10 Oct Best post-partum exercises for new mums
If you’re thinking about getting back into exercise after pregnancy then you need to be cautious. Some parts of your body, especially your core muscles, may need specific consideration following childbirth.
During pregnancy, your muscles, joints and bones take obvious extra strain, but your body also produces different mixes of hormones that affect how you can exercise.
Pregnancy and childbirth aren’t illnesses or injuries, but your body will have gone through a number of changes to support the pregnancy. Exercise is important but needs to take account of these changes.
Why you need to be careful with post-partum exercise
You may want to get straight back into exercising after pregnancy and it is recommended. You do need to be aware of the two key ways in which your body will have changed.
First of all, a pair of essential core muscles called the rectus abdominis often separate during pregnancy. These and other abdominal muscles also get longer and weaker, so working them too hard, too early can cause serious injury.
Second, during pregnancy your body produces a group of hormones called relaxin, which helps your ligaments to become stretchier. On top of this, breastfeeding mothers produce prolactin, which can have a similar effect.
These hormones reduce the stability of your joints, so you need to be careful to avoid injuries, especially in your back.
Why you should exercise as a new mum
Exercising sensibly and effectively can have huge benefits for a new mother.
Restoring muscle tone, especially in the core and pelvis, helps your overall health and fitness. In particular, pelvic floor exercises can improve bladder control and reduce the risk of abdominal injury.
An often-under-rated benefit of post-partum exercise is in reducing the risk and impact of post-natal depression. Research has found evidence that exercise reduces the reported symptoms of this serious mental health issue.
Focus on your pelvis in the first six weeks
In the first few days after the end of your pregnancy, give yourself a break. Your body needs to recover, just like it needs to recover from any tough workout.
For the first six weeks focus on building pelvic floor exercises into your day. The pelvic floor is a complex layer of muscles at the base of the pelvis, controlling and releasing your bladder and your bowel.
- Abdominal bracing is a versatile, valuable exercise soon after pregnancy. Lie back flat and brace your abdomen as if you’re about to be hit in the stomach, then hold it for up to 10 seconds. Relax and repeat this up to 10 times.
- Pelvic tilts are done on all fours with your back straight. Breathe in while pushing your buttocks forward and tilting your pelvis towards the floor. Hold for three seconds then rest and repeat for a set of 10.
- Deep breathing contractions are done sitting up straight. Breathe in deeply and squeeze your tummy muscles, then relax as you breathe out again.
- Gentle swimming is also a good option because it is easy on the joints and will help your cardiovascular fitness.
Exercising from six weeks after the end of your pregnancy
Once you get to six weeks then you can speak to your doctor and get their go-ahead before you ramp up the intensity of your exercise.
At this point you can think about exercises such as walking, cycling, lifting fairly light weights, and class exercises like Zumba. Aim to slowly build up your cardiovascular fitness, as well as strength and balance.
Core strength and balance
If you’ve been doing pelvic floor exercises for the first six weeks, then you should now be able to start doing more.
- Planks are a brilliant, versatile exercise at this point, because they build strength quickly, but you have a lot of control. Start with a simple plank, then vary the position to develop different muscles within your core.
- Yoga is a great, and many yoga teachers offer dedicated post-natal classes.
Once aspect of your health which can really take a hit during pregnancy is your cardiovascular fitness. Running, cycling and the rowing machine need to be approached very carefully while you are still building core strength, especially as your joints and back may be less stable.
- Swimming is an excellent option once you’re active, because the water supports your body weight and doesn’t demand too much of your joints.
- Walking gets you out and about, and you can vary your speed and route before you move up to running. Walking with a pram adds to your load, which can be helpful.
- There are many other tricks to building light exercise into your day which you can develop into a post-partum exercise regime.
Getting back into exercise after the end of your pregnancy can be difficult, especially if you have had complications. The demands of looking after a new baby may also be tough, including disturbed sleep and mental health challenges. Walking out everyday with your baby is a sensible way to start exercising in the early days.
Talk to a reputable personal trainer if you need advice and keep your goals realistic. Exercise should be an important part of your post-partum lifestyle, as it can help you to live a happier and healthier life.