A mummy’s lifestyle changes dramatically with a newborn. One of the challenges for new mothers returning to exercise after giving birth is knowing “how much is too much”. During pregnancy and after birth, our bodies change dramatically in a short time. Add to that the new demands of motherhood and we have a lot to navigate in what can seem like a whirlwind of change. Knowing the general progression of exercise, what postpartum exercise programmes are safe, what exercises to avoid and the warning signs of when you may be overdoing it is helpful.
Here are some need-to-know facts about postpartum exercise:
- Talk to your doctor first
Talking to your doctor is a key first step towards achieving your postpartum exercise goals. They may give you the go-ahead right away, or suggest that you wait a few weeks before you resume exercise. Some may even recommend waiting until after your six-week checkup. Sure you may feel ready to go, but listen to your doctor’s advice.
We suggest you talk to your doctor before leaving the hospital after giving birth. Just ask them what kind of physical activity they recommend. If you have something specific in mind, like running or yoga, bring it up and see what they say. That way, you’ll know exactly what you can and cannot do when you get home.
- Start slow and listen to your body
Your body has just been through a lot. The muscles in your hips, thighs and belly have been put to the test. Your breasts are bigger and put more stress on your back, and you’re probably carrying more weight than you were before you got pregnant.
Give your body time to recover before starting any exercise programme to avoid the risk of unnecessary injury. We recommend starting with activities like walking, light calisthenics and stretching. They may not seem like much right now, but consider this as testing the water. You need to see what you can and can’t do with your new body.
Try a 15-minute walk with your baby, perform some body-weight squats (sitting down and standing up from a chair repeatedly works well to start) or put together a light yoga routine.
When you know you can do short, light activities comfortably and without pain, gradually build up the duration and intensity. Just remember, starting out small and slow and building from there is much better than pushing too hard, injuring yourself and having to wait an additional six months to a year.
Don’t beat yourself up. Instead, focus on doing what you can.
- Practice pelvic floor exercises
Doing pelvic floor exercises (also called Kegels) doesn’t take the place of cardio activities like walking but is important for your post-baby body.
Kegel pelvic floor exercises—or repeated, voluntary contracting of the pelvic floor muscles—can promote healing and proper blood flow to the pelvic floor region following delivery. Furthermore, you’ll slowly strengthen your pelvic floor, which helps avoid urine leakage and pelvic organ prolapse like bladder prolapse. Your doctor or a physical therapist can help you learn how to do Kegels and make sure you’re doing them correctly.
- Eat Well
This tip isn’t directly related to lacing up and hitting the road or getting your yoga on. But right now your body is doing some major healing. Hence, nutrition certainly plays a big part in helping you feel good and lose postpartum weight. Eating healthily and exercising go hand in hand, so don’t focus on one and neglect the other!
Remember, the postpartum period is a time to be kind to yourself and ease back into exercise. Each time you work out, make it a point to check in with your body and ask yourself these questions:
- How do I feel?
- Does anything hurt?
- Does this workout make me feel energised or ready for a nap?
If possible, take a few notes after each workout, at least in the early stages of postnatal exercise. That way, you can see any patterns or areas of concern that you may need to share with your doctor.
Some red flags to be aware of during this time include:
- vaginal bleeding
- abdominal pain
- sudden discomfort in your pelvic region
If exercise is causing you pain or bleeding, talk with your doctor right away. In addition to an office visit, they may recommend modifications such as decreasing the intensity and duration of the activity.