This blog is bought to you by Caren VanGastel from Empower Me Fitness & Consulting.
Congratulations you now have a beautiful baby and are ready to exercise. You have been given the all clear at 6-8 weeks from your midwife/doctor to begin exercising again but what does this actually mean? It will mean different things for different people so it’s important not to compare yourself to others but listen to your body and get some professional guidance about the right thing for you.
This blog is about how to safely exercise during the postpartum period to maximise the benefits for you but minimise the risks of long term issues. This is not about how to get back to your pre-pregnancy body in 6 weeks. I know the celebrity culture will have you believe that this is possible but for the vast majority of women, all you will be doing is increasing the risk of some pretty uncomfortable issues. You don’t see these celebrities talking about how they now pee when they cough/sneeze/laugh or what it feels like to have your pelvic organs hanging out your vagina (yes this is a thing!) but this is a reality for a lot of women after giving birth and it is more common than you think. Now not everyone will experience these things and I don’t want to scare you into not exercising but understand that just because they are common it does not mean it is normal. I believe a greater education is the key to prevention and a safe and injury free body. My aim is to educate women on the possible risks of postnatal exercise and the appropriate exercises to do to recover properly so you feel strong, energised and confident.
Your body is amazing and has spent the last 9 months going through many changes to grow and birth a baby. Now is the time to look after it, love it more than you ever have and give it time to heal properly. This means shifting focus from what it looks like to what it is capable of as well as shifting your ideas of what a ‘workout’ is. See ‘movement’ as your friend and understand that ANY exercise (or movement) is better than NO exercise at all. Even now (2 years after the birth of my youngest) my workouts are sometimes only 5 minutes long and my cardio is often 10 minutes dancing around the kitchen with my favourite tunes on whilst emptying the dishwasher!
As I alluded to above, there are several things to consider when exercising after having a baby. These include:
The type of birth and your recovery: Everyone’s experience is different and some may take longer to heal than others. C-section recovery is typically longer than a natural birth.
Pelvic floor weakness: whether you had a vaginal birth or c-section, the added weight of baby during pregnancy can cause weakness of the pelvic floor muscles. Vaginal birth can also cause damage to the pelvic floor and associated weakness. Weakened pelvic floor muscles can lead to incontinence and pelvic organ prolapse.
Abdominal separation (diastasis recti): all women experience some degree of abdominal separation during pregnancy. This weakens your bodies ability to efficiently support you through movement and can cause pain.
Sleep: sleep deprivation is tough and trying to exercise whilst not getting enough sleep can also increase the risk of injury.
This list might have you thinking, wow, maybe exercise isn’t a good idea, but don’t! Exercise is good for you; you just have to be smart about ensuring you are doing the right thing for your body. The many benefits include:
Improve mood, relieve stress and decrease incidence of postnatal depression
Improve energy levels
Improve cardiovascular fitness and strength, improving your ability to perform daily tasks.
Assist with recovery from pregnancy/birth
Build habits to become a great role model for your baby/children as they grow
Meet other like-minded mums
My mantra for mums is “A little progress each day adds up to big results”. You may not be able to get to the gym or go for a long walk, but if you think outside the box there are many ways you can add more movement to your busy mum life and be a more active mum. Exercises such as walking and light strength training are ideal, with many exercises easy to do at home without equipment. You should also include safe core exercises into your exercise routine as these will compliment your other exercises and can also reduce any painful areas (such as back pain caused from breastfeeding or carrying baby).
To ensure you give yourself the best chance to make exercise a habit, ‘schedule’ your exercise time just like an appointment and if you do miss one, don’t wait until ‘next week’ to start again, start again straight away. Start off with short bouts of gentle exercise and gradually increase your intensity and duration.
Exercises to avoid include high impact exercises such as running and jumping, heavy weight training and traditional abdominal exercises (such as planks and sit up) as these all place extra pressure on a weakened supporting core system. There are plenty of safe core exercises and lots of ways to move and become more active without increasing your risk of injury.
All my classes and programs are designed specifically for mums, to teach you exercises and strategies to enable you to reach your fitness goals whilst juggling the many other priorities of motherhood.
Check out my demonstration at this year's Baby & Child Show at 12.30 pm or have a go at my workshop at 2.30pm to learn some of these exercises and strategies! See you there!