Pregnancy and childbirth can take a toll on your body. However, it is perfectly possible to regain your former shape and levels of fitness with a programme of post natal fitness exercises.
You will already know that exercise is important for your health before and during pregnancy. But becoming active in the postnatal period is equally as important. When you exercise after childbirth, you sleep better (when baby allows), improve your energy levels, relieve stress, and it can even help to prevent postnatal depression.
What’s more, low-impact exercise can also help you bond with your baby. According to the American College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists, you should engage in moderate intensity aerobic activity for a minimum of 150 minutes every day after childbirth. Moderate intensity activity includes any exercise which bumps the heart rate up while making you sweat. However, it’s crucial to bear in mind the fact that your body has undergone enormous transformation. Therefore, your fitness routine should be adjusted to take that into account.
Here are some useful post natal fitness tips to get you started:
Make it Personal
Every woman’s experience, when it comes to pregnancy, childbirth, and postnatal rehabilitation, is unique. Therefore, just because you see other women getting straight back to their pre-pregnancy fitness regime a minute after their baby is born, doesn’t mean you should be following suit. To know when it’s the right time for you, pay attention to your body. Allow yourself proper recovery time, and of course, the type of birth you had will greatly influence that.
If you gave birth in a straightforward, natural way without any medical interventions, you can start engaging in fitness exercises as soon as you feel ready. Some of the best exercises to start with are pelvic floor exercises, deeper core exercises, and just plain simple walking with the pram, or with your baby in a carrier. In terms of starting higher impact or higher-intensity exercises, it’s advisable that you wait until your six-week postnatal check-up to commence those.
If you gave birth by caesarean section, your body will need a little longer for recovery. Before you make any attempts to start exercising, pay keen attention to your body. Talk to your health visitor, GP, or midwife before you start engaging in anything intense. Basically, you should only engage in safe, relevant, and sensible exercises after delivery.
Talk to an Expert
Many women are aware of the importance of postnatal pelvic floor muscle exercises (also known as ‘kegels’). Unfortunately however, many of us do them incorrectly. Tensing your thighs and buttocks instead of the muscles in their pelvic floor will not do you much good, and neither will holding in your breath, or pushing down. What you need to aim for is squeezing in while you lift up. It’s really important to get these exercises right as doing them wrong can, in fact, strain and weaken the pelvic floor muscles further. Therefore, if you’re unsure of the right way to exercise the pelvic floor muscles, talk to an expert before starting.
When it comes to post natal fitness, it’s also crucial to avoid overdoing kegels. Good fitness is about more than just muscle weakness. In some cases, pelvic floor muscles can become over-tense or overactive. This means that kegel exercises can be detrimental because they can cause muscle spasms. This can lead to symptoms such as pain, difficulty emptying your bowels or bladder, and urgency in needing to urinate. Therefore, get assessed by an expert if you’re not sure on the best exercises or the right ways to engage in those exercises after childbirth.
Start with Slow, Low-Impact Activities
Start by addressing your weaker areas like the back, glutes, and core at 6 weeks after natural delivery or 8 weeks after a caesarean section. However, make sure that your physiotherapist or doctor is happy with your recovery before you start. Yoga, light weights, and post natal Pilates are ideal for these early postnatal weeks. Depending on your recovery, you can engage in low-impact cardio exercises like swimming, using cross-trainers, or a static bike.
Focus on optimising the strength and stability of your core gradually before you engage in high-impact exercises like aerobics and jogging. Do this for 3 to 4 months after delivery. However, avoid pushing through pain regardless of your stage. If you experience pain, see a professional physiotherapist to get any niggles treated before they turn into bigger issues.
Check the Tummy Gap
Tummy gap is also called diastasis recti. It occurs when there is excessive intra-abdominal loading or pressure and is not unusual during and after pregnancy. Tummy gap is characterized by a widened gap between two sections of the abdominal muscle or the six-pack. The gap measures about 2.7 cm though it can be more than this. It’s found between the two sides of the muscle covering the tummy area’s front surface. If you have a tummy gap, take time to recover before you engage in high-intensity exercise. An expert should help you with this.
Essentially, avoid completing abdominal curls or crunches if you have a tummy gap or if you suspect that you have it. If unsure, talk to a professional or your GP.
Restore Your Core Muscles
Focus on More than Your Body
The importance of exercising when it comes to restoring fitness after childbirth can’t be overemphasised. However, there are other ways of enhancing your postnatal health. Ensuring good mental health is one of the best ways of enhancing postnatal health. Therefore, take the early postnatal weeks to learn ways of enhancing your mental health such as meditation. Use baby napping and nursing times to engage in breathing exercises. Such exercises will boost your overall mental and physical health.
Check Your Diet
Your postnatal diet is also important. Researchers recommend eating a minimum of 1,800 calories of healthy, well-balanced food choices including foods rich in zinc, vitamin B6, magnesium, folate, and calcium. Additionally, keep your body hydrated to enhance the process of regaining fitness after delivery.
How you achieve your desired fitness level after childbirth will vary depending on factors like whether you were active before and during pregnancy. Some women are able to run and exercise through pregnancy. These get you back on post natal fitness track faster.
It’s however important to avoid comparing yourself with other mothers. Instead, focus on your recovery and achieving your desired fitness level. Most importantly, talk to your doctor before you start exercising after childbirth and take the journey to achieving your pre-pregnancy fitness levels slowly to ensure your safety.