Physical exercise before pregnancy, during and after can help mums better meet the demands of motherhood both physically and mentally. Regular physical activity can boost energy levels, increase self-esteem, relieve stress, improve quality of sleep and help you get back to your pre-pregnancy weight and fitness levels. Even if your life was not as healthy as you would have liked it to have been before having a baby, now is the perfect time to find a healthier you. This will help you to meet the demands of parenthood and will provide a healthier life-style in which to raise your child.
Reintroduce exercise gradually with careful consideration to your pre-pregnancy fitness levels and the amount of exercise you did whilst pregnant. Pay particular attention to your body if you have had any complications before, during or after the delivery of your baby, and seek the advice of your midwife or doctor if you have not already done so. If you have had a straight forward vaginal birth you can start pelvic tilts the following day and try some gentle neck and shoulder stretches or head circles. It is vital not to do any ‘traditional’ abdominal exercises until you have attended your 6 week check up, and your midwife or doctor has checked your abdominal muscles have returned to a normal width apart (about 2 finger widths). Walking is the best type of exercise to begin with initially, during which you can practice strengthening your pelvic floor properly whilst exercising, before progressing to other exercises. High impact activity such as running is not recommended until your spine and pelvis have been retrained and strengthened appropriately. In the majority of cases, running is unsuitable for all women who have had a baby due to the change and trauma of the pelvis. Be aware that the hormone relaxin will be present for a considerable length of time after birth so be very conscious of joint stability when exercising and only light-stretching where needed is advised.
Here are 2 exercises to encourage your abdominal muscles to come together and strengthen your deep core muscles:
1. Lie on your back with your arms at your sides, knees bent, feet resting on the floor. Inhale and exhale a few times. Don’t flatten your back or tilt your pelvis, just let the natural curve in your back remain. Breathe in slowly and deeply. Now, breathe out and tighten your tummy muscles, pulling your navel towards your spine, tilt your pelvis slightly and contract the pelvic floor upwards towards your body.
2. Lie on the floor with knees bent and arms at your side. Hold your tummy in by doing your basic breath contraction (exercise 1). Keeping one knee bent, slowly slide the opposite leg out until it is straight with the floor, and then slide it back up to bent knee position. Relax and repeat with the other leg remembering to do exercise 1 before and during the leg slide.
When your abdominal muscles are contracted it helps to stabilize your pelvis while your legs and lower tummy muscles work. This prevents strain in your back muscles, and trains your abdominal muscles to protect and support your spine. When you can comfortably do 20 legs slides on each side you are ready to move on to further progression.
Retrain and condition your entire pelvic region before returning or starting any type of physical exercise that is not tailored to post-natal needs.
Avoid attending any aerobic, weights and core classes that have more than about 8 individuals to one experienced and qualified instructor.
Drink approximately 2 litres of non-fizzy liquids each day and ensure you are eating a diet tailored to your body type, individual and medical needs.
If you would like to learn more suitable exercises, shape-up, reduce body fat and learn about post-natal nutrition depending on your individual circumstances, please feel free to join us at Prams In The Park in South Weald Park on Fridays (please book in advance). Alternatively I offer a one-to-one or two people training together, home visits or at a venue in Brentwood (limited availability). If you have any questions feel free to contact me.