So, you’ve recently had a baby and you’re thinking about losing weight? Maybe you want to get fit after having a baby? Or maybe you just feel like exercising more after pregnancy is a good idea?
Whatever your reason for exercising after having a baby, try not to put too much pressure on yourself to look a certain way or lose a certain amount of weight etc. You’ve just had a baby, that baby is going to demand a lot of your attention, and you’re going to want to spend a lot of time with your baby too!
We’ve all seen the bump to six-pack transformations of celebrities in magazines or online, often accompanied by some form of advert for a diet, exercise plan, or product being sold. But the thing to remember is that there’s a whole team of people behind that transformation: personal trainers, nutritionists, childcare providers, make-up artists, photographers, stylists, etc. Most people don’t have that luxury, so don’t put any pressure on yourself to match the speed at which these celebrities get into shape. And certainly, try not to push yourself too hard too soon.
We’ve teamed up with Pilates instructor and mum of three (soon to be four!), Alice Morgan, to give you some great exercise tips for new mums.
Alice is a certified Pilates instructor and Pre- and Post-natal specialist. She runs an online Pilates subscription platform where she uploads regular video classes for pre- and post-natal workouts as well as having a large library of mat Pilates classes too. She’s also offering a week’s free trial when you sign up. So give her a follow on Instagram @a.m.pilates to keep up to date with her Pilates videos and click the link in her bio to sign up to her Pilates membership platform.
Postnatal Exercise Tips for new mums
1. Start gently and build up gradually. Don’t just jump straight back into what you were doing pre-pregnancy. I like to approach the postnatal period as ‘rehab’. Your body has been through major changes and needs time and patience to return to full strength again. In particular, abdominal exercise should start from the basics (simple diaphragmatic breathing, see exercise 1) and gently build from there.
2. Make time for pelvic floor exercises. The pelvic floor muscles become stretched from supporting your growing baby for 9 months and they can be affected during birth too. No matter what type of birth you’ve had, building strength and mobility in these muscles again now will help to restore normal function, begin to build a strong core, and prevent issues such as incontinence and pelvic organ prolapse. I’d highly recommend downloading the NHS Squeezy app to help remind you and track your progress. If you are suffering with any pelvic symptoms such as urinary or faecal incontinence, vaginal heaviness, bulging, or painful intercourse, speak to your GP about a referral to a pelvic health physiotherapist. Although symptoms like these can be common for new mums, they are not normal and not something you should just ‘put up with’ because you’ve had a baby, there is lots that can be done to help. Symptoms such as these should also influence how you exercise to ensure you see improvement and don’t make things worse, so assessment and rehab is key.
3. Having some gentle mobility and strength work as part of your daily routine will be so beneficial and will help you feel much better in your body. Chest and shoulder stretches can help to alleviate the effects of spending lots of time feeding and cradling, and a cat stretch is a great exercise to help mobilise the entire spine (see exercise 2). Upper back strengthening will also help alleviate aches and pains caused by spending lots of time cradling (see exercise 3).
4. Strong gluteals can help to realign the pelvis post-pregnancy and help to minimise pelvic and back pain. These muscles provide support, stability, and are key for many everyday tasks like sitting, standing, walking, bending, and lifting. When your glutes aren’t firing properly, often other muscles can compensate, and pain can occur. Try exercise 4 to start to strengthen your glutes in a functional way.
5. Don’t put too much pressure on yourself to fit in a full workout several times a week. Babies, especially newborns, can be very unpredictable with very little resemblance of a routine for some time. 10 minutes here and 5 minutes there is better than nothing and don’t underestimate the benefits of getting out for a walk in the fresh air with the pram or with baby in the carrier. Start with a 5-10 minute walk and gradually progress to 30-45 minutes as the weeks go by and you feel stronger.
