How to regain your fitness after having a baby
It is so important to take a little time for yourself after you have given birth. There is a lot you can do to help yourself get back in shape and regain your fitness. There are a wealth of benefits to exercise:
- Release of feel-good hormones
- Increased energy
- Post baby weight loss
- Muscle strengthening
- Socialising with other mums
Your core strength comes first
The most important thing to start working on is your core. Your core muscles are your pelvic floor muscles, deep abdominal muscles (transversus abdominus), deep spinal muscles (multifidus) and diaphragm. All of these muscles will have become weakened during pregnancy and it is vital to strengthen these muscles first in order to set a solid foundation on which you can then begin to strengthen other muscles.
Begin exercising the pelvic floor ASAP!
So long as you’ve had the all clear from your doctor, you can start re-strengthening your pelvic floor very soon after giving birth, no matter what type of delivery you had. You can do pelvic floor exercises (aka Kegels) in a variety of positions; find the most comfortable for you. You could try lying on your side to do them, lying on your back or in a sitting position. Many women do not know how to perform Kegel exercises correctly - so you’re not alone if you’re still unsure! Here’s a couple of ways to think about it.
- Imagine squeezing and sealing off the urethra (as if to stop the flow of urine), hold this while you ‘squeeze’/close the anus (as if to stop wind) and gently lift
- Think of a zip from your anus to your pubic bone and zip forward and up along this line
Ideally, you should be exercising your pelvic floor muscles three times a day, working on both long holds and short pulses. But, if you’re struggling to find the time or to remember to work your pelvic floor with a newborn in your arms, there are now also apps and feedback machines to help you strengthen the pelvic floor.
Elvie Trainer is an excellent example of a biofeedback device that connects to your smartphone and plays games with you to exercise your pelvic floor. It is easy to use and great to visualize what you are doing. It is also motivating as you can see that you are getting stronger.
Great examples of exercises to work the rest of your core are bridges, superman and heel slides. See pictures below.
Regain your fitness after pregnancy - slowly!
You can begin some gentle walking when you feel able. It is sensible to begin by gradually increasing walking and never push into pain. Swimming is another great low-impact cardio exercise to begin with; you can start to swim seven days after you are clear from vaginal bleeding.
Look to see if there are any postnatal exercise classes in your area - they are a great way to meet other moms whilst doing some exercise.
From six weeks, you can start to increase cardiovascular exercise. It is vital to ensure you have excellent pelvic floor control before you begin running to avoid any injuries or pelvic floor problems. With this in mind, it is always a good idea to see a Women’s Health Physiotherapist for a postnatal assessment. They will check your abdominal, pelvic floor and a range of other muscles to advise you if there are any areas you need to strengthen.
Remember not to overdo it after your pregnancy. Listen to your body, nourish your body, pace yourself and give yourself plenty of rest. It’s not a competition!
After pregnancy, some women may get a separation of their abdominal muscles (rectus diastasis). When performing abdominal exercises watch out for any doming of the upper abdominal region. If this occurs, stop doing the exercise and speak to a physiotherapist or postnatal exercise specialist that can help you resolve this common issue.
If you have any other concerns with getting back to exercise, such as pelvic pain, incontinence, a sensation of pelvic organ prolapse or any other joint pain, then see your GP or a Women’s Health Physiotherapist for further advice.
Want to get the most out of your Kegels? Elvie Trainer is an award-winning pelvic floor trainer.
*Image sources: physioworks.com.au and physiotec.ca