By Rosemary Marchese
Editor, B.A. Applied Sci (Physiotherapist)
Exercise post baby
While pregnant with my first child (some 10 years ago) I, probably like a lot of other mothers, was under some delusion that I would be ‘back into it’ with exercise shortly after giving birth. The reality was somewhat different. New mums often face the reality of a pelvic floor that needs work, a flabby tummy, unbelievable fatigue and sleepiness and muscles that are a little ‘floppy’ to say the least. While that’s not all mums, I would say it’s definitely true for a lot of them!
So, what is the ‘right’ time to return to exercise after having a baby? The truth is that there is no one-size-fits-all approach. You need to be realistic and patient and definitely seek the advice of your obstetrician. At some point, however you should be able to gradually get back into the exercise routine, but there are just some things you need to be aware of as you embark on this journey!
7 tips for getting back into it:
- Be realistic and patient! New mums will experience heavy vaginal bleeding, that will ease and eventually stop over time. Sometimes the bleeding will resume again. This is a time for healing and not all mums will be able to exercise during this time. Seek the guidance of your obstetrician to know if your body is ready to resume exercise. While you should be aiming for building to a 30-minute session there is nothing wrong with starting with 10-minute bouts of exercise. It may be all you have the energy or time for!
Try using the first 10 minutes of a baby’s day sleep to exercise before you move onto something else! If you do this three times a day you can be off to a great start!
- Get reconnected with your pelvic floor Whether it was a caesarean section or vaginal birth your pelvic floor will have taken a battering. Not all mums experience leakage or prolapse but even if you don’t, you still need to be aware of your pelvic floor strength. Be aware of exercises that can place unnecessary strain on the pelvic floor…this can include traditional crunches and sit ups as well as running and other high impact moves. You will need to do your kegal exercises and in some cases, may need to seek some advice and treatment from a women’s health physiotherapist.
- Watch the repairing diastasis Rectus diastasis is the separation of the abdominal muscles, specifically the rectus abdominus, AKA the ‘6-pack’. This can occur during pregnancy because of the strain on the abdominals. You will need to talk to your obstetrician and may even need to work with a physiotherapist to help get the gap between each side of the rectus abdominus closer together. This is another situation where crunches should be avoided. You should also involve other exercises that place unnecessary strain on this area, such as extreme twisting poses.
- Remember you’re still ‘wobbly’ Relaxin is the hormone that is released during pregnancy to help loosen the joints in preparation for delivery. The issue is that this hormone doesn’t automatically disappear after delivery and can still be in the body for a few months afterwards. This can lead to unstable joints and a wobbly pelvis. This is also not great for pelvic floor strength. Take your time getting back into strenuous activities to avoid any unnecessary strain on joints.
- Start with walking Walking is a great place to start for most new mums. Swimming is also great as it takes the weight bearing strain off the joints.
- Don’t forget to stay hydrated Drinking plenty of water is essential for new mums, especially if you are breastfeeding. Dehydration can exacerbate the fatigue already being experienced and it’s not great for breast milk supply.
- Rest Most new mums are often told ‘sleep when your baby is sleeping’ but the reality is that doesn’t always happen. My best advice is to take a rest during the day if you can but to also incorporate rest and relaxation into your exercise sessions. If you can only spare 30 minutes to exercise then you can easily use 5-10 minutes of that to focus on your breathing and do some light stretching.