6. After working on the above, and when you are feeling ready to step up your activity levels, whether you are taking part in online or in person classes, make sure the instructor has specific pregnancy and postnatal qualifications. Pilates is a fantastic way to safely build up your strength postnatally. My online postnatal membership has a library full of classes ranging from 10-60 minutes long, which are suitable for whatever stage of your postnatal journey you’re at, as well as educational tutorials. For more information follow @a.m.pilates on instagram.
Here are some of the exercises mentioned above that are very beneficial in the postnatal period:
Ex 1- Diaphragmatic breathing
This is a great exercise to begin your abdominal strengthening. It focusses on the deepest layer of abdominal muscles and is a gentle way of connecting with them again after pregnancy and birth. This can be done immediately post birth as long as it doesn’t cause any discomfort and your medical professional hasn’t advised otherwise. It can be done sitting, standing, lying on your back, on your front (if comfortable), and on all fours (after 6 weeks post vaginal birth).
- Start however you are most comfortable, lengthened through your spine. Breathe in and focus your breath into the back and sides of your rib cage, allowing your belly to expand. Ensure your pelvic floor is completely relaxed, as is your belly.
- Then, as you exhale, lift inwards and upwards with your pelvic floor (imagine you are trying to hold in passing wind and wee then lift) and at the same time imagine your hip bones gently drawing closer together as you engage your deep core.
- Inhale to relax the belly and pelvic floor completely again. Repeat this 10 times.
Ex 2- Cat Stretch
A great exercise to mobilise the entire spine.
• Start on all fours with your knees under your hips and hands under your shoulders.
• Nod your chin towards your chest and imagine tucking your tail between your legs as you round your spine into an angry cat position. Feel as though you are pushing the floor away with your hands.
- Then start to lengthen out your spine as you lift your eye line to look forwards and down in front of you, feel like you’re gently pulling your shoulder blades down your back.
- Repeat 3-4 times. If you struggle to get up and down from the floor (i.e post c-section) you can do this stretch with your hands on a kitchen countertop or holding the back of a chair.
Ex 3- Mid/upper back strengthener
This exercise uses a light resistance band tied around a door handle or looped around a banister or similar. It is a great exercise to strengthen the mid-back and counteract the postural effects of feeding and carrying a baby all the time. If you don’t have a long resistance band, you could use a pair of tights instead.
- With your band fixed around chest-shoulder height (if you can only fix it lower down, you could do this kneeling instead), make sure your ribs are aligned on top of your pelvis, your feet are hip distance apart, and your knees are slightly bent.
- As you breathe out and engage your deep abdominals and pelvic floor muscles, pull on the band taking your elbows wide apart. Feel like you’re gently squeezing an orange between your shoulder blades, without letting your shoulders lift to your ears.
- As you pull the band, make sure you don’t arch your back and flare your ribs, using your abdominals to keep the rest of the body still and supported.As you breathe in, lengthen your arms, and control the pull of the band, then repeat. Try 12 repetitions.
Ex 4- Squats
The squat is a simple, functional movement that you likely perform every day without even realising, and it can be modified in so many ways to suit your needs.
- Begin with your feet hip distance apart (can be wider and laterally rotated if it’s more comfortable this way) and focus most of your weight into your heels
As you bend your knees, send your hips back and think about keeping your spine as long as possible. Keep your weight in your heels
- Try to keep your knees parallel (unless taking a wider, laterally rotated stance).
Then push the ground away through your heels as you breathe out to stand, engaging your glutes, core, and pelvic floor as you do so.
Try 8-12 of these, and if feeling good you can always add in more sets.
If you have prolapse or any pelvic floor symptoms (heaviness, leakage), you can follow the same cues doing sit to stand from a chair. Ensure you concentrate on lifting the pelvic floor as you exhale to stand.
So, there you have it – some great tips for exercising after having a baby from a professional postnatal certified Pilates instructor! With some great exercises thrown in too!
Don’t forget to give Alice a follow on Instagram – @a.m.pilates for more postnatal (as well as prenatal and mat) tips, exercises, advice, and updates.
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