depositphotos_4129431-Silhouette-of-Woman-balancing-on-unicycle-on-ropeSo, following on from my last post about how we need to be gentle with ourselves and our hard-working post natal bodies, I decided to write an article with my Women’s Health physiotherapist hat on. So I sat down and had a look at the research. And then at the information that’s out there for new mums. There is LOADS of it!

We’re now almost programmed into thinking that after having a baby we need to be getting back into shape and getting fit as soon as possible after giving birth. It’s on or near the top of most women’s to-do list after having their baby – and we want it to happen fast! Books and DVDs with titles including the phrases “30 day plan” and “10 minutes flat” are some of the biggest sellers in our rush to ‘get your body back’ once we’ve given birth.

However, there’s a lot of uncertainty out there among new mums about what a safe level of exertion and the best type of exercise is in the early weeks and months of motherhood. To add to that, health professionals don’t have a lot of research to rely on when advising their clients. And what the books and DVDs don’t tell you is that from the small amount of research out there, the strongest predictor of weight loss after having a baby is how much weight you gain during pregnancy.

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It makes sense – the more weight you gain, the longer it takes to lose. So getting back to exercise and a healthy, fit body after you’ve had your baby is going to need to be tailored to your particular situation. If you’ve gained a lot of weight during your pregnancy, you’ll need to allow yourself more time to lose it. If you’ve had a rough time during your baby’s birth, you’ll need a longer recovery time and if your baby isn’t a sleeper, you’ll also need more time before your body will feel ready for exercise. On the other hand, if things are going pretty smoothly, you might be dying to get out and get going! 

Probably one of the most sensible suggestions I’ve read is to match your exercise to the postnatal stage you’re at. We traditionally have looked at exercise as a way to move you more quickly to the next stage. But why not work with your body, rather than seeing it as something that needs to be ‘whipped’ into shape, ‘sculpted’ or sent to bootcamp! After all, no matter how many sit-ups you do, your womb isn’t going to get smaller any faster. It’s not going to make our hormones get back to their pre-pregnancy state any more quickly.

poSTNATAL AFFIMATION 7You wouldn’t be heading to the gym to do a kettlebell workout and whip your body into shape 6 weeks before your baby is born, so why would you be doing that afterwards? After all the process of making a baby is now being slowly reversed. Most experts will tell you that it takes a year for your body to completely return to its pre-pregnancy state and we know that tissue healing can continue for longer – up to two years.   Have you heard of the ‘fourth trimester’? It’s the idea that the first three months of life are an extension of life in the womb for your baby, as they get used to being ‘on the outside’. But it’s also different for you, and for your body.

It’s important to exercise but working with your body is key.   During this stage you’re likely to be sleep deprived and aches and pains are common due to the huge hormonal shifts happening in your body. Your pelvic floor is also ‘resuming normal service’ but you may find that it takes a little while. The best type of exercise during this ‘healing’ phase is gentle stretching. As any athlete will tell you, attempting any strengthening or very vigorous exercise or pushing yourself really hard while you’re healing (and possibly low on sleep) is likely to be counter-productive and leave you even more exhausted and sore.

post natal affirmation 4I always recommend yoga or a good post natal pilates class led by an instructor who is knowledgeable about post natal exercise. It gently brings your muscles and joints through their whole range during a class and promotes blood flow to any area that’s still healing or just stiff.   And of course it very importantly brings balance, most classes finishing with breathing exercises and a blissful relaxation session. Breathing exercises are an essential part of a post natal exercise programme. Your diaphragm is the unsung hero in your ‘core’ but so often overlooked in favour of the headline-grabbers – the abdominals and pelvic floor muscles. Even with a strong pelvic floor, without the best possible co-ordination with your diaphragm, you can run into bladder problems.

So for the fourth trimester, aim to get yourself loosened up, stretched out and breathing freely. Practice abdominal breathing daily. And if you want to bring baby to your class, parent and baby yoga is loads of fun with all the benefits of postnatal yoga and pilates and the added benefits for your baby. Remember those affirmations you practiced during your pregnancy? Make new ones! They can be invaluable to armour you against the pressure all new mums feel from those around us and from ourselves.

Lastly, and most importantly, ensure you balance your exercise with regular relaxation or meditation; looking after yourself means looking after everyone else so much better. Don’t forget – to your baby you’re wonderful, you’re the most important person in his life and no matter how much you weigh, how fit you are, whether you’re a size 10 or a size 16 or anywhere in between, above or below – to him you are perfect.

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