well as your vital vitamin D levels, sunshine permitting! Try walking with a friend or if you fancy making your walks a little more challenging, find some gentle hills to walk up.
4. Be Aware Of Diastasis Recti
You’ll likely be clued up on this already, but during pregnancy, the two muscles that run down your stomach can often separate and after birth can leave a pouch-like bump on your stomach. This is diastasis recti, which often heals by about eight weeks post birth. Unsure if you have diastasis recti? A simple way to find out is to lie on your back with feet flat on the floor and legs bent at the knees. Slightly raise your head and shoulders from the ground and using your fingertips, feel between the edges of the muscles, above and below the belly button. Check how many fingers you can fit in the gap and over time, this gap should decrease in size.
This separation can lead to lower back pain and even constipation so working on strengthening your core is key.
It’s worth noting that if you notice your core muscles haven’t started to heal two months post birth, pay your GP a visit.
5. Watch Out When Doing ‘abs’ Exercises
Try to avoid doing sit ups or crunches immediately after giving birth as these can aggravate a weak pelvic floor.
6. Enjoy Pilates
If you’ve never practiced Pilates before, now is a great time to start. Pilates helps to train your core muscles, which in turn can help close the gap. Pilates can also help strengthen your pelvic floor muscles as well as helping with joint pain.
7. Yes, You Can Lift Weights!
Once your GP has given you the all clear following your six-week postnatal check, strength training is definitely something you can incorporate into your exercise regime, should you wish. Keep in mind though that if you were lifting weights before pregnancy, you will likely have regressed slightly in your strength levels so don’t feel deflated. Instead, enjoy the journey of regaining this strength!
Start with lighter weights and ease yourself back in. There’s a wealth of strength and aerobic classes on Youtube, which you can follow along to. And keep that core engaged!
Be careful throughout as your ligaments are likely still loose from the hormone relaxin, which was prevalent throughout pregnancy. This can lead to joint pain so listen to your body and if anything feels uncomfortable, stop.
8. Pelvic Floor Priority
This is the time to give your pelvic floor a lot of attention. If you had a natural birth, you may find these muscles just aren’t as strong as they once were, but the good news is you can get working on improving your pelvic floor strength as soon as you’ve had your baby, before you ‘officially’ return to exercise. Unsure if your pelvic floor has suffered? If you find that a bit of wee is released when you cough, laugh or sneeze, then you’ll definitely want to boost that muscle strength. Don’t worry – it’s easily done! Wherever you are, try squeezing in your bottom, as if you were trying to hold in wind. Now, squeeze as if you were holding in a wee. Relax. Repeat 10 times. Try these again but hold the squeeze for up to 10 seconds, before relaxing. Aim to do this three times a day.
Strengthening these muscles will help you phenomenally when you start exercising as you may find certain moves cause your bladder to release urine, something which didn’t happen prior to becoming pregnant.
9. Go For A Swim
A great, low impact exercise, which you can undertake as soon as you feel ready to. It is best to wait seven days after your post-natal bleeding has stopped however, just to be on the safe side and if you gave birth via caesarian, wait till your GP has given you the go ahead.
Another benefit of the pool? Many offer mother and baby swim sessions so you can take your little one along too!
10. Ready To Run?
If you’re keen to lace up and start pounding the pavements again, we advise you to take it easy and ideally wait until your six-week postnatal check up (or longer if you had a caesarian birth).
Running can cause you to leak, so working on pelvic floor strengthening before you get back into a running routine is vital. However, saying this, don't be too nervous. Invest in a high impact sports bra to keep breast movement to a minimum and ensure your trainers fit comfortably; many women find their feet widen slightly during pregnancy.
Whether you’re exercising or not, maintaining a healthy fluid intake is really important right now. Aim to drink around eight cups of water a day to avoid constipation, support breastfeeding, maintain muscle and joint health and cleanse your body. If you’re exercising, you’ll need more fluid than normal, so aim to sip on water throughout your workout and have a water or even a herbal tea when you’ve finished, too!