How To Exercise After Having A Baby – The Safe Way
When it comes to amazing things the human body is capable of, pregnancy and childbirth are high on the list. But just like scaling Everest or finishing Ironman, the intensity of pregnancy and childbirth can be extremely hard on the body.
As a physiotherapist and a new mother myself, I wanted to find the best way to support my body through its journey. But all the mothers out there will understand what I’m talking about: after months of rapid body changes and the birth itself, I was more than a little eager to get out there and get moving again.
A new baby turns your life and your body upside down. I remember the sleep deprivation, the feeling of being in a complete daze and not quite at home in my own body. Added to this was the pressure to “bounce back” and get a celebrity-flat stomach in two months. In fact the media encouraging me to get my “body back” made me feel as though I’d been hijacked by body-snatchers. In other words, I can completely understand the urge to get back out there and launch into a new fitness regime.
Too Many Women Push Themselves to do Too Much, Too Soon
I began to notice all the Strollercise classes and the bootcamp style programmes designed to whip new mothers back into shape. But from my perspective, this kind of exercise is a dangerous fad that can actually have serious long-term consequences.
Think about it: if you had a hamstring tear, you wouldn’t dive right in and start with the most intense hamstring curls to “strengthen” the injury, would you? The body after childbirth is the same. Pregnancy stretches and loosens the abdominal muscles, and childbirth especially can result in pelvic floor muscles that are torn and weakened.
In this state, asking your body to do advanced exercises is not only difficult, it can be harmful. No matter how fit you were before, your muscles will not be able to respond. The result? You set yourself up for injury. This is the case whether you had a natural delivery or a C section. The kind of exercise I have seen promoted in new mother exercise classes can sadly worsen bladder incontinence, leading to strain or even prolapse.
Well, that’s the bad news. The good news is that your body is a magnificent organism and it will heal. If you’re patient, that is. Going at your body’s own pace gives your muscles the time they need to regain responsiveness and heal. When my clients welcome new babies, I like to suggest building strength over a 6 to 8 week period, focusing on gradually regaining core strength. Rather than a Strollercise class I would suggest taking a gentle pilates or yoga class instead.
Some of My Favourite Post-Natal Exercises:
Doing exercises that begin to re-engage the transversus abdominis are a great place to start. A great example is the “bird dog” exercise.
The Modified Bird Dog
Starting off on all four (hands and knees) slowly breathe out as you gently draw your belly button towards your spine. You should begin to feel some slight tightening of your lower abdominal muscles after a few repetitions. Slowly release after holding for 3 or 4 breaths (remember not to hold your breath!). This is the first step in your “strengthening” program. Practice this exercise until you can comfortably hold this light lower abdominal contraction for about 10 to 15 times.
Once achieved you can begin to progress. This would include raising one arm at a time and holding for about 5 seconds all while maintaining your lower abdominal contraction. To progress further you can extend your leg back. Make sure that your lower abdominals are properly engaged before you extend outwards. Each time you do this exercise, move your leg out further. Engaging abdominal control while maintaining deep, relaxed breathing in this pose will challenge your muscles … but without straining them.
Another way to include gentle lower abdominal contraction in your daily movements is to squat correctly. As you bend down to pick something up, pay attention to supporting your abdominal muscles. As you exhale, gently tighten the lower abdominals, imagining the navel being drawn in and up. Practice doing the squat movement through a range of motion that feels comfortable for you and gradually deepen your squat. Practicing your squat in a mirror can help give you great feedback.
Throughout your day, try also to do Kegel-style exercises to condition the pelvic floor gradually. A very beneficial movement is to imagine you are stopping urinary flow – the muscles you engage this way can be encouraged to heal faster.
As you try to wrap your mind around your new baby, your new body and your new role as mother, be kind to yourself and go at a comfortable pace when exercising. There’s no need to avoid activity altogether, of course. After all, your body has grown and supported new life – this is what it was designed to do!
But if you’re unsure about a postpartum training regime or have any questions, chat to a knowledgeable health professional. There are exercises and techniques out there that are perfect for gently supporting your body as it heals.