Fitness after giving birth

Whether you were a gym bunny before birth or you’re just thinking about improving your levels of fitness having had a baby, there’s a good chance you’ll want to know how best to start a fitness regime now you’re a mum.

Once baby’s arrived, you’ll probably be relieved to discover you shouldn’t do any exercise for the first six weeks. You are likely to get the green light from your GP at the six-week check, unless you’ve had a Caesarean, when it’s more likely to be eight to 10 weeks before you get the all-clear. Even if the scar is healed on the outside, it has to heal on the inside too, pregnancy and postnatal fitness expert Joanna Helcke explains.

“One of the common misconceptions is that if you had a C-section the pelvic floor is OK but that’s not the case because it still had to ‘hold up’ the baby throughout the nine months of your pregnancy,” she says. “Everybody, regardless of the method of birth they had, should do pelvic floor exercises.”

“For people who had stitches or episiotomies or C-sections the squeezing and releasing will help with the flow of blood and that helps with healing.”

Vicky Warr, a fitness expert who founded the Beez Kneez and consults for Mothercare, also recommends pelvic tilts, where you tuck the pelvis under and release while standing; drawing your belly button in while walking, to work on your pelvic floor; and doing the clam – lying on one side with your legs bent and closing the top knee.

“It’s not going to cause any harm,” she says.

Take it easy for the first six months

Baby might have arrived but that does not mean things can get back to normal straightaway. Even if your doctor has said you can return to exercising, you should be cautious for the first six months. During pregnancy, levels of the hormone relaxin are higher in your body, and the effects of this hormone remain in the body post-pregnancy, despite the fact that relaxin levels will have returned to normal. Relaxin does exactly what it says: it relaxes the ligaments and joints, making you more vulnerable to damaging your joints or back.

“For those six months it is inadvisable to go back to high impact exercise because of the pressure you’ll be putting on your joints and your pelvic floor,” explains Joanna. “You need to be a lot more careful in terms of technique to prevent back ache and knee pain.

“Cut out the impact and really focus on technique. Abdominal work has to be completely reviewed postnatally and you shouldn’t be doing the usual fare that’s served up to you. It really does have to be targeted because otherwise you can stop the abs from knitting back together.”

Vicky advises that any woman thinking of returning to exercise should first do a rec test to find out how far apart their abdominal muscles have separated.

“If you can get two or more fingers in you want to completely avoid any abdominal crunches,” she says, recommending rolling out of bed or off the floor, rather than pulling yourself up with your stomach muscles.

Her advice is to lay off abdominal exercises until the space between the muscles diminishes; until then while you’re working on getting your core stability back, you can do the “Superman” move (on all fours, take it in turns to raise opposite arms and legs).

“Swimming is great,” she adds.” It’s a little harder to do if you’ve just had a baby, but it’s great cardiovascular exercise.”

Once the space between your muscles has shrunk to about 1.5 fingers, you can start to do more and progress to work with a fit ball to do core conditioning work.

Find a specialist

If you’re keen to get exercising in your little one’s first few months, then it’s recommended you find a specialist postnatal Pilates class where exercises will be appropriate for the strain your body’s been under and the instructor will know how to work with you. Joanna advises women looking for an instructor try the Guild of Pregnancy and Postnatal Instructors.

She also suggests women stay away from dance-based fitness classes during the first few months after giving birth as they involve twisting movements which could ‘tweak’ your back.

Swimming is great cardiovascular exercise.

Vicky also recommended finding a Pilates class where you can focus on your core and advises telling the instructor you have recently had a baby so they can adapt exercises. “Steer clear of any general bootcamps – there are a lot of postnatal classes out there,” she says. “You need to be careful that you’re not going to just run around.

“There’s a lot going on with your body. If you get really out of breath you’re doing too much.

“If someone’s going to get a personal trainer then make sure they’re postnatal trained, as if they’re not it could do more harm than good, like if they give you lots of abdominal crunches.”

Get out into the fresh air

“One of the best things you can start off by doing is putting your baby in the pram and going for a walk,” says Joanna. “It’s free, it’s good psychologically to be outside and is particularly beneficial for postnatal depression and the baby blues. I do firmly believe that to get out and meet others is important psychologically.”

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