24 October 2019
| THE HEARTBEAT OF WOMEN'S SPORT

New mum’s – post natal exercise

July 25, 2008

An essential read for all new mums, Sportsister outlines the key points you need to know about exercising after giving birth. Whether you are keen to get back to your pre pregnancy routine, or want to start exercising for the first time, this is a must-read.

post-natal-exercise.pngCongratulations on the birth of your baby – the fun has only just begun! The fact that you are reading this page obviously means that you are keen to start exercising again having had your baby, or taking up exercise for the first time.

Either way, it is important that you are thinking rationally and sensibly about this. The first six weeks are by the far the most challenging and the time when you will be most sleep deprived.

It is vitally important that instead of trying to rush to the gym whilst someone looks after your sleeping baby, you take some time for yourself and try to catch up on some of your lost sleep. Exercising whilst exhausted and fatigued is just an invitation for injuries.

Don’t obsess with counting the calories!

Ignore celebrity articles boasting about losing all their baby weight in six weeks. This is unrealistic and quite simply unhealthy. For nine months your developing baby has been sharing your nutrients, potentially leading to you being nutritionally deprived for a long time after giving birth. Further depriving yourself of a balanced diet could be detrimental to your well-being and therefore that of your baby.

This is especially important if you are breastfeeding. You can’t expect to provide all the nutrients your baby requires if you are depriving yourself of food. You need as many calories a day when you are breast feeding as if you were running a marathon. I remember being amazed by this but complied – even eating a banana and a cereal bar in the middle of the night when getting up every three hours to feed my son! This certainly didn’t prevent me from regaining my pre-baby physique.

If you are breastfeeding and have started exercising again, it is important that you replace the calories you will be burning up from the exercise. A combination of sensible eating together with moderate exercise is the key to losing weight the healthy way.

How soon can I start exercising?

When to start exercising will depend on whether you have had a vaginal delivery or a caesarean. With a normal delivery, most obstetricians will encourage you to do gentle pelvic floor and deep abdominal exercises as soon as you feel ready and only start to exercise more vigorously after your six week check. If you gave up exercising whilst you were pregnant or you are new to exercise, you should wait until after your six week check up before embarking on anything vigorous.

The advice after having a caesarean is to start doing pelvic floor and deep abdominal exercises around the six week mark and then gradually start including more vigorous exercise after 10-12 weeks. It is important to start gradually and not to expect to return to your pre pregnancy fitness levels immediately.

What exercise should I be doing?

The easiest way to start exercising postpartum is to go out walking with your baby in the pram. It is important to try and remember what ‘normal’ pre-pregnancy posture is and maintain this whilst walking (i.e. pelvis in the neutral position and chest forwards and up). This will start to re-awaken your abdominal muscles and help them to tone up.

If you can manage it, throughout your walk, repeatedly squeeze your pelvic floor muscles for a few seconds and release again. This will help prevent urine incontinence that is very common when exercising post-natally. Pushing the pram up hills will also work to tone up your arms, especially the triceps. By going for a 10-15 minute walk every day, you will soon notice your fitness levels improving and be able to increase this time and intensity.

Obviously, cycling and horse riding are big no no’s if you have had an episiotomy and swimming is not recommended in the first few weeks due to the increased risk of infection.

What to watch out for

Rectus abdominus diastasis is where your abdominal muscles separate in the middle as a result of being overstretched during pregnancy. Most women experience a gap of approximately 2 finger widths whilst pregnant and for the first couple of weeks after giving birth. Anything larger than this, that hasn’t naturally resolved after three weeks postpartum will require you to start pelvic floor and deep abdominal training.

What do you mean by deep abdominals?

Most women know about their pelvic floor muscles. They are the muscles you contract when you want to stop yourself peeing. They become very weak with pregnancy and childbirth and will need to be strengthened postpartum to prevent urine incontinence. The pelvic floor and deep abdominal muscles go hand in hand. Squeezing and contracting your pelvic floor muscles have been shown to facilitate your deep abdominals.

The deep abdominals are a set of muscles known as the transversus abdominus muscles that lie much deeper than the superficial muscles that we all know as the 6-pack (rectus abdominus). When the rectus abdominus muscles contract, they cause you to flex your back (i.e. sit ups). When your transversus abdominus muscles contract, they work to stabilise and protect your spine. They are designed to be constantly working as you move to support your low back and pelvis. These muscles are therefore designed for endurance. You will need to build this endurance back up again having had your baby.

What’s the best way to work your deep abdominals?

Think of it as fitness for your new job. Carrying and lifting your baby often out of awkward positions can place huge strain on your low back. Together with the fact that it will be weaker at this stage anyway due to the post-natal muscle weakness, your low back and pelvis remain the vulnerable areas until you have addressed this.

Sit ups and crunches are not the way to work your deep abdominals. All this will do is place more strain on your low back and potentially result in a bulging stomach and rectus abdominus diastasis for much longer. There is no harm in starting sit ups once your deep abdominals are stronger.

Release the endorphins

Having a new baby to look after, whilst trying to deal with hormones gone awry, sleep deprivation and trying to maintain a good relationship with your partner is a difficult task and one that can lead some women to feeling emotionally quite low. The endorphin release that you will experience from exercise may be the one thing that gets you through this period. It is also a chance for you to have time to yourself and escape for a while.

So, in summary, what you are gaining from post-natal exercise, are the normal cardiovascular benefits that come from regular exercise, the endorphin release for that ‘feel good’ factor and a toned body. Really, how many more reasons do you need?

Nicki de Leon, Sportsister
The Women’s Sports Magazine

Nicki de Leon is a sports injury physiotherapist with over ten years experience treating elite sportsmen and women and professional dancers. She was the official physio of the British Paralympic swimming team for over three years and attended the Paralympic Games in Athens 2004. Nicki is also a new mum herself.

Related features: Mums to be pre-natal exercise

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