Beginning an exercise routine after having a baby can play a huge role in physical and mental recovery. Gaining strength and stability in the pelvis and core is the primary priority on every new mum’s list that is eager to get back into shape after having a baby. As exciting as it is to start a program, it’s also very important to get clearance from your doctor after either a natural or caesarean delivery. Once you have been cleared for exercise, you can then begin building your fitness levels back up gradually and stabilising the pelvis. This can be achieved by learning to activate your deep core muscles and strengthening the muscles around your hips and pelvis – as well as deep core muscles such as your transverse abdominals – and stretching tight muscles. These are just a few factors to consider before embarking on an exercise routine. And remember, there are many benefits from starting back slowly.
New mums need to appreciate that their body has been working really hard to grow a human for nine months and that their abdominals, pelvic floor and posture have had to take on a considerable amount of the load. In fact, the first twelve weeks after delivery is referred to as the ‘fourth trimester’ of pregnancy for good reason; your body is recovering from delivery, hours of nursing and feeding is taking place, so care and respect for your body is needed. Taking time to get started slowly is key.
Guidelines for returning to exercise (normal delivery):
1.Obtain clearance from your doctor, a women’s health physiotherapist or medical professional before resuming exercise.
2.Exercise regularly, rather than intermittently. Consistency is key and will help you progress faster than trying to do it sporadically.
3.Begin with stability of the pelvis first and pelvic floor exercises. Then move onto aerobic activity with low impact type exercise (e.g. cycling, swimming, low impact aerobics) and gradually increase the workout duration and intensity, as your fitness level improves. Getting out every day for a brisk walk with the baby in the stroller is great for the body, mind and soul!
4.If you’re tired from being up all night with the baby, rest, stretch and hydrate. Don’t worry if you’re experiencing fatigue, you will always have another opportunity to train and you will train better if you can move with more co-ordination and are better rested.
5.Core, core, core! But remember, traditional crunches have no place in an early post natal program. Stability and balance exercises are important. Gentle abdominal toning exercises will help to restore the shape of your tummy. Pelvic tilting can be done any time while lying, standing or sitting, making it an easy and gentle way to tone the abdominals. Tummy and pelvic floor exercises can be done while doing other tasks where you are sitting or standing.
6.Pelvic floor restore. These exercises are first and foremost mandatory if you are thinking about getting back into high impact training in the future.
Guidelines for returning to exercise (post C-Section):
1.Minimal exercise should be done prior to the six-week check up. Pelvic floor exercises are a great way to start (with your doctor’s permission). Walking with or without a stroller, or short distances with a baby carrier are also ok. However, posture is crucial when walking longer distances with a baby carrier. Learning to relax your shoulders and engage your core while standing with a load (the baby) is vital to regaining pre-pregnancy posture.
2.Avoid sit-ups and oblique abdominal exercises for twelve weeks. Start with stabilization and strengthening exercises for the transverse abdominals (deep core muscles) and only when you have been checked for rectus diastasis should you start with other types of abdominal exercise. If there is a separation wider than 2cm, please refrain from traditional crunches and rotational exercises until you have restored your core.
3.Core stability and pelvic tilting exercises should be practiced often.
4.Postural correction, education and taking care of your lower and upper back are essential. It is important to carry on these exercises long after delivering.
5.Ensure a good warm up and cool down are always performed.
When you are ready to return to exercise:
Remember to drink often and maintain adequate hydration. Exercise has been shown to increase milk supply if breast feeding, so if you are exercising please remember to drink more during the day to maintain hydration levels.
Make sure you wear a highly supportive comfortable bra and supportive shoes before you start exercising and while you are exercising.
It is important to ensure your wellbeing and health, regardless of whether you are nursing so now is a perfect time to create healthy, nutritious eating habits. This should involve consumption of extra dairy foods or high calcium foods, complex carbohydrates and plenty of fresh fruits and vegetables. Avoid high fat and sugar and all ‘fast food’.
Check for abdominal diastasis with a women’s health specialist or qualified trainer before starting an exercise program. If present, core stability exercises such as pelvic tilting and pelvic floor exercises can be performed. Crunches and oblique exercises should be avoided.
Hormones are still present in the body up to twelve weeks post-birth (and a lot longer if nursing). Therefore, the muscles, joints and ligaments are still susceptible to injury. For this reason avoid overloading, overstretching and excessive exercise. Also, avoid activities that involve jarring, ballistic and jumping type movements, as they may lead to and/or aggravate incontinence.
Alana is a qualified pre and postnatal trainer and sports and pre/post natal nutritionist based at the Al Corniche Club in Kuwait