Exercising post birth will help you to return to your pre-pregnancy shape and boost your energy levels. Pre and post-natal fitness trainer Stephanie Sinnott offers up the following workout advice for new mums.
You might be thinking about getting back into an exercise routine, or it might be the furthest thing from your mind, but when you do, you want to make sure it’s safe.
I gave birth to my second child in October 2014. All of these tips that I outline here are coming from years of teaching pre and postnatal fitness classes, learning and researching constantly, and from my own experiences with exercise and training after two babies.
Always consult with your hospital physiotherapist or your GP at your six-week check up. You should try to attend post-natal exercise classes in your hospital. There, you will be shown safe exercises to do in those first post-natal weeks. Once you have been doing these exercises regularly, you can then move on to further exercise routines about six weeks after the birth.
Invest in a good sports bra, and get measured for it. If you are breastfeeding, wear a nursing bra, with a sports bra over it, while you are working out. The hormone relaxin is present for up to 12 weeks after birth, and will continue to be present when breastfeeding – this is the hormone, which literally relaxes your joints, ligaments and muscles, and makes it very easy to pull a muscle. So when you are stretching after your workout, (not before), make sure you only do light stretches.
We’ve all heard of the many benefits of exercise, and there are specific advantages for new mothers;
- Improves your physical and mental wellbeing – exercise releases ‘happy hormones’, which helps combat baby blues, and can help a lot with postnatal depression.
- Helps you to lose excess weight – you will feel better about yourself when you see a small difference in your weight each week.
- Improves your fitness and strength levels – it helps with the physical demands of looking after a new baby.
- Restores your muscle strength – your arms become strong, which is needed when carrying car seats, buggies, baby bags and even shopping bags.
- Strengthens your abdominals and core – helps to ease back pain.
- Improves your posture.
- You will get the opportunity to socialise with like-minded mothers in a postnatal exercise class.
When you’ve had a bad night with a baby who wakes up every hour, you will be exhausted yourself. The good news is that exercise gives you energy. There were so many times I just wanted to lie on the couch, and do nothing, and I did, but there were many times I went for a walk, did a small workout at home, or went to a postnatal exercise class, and I felt much better and more productive afterwards.
Good post-natal workouts
1. Walk: First of all, get out walking with that buggy! It’s easy, it’s free and it’s well worth spending an hour in your local park. Look up a mother and baby-walking group, or recruit your friends to go along with you.
2. Join a post-natal fitness class: Some postnatal exercise classes allow you to bring your baby along with you.
3. Do a home workout: Or, close your curtains and get sweaty in your front room. When your little one has nodded off, or is happily playing on a mat, give yourself 20 minutes to get fit and strong. Always listen to your body and ease yourself back into fitness, working at your own pace.
If you’re breastfeeding, feed your baby or express before you exercise. Moving about with full breasts can be uncomfortable. A sports bra over your nursing bra will give you extra support.
How to exercise safely
According to Liz Barry, Deputy Physiotherapy Manager, Physiotherapy Department in Cork University Maternity Hospital, women should take the following precautions for post-natal exercise:
- Exercise should always be undertaken gradually.
- Walking is the best exercise to start with. You can start as soon as you feel able. To begin with go at a nice gentle pace for 5-10 minutes. Gradually progress at a pace that suits you. Always remember to walk tall and draw in your lower tummy.
- If doing weight training start with just your own body weight or very light weights from 8-10 weeks. Gradually increase as you are able. Avoid heavy weights for about five to six months.
- Wear a supportive bra. It is essential that you wear a properly fitted sports bra when exercising especially if you are breastfeeding.
- Avoid high impact exercise e.g. running, jumping, contact sports, aerobics classes for 12 weeks post delivery. This is to allow time for your abdominal and pelvic floor muscles to recover.
- Low impact activities such as swimming or cycling can be resumed once your stitches have healed and you can sit comfortably – this is usually after your 6 -week check-up with your GP.
- Strengthen your core. Start working on the core muscles as they need to be strengthened after the pregnancy. Keep working on the pelvic floor muscles. Go to page 59 to find out how to exercise your pelvic floor muscle.
- Make sure that you warm up gently, cool down and stretch gently after exercise.
- Support your feet. It is important to wear properly fitting shoes as sometimes your feet might have grown during pregnancy.
- Make sure that you stay well hydrated – drink plenty of water throughout the day.
- Watch out for these warning signs; breathlessness, dizziness and nausea. These are signs that the body is overstressed during cardio. If any of these happen during exercise, stop immediately and wait a sufficient period until you have enough strength.
According to Margaret Mason, Physiotherapy Manager at the Coombe Women and Infants University Hospital, it is vital that new mums make sure their bodies have healed up properly before undertaking any type of exercise. “It is essential that the uterus has retracted into the pelvis, the bleeding and discharge has ceased and that the stitches have healed before resuming any exercise routine.” Margaret also stresses the importance of listening to your body, “Be aware that you will be suffering from fatigue with a new baby. Have patience and do what you can. You will have more energy some days and less on other days.”
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