RETURNING TO EXERCISE AFTER BABY: 3 STEPS TO A STRONG POSTPARTUM BODY
BY KIMMY SMITH
It can be really confusing to know what exercise you should be doing after you have a baby. Often we are advised to do nothing until we have our six week checkup. After that, lots of women are told that they are safe to return to exercise. But what type of exercise is best for new mums? And how much should we be doing? Creator of the Fit Mummy Project App + postnatal fitness expert Kimmy Smith shares her tips on how to return to postpartum exercise in a safe and positive way.
I have been from one extreme to the other when it comes to postpartum exercise. I know how frustrating it can be to take it slow when you've been waiting 9 months to move your body. I also know the feeling of desperation of wanting to get your body back and feel strong again.
Postpartum recovery can be divided up into three main stages. You can stay on each stage for as long as you like or as long as your body needs. Every woman is unique and needs different levels of support. As much as possible, embrace the changes that motherhood has created. Move your body in a way that makes you feel good.
Stage One - Inner Strength and Mobility
Stage One starts with the birth of your baby. It will continue until your core is strong enough to support more intense exercise. I recommend seeing a Women's Health Physio around 6-8 weeks postpartum. They will assess your core and pelvic floor and guide you as to the best types of exercise to do.
In the first six weeks, it is often recommended to do nothing. I agree that our focus should be on resting, replenishing our energy and connecting to our babies. But most of us don’t actually do nothing. We walk our babies in prams. We hold our babies all day long. We carry shopping and baby bags, we lift our babies in and out of cars. These are all forms of movement and exercise and need a basic level of core function and control. If we do these things without having any core support, we may suffer from back pain, pelvic pain or worse.
In the first six to twelve weeks after your baby is born, focus on the following types of movements.
Thoracic Mobility. This involves releasing tension in the upper body, opening up the chest and engaging postural muscles with simple chest + shoulder stretches and strengthening movements using your body weight.
Pelvic Floor and Deep Core Engagement. Most women have some form of stomach separation and weakness or imbalance in their pelvic floor after giving birth.
Your core is actually comprised of your pelvic floor, your glute (butt) muscles, your stomach muscles and the lower back muscles.
During the first 6-12 weeks, your focus should be on strengthening all of these muscles. This inner support system will create a strong foundation for returning to the types of exercise you love.
I recommend doing your Pelvic Floor Exercises twice a day every day for the first 3-6 months of your babies life. The Pelvic Floor is like any other muscle and needs to be engaged in different ways. I focus on endurance holds, power lifts and quick contractions. Check out this post to see the types of exercises you should be doing in Stage One.
RELATED: 4 STEPS TO A STRONGER PELVIC FLOOR
Stage Two - Building Strength + Endurance
As your core strength builds, you can start to include functional movements. Functional movements mimic the type of movements you do every day. Things like squatting, pushing, pulling, lifting. Aim to do 1 - 2 strength sessions a week and if you can, 1-2 postnatal pilates classes. This will help you to maintain your focus on inner strength and core connection, whilst creating a strong body.
In this stage, we practice moving engaging our core and pelvic floor and then moving. This will help to build strength safely and avoid injury or postpartum complications.
My favourite functional movements for Mums include:
Single Leg and Arm Lifts in Quadruped
Donkey Kicks in Quadruped
Clams and Side Lying Leg Lifts
Seated Shoulder Press
Push Ups on all Fours
Hip Raises and Pelvic Tilts
Supported Side Plank
Start with body weight exercises or use your baby as a cute weight. A good guide in those early postpartum days is to lift a weight that is around the same weight as your baby.
As your strength increases, you can then begin to increase the weight you are lifting and the number of reps you are doing. If lifting weight causes you to hold your breath or makes your belly ‘pop’ or bulge the weight is too heavy for you.
Stage 3 - Returning to Running and High Intensity Exercise
If your goal is to return to running or other high intensity exercise, then I recommend having a second check-up with a Women’s Health Physio.
They will advise you whether your internal support systems are strong enough to cope with the extra demands of high intensity exercise.
If you have a prolapse, you may be able to be fitted with a pessary to support your pelvic organs whilst exercising. A pessary is a plastic ring or cube that is inserted into your vagina to help support your internal organs. A pessary that is appropriate and well fitted can act like a ‘ sports bra’ for the vagina! It doesn’t fix the problem. But whilst you are working on your pelvic floor strength it can help minimize further damage.
Tip: Build Slowly
No matter how fit you were before you gave birth, it is always a good idea to build up your fitness and strength slowly. Building slowly will help your body to adjust and will also help you to build endurance through your pelvic floor and core.
If you are running, aim to start with 5-10 minutes of running for your first run. Build by 10% each week until you have reached your target run length or distance. After each run, notice how your body responds. How do you feel physically and mentally throughout the rest of the day? If you notice you are leaking more or are finding your belly ‘popping’, you may have gone too hard too early. The aim is to create a program that is sustainable for you long-term, so try to resist the temptation to rush back in!
Similarly if you are returning to bootcamp. Don’t feel pressured to join in the whole class initially. Build slowly with 30 minutes of high intensity exercise each week and listen to your body.
Kimmy Smith is the founder of the Fit Mummy Project App - the complete post-natal fitness and wellbeing App. Kimmy is also an ex-professional athlete, fitness instructor, qualified yoga teacher and mother to two girls. Kimmy is on a mission to support and empower women to embrace the journey of motherhood. In 2016, Kimmy launched the postnatal fitness and wellbeing hub, www.kimmysmithfit.com, an online destination that encompasses fitness, food and healthy mindset essentials including tips, advice, workouts, meal plans and recipes. It aims to help all new mums create a beautiful, fit and strong new body and life.
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