You need to give yourself time to recover before getting back into pre-pregnancy exercise. It’s also important you don’t compare yourself to others and recognize you’re on your own and unique post-birth journey.
New moms heal and recover at different stages, and this depends on a number of contributing factors:
- Fitness levels prior to pregnancy.
- Fitness levels during pregnancy.
- The type of birth.
- The baby itself, i.e. size of baby during delivery, baby’s sleeping habits (and thus mother’s ability to sleep).
- Whether a mother chooses to breast or bottle feed.
- Mother’s mental health.
- Level of family support.
- Amount of sleep mother is receiving.
- Abdominal Separation.
- Potential uterus prolapse.
It’s vital you have a real grasp on these factors when getting back into exercise.
For some, it won’t take long before they’re able to do what they were doing pre-pregnancy, but for others - it will take time.
- Listen to what your body is telling you.
- Don’t add any extra pressure on yourself.
- Try to enjoy exercising at a lesser intensity (it’s not for long).
In fact, in taking a slower approach, you’re more likely to get your energy, strength and fitness back faster as you minimize the risk of injury or burn out. Sometimes in life, it really does pay to be the tortoise and not the hare!
The best piece of advice I can give any new mom is to concentrate on a recovery program, rather than an ‘exercise’ one. Your body has been through (most likely) its biggest physical challenge ever, so it needs some downtime to heal effectively.
I recommend you speak with a trusted professional who specializes in women’s health and post-natal recovery/exercise before getting stuck in. There are a lot of cowgirls and boys out there who can do more harm than good…beware.
In saying all of this though, you can probably start exercising sooner than you think. The most important thing you need to focus on initially is healing. You need to strengthen your ‘foundations’ in order to push harder later on in the piece.
Exercise guidelines for the first few weeks:
- Start with your core by working on your pelvic floor muscles. Do this when you’re feeling relaxed, i.e. in the shower, or when feeding. Simply lift your pelvic floor muscles and contract, repeat. Do this for as long as you can during each session, and several times daily.
- Next, you can focus on your transverse abdominal muscles (front and side abdominals). Sit down (a swiss ball is a good idea if you have one, otherwise a chair or sofa is fine), and with your hands on your hips, pull in your belly button, then let go. Do this repetitively during each session, and several times daily also.
- You may not even realize, but you probably need to get your breathing back in check. It’s been severely compromised during pregnancy and your brain may have ‘forgotten’ how to do it. To do this, you need to strengthen your diaphragm (the diaphragm is an important part of your core). This can be done by placing your hands either side of your ribcage, keep your shoulders relaxed, and breathe in by slightly expanding your ribcage, and then breathe out gently. The idea is to make sure your ribcage doesn’t move too much, and your shoulders shouldn’t be moving up too much either.
- And finally, check your posture. This has also been altered during pregnancy, so the best thing you can do is to see how your posture looks now by going side on to a mirror. If you’re all out of whack, you need to then try and keep your shoulders, ribcage and hips stacked nicely on top of each other. Remind your brain how you’re supposed to stand now you’re no longer carrying that heavy load!
2 weeks post-partum:
It’s now probably safe to add some gentle walking to your routine, while continuing to strengthen your core as above. Take it slowly and listen to your body. I wouldn’t recommend doing hill climbs, just a gentle walk on a flat surface for now to test the waters.
2-4 weeks post-partum:
You can now do the above exercises daily, and as long as there’s no pain or heavy bleeding, you can increase your walk time. Again, listen to what your body is telling you, if you’re feeling uncomfortable, dizzy or completely out of breath, slow down.
4-8 weeks post-partum:
At about six weeks, most women have had a ‘check-up’ from their midwife or obstetrician to see how their body is recovering. If there are no complications and your medical professional says everything is looking good, we can now add some more exercises to your work-out.
Continue to strengthen your core, but add some functional exercises to the mix also, i.e. squats and support presses and pulls.
In regards to walking, you can add some hill climbs and you can walk for a longer period of time, but no more than an hour. Increase your intensity, but don’t push past 80% of what you’re capable of doing just yet.
Also, if you’re breastfeeding, your supply is still being established, so you don’t want to compromise this. You’ll also be getting used to a life where you’re up a lot in the night, so enjoy taking it a bit easier while your body gets used to the sleep deprivation!
8-12 weeks post-partum:
By this stage, you should be feeling more ‘yourself,’ so you can start to add weights, and you can also delve into some interval training. Climbing stairs or using ‘step boxes’ for a minute a day at about 80% intensity is a great way to first approach interval work.
When increasing exercise intensity for the first time, rest the day after to see if there are any side effects. These side effects could be a fussier baby (reduced supply), aching joints, sore muscles, ligaments etc. If there are no side effects, then continue to build and increase intensity.
12 weeks post-partum:
By this point, many moms are ready and better prepared to go back to their pre-pregnancy exercise, especially if they’ve completed a specific post-natal exercise plan. However, care must still be taken, so keep listening to your body, and if needed, modifications for certain exercises should be programmed. Speak to a professional.
For many though, this isn’t the case, but don’t be disheartened, you WILL be able to do what you once did if you work at it and take it slowly, keep the faith.
So there you have it - a quick guide to help you understand what you could possibly do post-birth, provided you’re medically okay. One more piece of advice though! When starting exercise after giving birth you need to make sure you’re wearing clothing that will support your new body properly. It’s important you invest in maternity activewear that has your larger breasts in mind and your perhaps (for now) ‘looser’ belly in mind too. You’ve got to look after yourself, so get the right gear to get the job done, safely.
Congratulations mama, you’re doing great! Remember, you’ll get there…so don’t be too hard on yourself. Take time to truly appreciate your beautiful body for what it did! It created that miracle in your arms! Your body is awesome, and so are you.
Written by Lorraine Scapens. Lorraine has been a pre and postnatal exercise specialist for more than 20 years. Busy mom to three girls, Lorraine knows exactly how to cater for moms during this special time. Her website Pregnancy Exercise is a hub of information, and her online programs are sold globally.
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