DO’S AND DON’TS OF RETURNING TO EXERCISE POST-PARTEM
I had two quite large babies (7lbs11 & 9lbs3) and I was pretty big with both of them, putting on around two stone with each. I, like many mothers was very keen to shift the extra weight as soon as possible, which leads me nicely to point one:
- DON’T Patience is most definitely a virtue in this case. The worst thing you can do to your body is to rush out the door for a run when your baby is one week old. This is an extreme example, granted and I am sure that not many of you will have the energy after a week of sleepless nights; running will be the last thing on your mind. Realistically at this point, all you can think about is your baby’s well-being and SLEEP! Your body has been under enormous stress during labour, giving birth is one of the hardest things you will ever do – fact. Therefore we must treat our bodies with respect and give them the time they need to repair. We can support this process by starting with gentle, specific exercises such as pelvic floor strengthening. I know the sheer mention of those words may make you cringe but I can not reiterate how important this is, little and often being the key. The “flower”, “elevator” and “emergency stop” are all really good exercises, if you have not come across these and have no idea what I am talking about then do get in touch and I will happily explain!
- DO your pelvic floor exercises as often as you can, several times a day. If you have trouble remembering or finding time then try to carry them out whilst continuing your daily routine, like while you’re waiting for the kettle to boil or whilst you are watching your child eat their meal in that incredibly slow and messy manner that they do! Please note that these exercises mentioned above can be done standing or seated so you should be able to fit them in at some point in your day.
- DON’T start any exercise classes either at home or elsewhere before getting the okay from your doctor and health visitor.
- DO focus on your posture. Being pregnant puts enormous strain on your spine and can in some cases lead to a condition called ‘lordosis’ where the curvature of the spine becomes more pronounced to adapt to your growing tummy. To encourage the spine to a more straight position it is important to strengthen the muscles that support it, namely your ‘core.’ This includes abdominal, back, hip flexors and your gluteal muscles. Every time you are exercising, be sure to maintain correct posture to protect your spine and alleviate any back pain. Even when you are not exercising, whether you are standing up or sitting down make sure you tighten your core muscles, relax the shoulders and pull them back slightly, tuck the pelvis and focus on keeping the correct posture.
- DON’T do any high impact exercises for at least the first six months, longer if you are breastfeeding past this point. The reason for this is that your body continues to produce the hormone relaxin whilst you are breastfeeding. Relaxin is designed initially to aid labour and is produced when you are pregnant to relax the ligaments of the pelvis but is not restricted to this area thereby making all your joints more prone to injury. The worst thing you could do is go hell for leather with some HIIT only to wind up with an injury which means you can’t do any exercise at all until you have made a full recovery, however long that may take. Even if you are not breastfeeding it is not recommended before six months because it takes around three to five months for the fibrous tissue in the body to return to normal.
- DO Swimming is a great post natal exercise as it has very little impact on the joints and works a multitude of muscles at the same time, giving you a great, safe, whole body workout. Do still be careful though and start slowly, giving your muscles and joints time to warm up. Start with a slow breaststroke for as many lengths as you feel comfortable with, gradually progressing to front crawl when you feel ready.
- DON’T weigh yourself too often, it takes time and effort to lose weight (sadly!), leave at least six weeks between measurements if you want to see some progress. Only weigh yourself if you know you have been reducing your calorie intake and increasing your exercise (slowly and safely of course!) and can expect to see some weight loss. There are a number of factors that affect your weight such as your menstrual cycle, how much fluid you have taken on board, muscle mass so a far better measure of whether you have lost any weight rather than the scales is your clothes. Are your maternity clothes feeling more loose? Can you just about get your pre-pregnancy jeans done up?!
- DO eat a healthy, balanced diet. DON’T be tempted by a quick fix “lose weight fast” diet of which there are hundreds. They may well do what they say on the tin but be realistic – are you really going to be able to stick to them when you’re sleep deprived self is craving sugar during the afternoon slump? Or when your newborn has just projectile vomited over your new JoJo Mamam Bebe breastfeeding top and you just want to sob quietly in the corner comforting yourself with a larger “share” bag of maltesers? Not to mention the fact that yes, if you can stick to it and do manage to lose weight fast, how are you going to keep it off when the 30 days (or however long the new fad is) is over? The weight will come back on again as soon as you go back to eating ‘normally,’ Far better to make changes for life, be aware or “mindful” as now is the trend, of what you put into your body. You have probably heard this before but think of food as fuel for your body. Think carefully when you are meal planning or about to stuff a whole chocolate orange into your mouth, what am I going to get out of this meal/chocolate bar? What is it’s nutritional value? Good carbs/protein/good fats/vitamins/minerals? If you can’t justify it being good for your body then don’t eat it – simples! We all know what is good for us and bad for us generally but I just wanted to dispel a few myths here, well one in particular…
- DON’T cut out carbs. Especially when you are increasing your exercise levels (slowly and safely – have I mentioned that enough yet?!). Several years ago now it became a thing, I was incensed then and I am still upset when I see diets that promote cutting back on carbs or even cutting them out all together. Your body needs carbohydrate to function. Fact. Yes there are good carbs and bad carbs, I will agree with that. We should focus on eating foods with a low glycaemic index rather than a high GI to keep our energy levels up for longer and making us feel more full and therefore less likely to overeat. I am talking about wholegrain or wholemeal based products, for example wholemeal bread over white bread. When we think of carbs we often immediately think of bread but there are a wide range of food items that contain carbohydrate so to cut all of these out would be ridiculous and detrimental to our health. Rant over, moving on.
- DO check for Diastasis Recti before embarking on any abdominal exercise routines. Why am I talking Latin at you of a sudden you may ask? If you’re not familiar with the term or unsure of what is actually entails, it is seperation of the recti sheaths during pregnancy which means the abdominal muscles are unable to work efficiently to support the lumbar spine or abdominal viscera. In some cases, this can result in a ‘pendulous abdomen’ which results in difficulties regaining a normal pre-pregnant figure. In most cases however, specific controlled abdominal exercise can greatly improve the problem, although oblique exercises should be avoided. If you are unsure of how to check for Diastasis Recti then do get in touch and I can advise you further.
To summarise, the key words here (just in case you missed them!) are: slow and safe. Focus on your pelvic floor, abdominal muscles, good posture and long term weight loss. Be patient and enjoy the journey to getting your body back whilst spending time with your wonderful child/children, there is no rush. Exercise will be much easier if you can find something you enjoy, it can also be done all together – family walks, buggycise classes, baby & mum yoga classes etc. There are lots of options out there if you have a little Google you are sure to find something that you enjoy and that is suitable. If you are looking for some personal training to fit in it around your schedule or if you need any further advice then please do not hesitate to get in touch. I would also love to hear your thoughts and views on any of the above so please feel free to contact me.
Twitter: @fesu llivan