Updated: Mar 12, 2020
After having a baby, chances are you're keen to start increasing your activity levels and start some form of exercise, especially if you were active before and during your pregnancy. But where to start? The internet is awash with conflicting information on exercise in the postpartum period and there's certainly no 'one size fits all' rule when it comes to what exercises we should be doing and when we should start doing it.
One of the reasons I started Crèche Fit was to provide mums with an abundance of support and guidance in order to exercise safely and effectively postpartum. I wanted to offer more than just a place to workout with their baby. My mission was to teach mums how to exercise - not just tell them what to do - and give them the confidence to do go it alone.
Often new mums are guilty of not appreciating the time it takes to rest, recover and repair after birth - whether that's a vaginal, assisted or c-section delivery. Returning to exercise - or the wrong type of exercise - can be detrimental to your recovery during a period of vulnerability both physically and mentally.
The simple facts are these: most women can return to regular exercise as soon as they feel ready. But the type and level of intensity is key here. Exercising too hard and too soon after pregnancy and birth can lead to issues such as stress incontinence, pelvic organ prolapse, hernias, back injuries, damaged joints and compromised cores. Also - not receiving the proper checks before commencing exercise can set you back in the long term. For example - doing tonnes of sit ups and crunches to 'burn that post-baby belly fat' when your stomach muscles have split can actually push you backwards in terms of recovery rather than forwards.
To help you get started on your postnatal exercise journey, here is a list of standard do's and don'ts when it comes to training:
Start pelvic floor exercises as soon as you can after birth to help the healing process. If you have any separation of the tummy muscles (diastasis recti) - which is common in around 60% of pregnancies - working the deep abdominal muscles will help close the gap, increase strength and stabilise the pelvis. Restoring the core is so more than just kegels!! All our Crèche Fit classes incorporate effective exercises to help with restoring your core and we run through a comprehensive core restore home programme every 8 weeks.
Wait until your 6 week post-birth GP sign off before returning to any form of higher intensity exercise (other than the above mentioned pelvic floor work and light exercise such as brisk walking, swimming etc). Make sure you ask them to check for any Diastasis Recti as often this is not offered as standard (but should be!!). If you had a c-section, you need to wait 10-12 weeks post birth before commencing an exercise programme. Your body has effectively been through major surgery and needs longer to recover.
Drink plenty of water. We should be aiming for 2-3 litres per day anyway (for optimal cellular function; for replacing lost fluids through breastfeeding to name just a couple) but don't underestimate the power of water for healing, especially if you have a Diastasis! The abdominal wall consists of primarily collagen which is made up of 70% water so good hydration is ESSENTIAL when trying to heal your Diastasis.
It may sound obvious but when you are ready to start some exercise - check your shoe size!! Often our feet go up a size when pregnant so check that those pre-baby trainers gathering dust at the back of your cupboard still fit to give your body the support it needs.
Exercise at a good intensity. For exercise to be effective - whatever your goal - this is key. An analogy I like to use to gauge your intensity levels is to use a scale of 1-10. 1 = sat on the sofa watching TV (no exertion). 10 = a madman is chasing you down the street and you are trying to get away (max exertion)!! You want to aim for an intensity level of 6-7 (conversational pace) for 3 x week, 20-30 mins at a time to start. And you don't have to be jumping up and down to achieve this! At our Crèche Fit classes, we will show you a variety of ways to get your heart rate up safely.
Incorporate a mix of strength training into your workouts. Think bodyweight, light weights, resistance machines etc. This is vital for improving muscle and bone density, supporting your joints and improving your metabolism to turn your body into a fat burning machine! Think about how often you are picking up and carrying your little one around? As they get bigger, you'll be thankful for lifting those weights early on!
Ultimately - listen to your body. If something doesn't feel right, STOP. As I mentioned at the start, there is no 'one size fits all' rule when it comes to exercise. Seek the guidance of a specialist pre- and postnatal Personal Trainer or attend a postnatal exercise class - one particular class springs to mind :) - where the instructors understand the postnatal body and will make sure you're starting off on the right track.
Avoid ANY form of sit-ups or crunches if you have a Diastasis as this will only make this worse and can easily undo any specific pelvic floor and core restore work you are doing to fix it. Those sort of movements only work on putting the already damaged muscles under huge strain, causing the tummy to bulge or 'dome'. Think about what you do on a daily basis also: roll onto your side when getting out of bed; squatting rather than bending forward to pick your little one up off the floor; keeping an upright posture when sitting or standing. All these small changes can make a big difference to your healing.
Leaking is not normal!! It's common, yes but you shouldn't have to live with it. If you find you're leaking urine when exercising (especially high impact exercise such as jumping, skipping, running) then work to fix the problem with corrective exercise, not live with it (and waste money on those 'special' pants)! Work through a specific 'Core Restore' corrective programme to start (we at Crèche Fit have a simple home programme you can follow) or see a physio who specialises in female health for a full 'Mummy MOT' (we work with some great local physios who we can put you in touch with).
Don't sack off a workout if you're tired. Light exercise - even just getting outside for some fresh air and sunshine will help boost serotonin levels (the mood boosting hormone), increase your energy levels and promote better sleep. Trust me - I know first-hand how tiring motherhood can be but keeping active helped keep me sane! Plus it's great for your little one to see mummy keeping fit and healthy and promotes good habits from a very early age. And you only ever regret the workout you DIDN'T do - not the one you DID!
Don't try and start off where you left off; your body has changed and you may need to start with modified or different exercises early in the postnatal period.
Don't put yourself under unnecessary pressure to get back to the size you were before you got pregnant. Instead, choose a balanced approach which focuses on safe and effective exercises and good nutrition. Set yourself small goals and make small changes each week to your food and exercise habits. They all add up. And remember: it's all about balance. Try to eat well 80% of the time and relax and have what you want 20% of the time. Never deprive yourself of anything. It'll only feel like a diet and you will soon fall off the wagon (watch this space for a new blog post focussing on diet and nutrition shortly).
So there you go. Hopefully this blog has provided some insight in to the do's and don'ts of exercise in the postpartum period and has kick-started your desire to do something for you (it can't all be about baby all of the time - we all need some mummy time!). If you have any questions, just ask or why not head along to your nearest Crèche Fit class for a free trial and find out more about what we are all about?
Crèche Fit Founder