Just given birth – Say hello pelvic floor
“Many mums think they should stay away from exercise for weeks after the birth,” says Rachel Berg, fitness expert and the brains behind Pushy Mothers, who’s been helping mums to get back in shape for more than 15 years. “But for most new mums, it’s fine to start thinking about gentle exercise straight away, as long as you do things right.”
Generally the first week’s about taking things easy. But as soon as you’ve given birth you can do some pelvic floor exercises – even in the delivery room!” says Rachel. “Even though it’s the last thing on your mind, reactivating the pelvic floor muscles will help promote healing and mean you can sneeze with ease!”
If you used a birthing ball, keep it inflated – sitting on it with your baby will help your posture without you realising. Gently rocking on the ball could help baby calm down and maybe even drop off to sleep? (Deflate it a little if you’re sore down below.)
Weeks 2-3 – Get walking
Walk as soon as you feel ready – but not too briskly and not for too long. It’s also great for your mental health to get out and about after a week indoors with your baby. Pop to a café with your little one, or to the local park or pond.
If you’re feeling a bit tired and dad’s on leave, get him to come with you and share the pram pushing. “In our buggy classes we always tell mums to ‘walk tall with mother’s pride’ – what we mean is ‘stand up straight!’,” says Rachel.
Less is more in the early stages after you’ve had your baby. You want to feel good and get your body back into shape but you don’t want to destroy it. Walking’s a good halfway house between nothing and jogging.
Treat yourself to some new trainers before you get back into exercise… even walking. Often your feet will have grown during pregnancy and it’s a nice treat too. Choose shoes with good arch support that don’t restrict the ankle.
Weeks 4-5 – Work those abs
“Your abdominal muscles are built in layers – to get a good look on top you need to work what’s underneath,” says Rachel. “It’s a bit like putting good underlay under new carpet. If you’re standing and sitting up straight, your abs are working. Think of lifting up and out of the waist while lightly drawing in your abdominal muscles in your daily routine. Sit-ups are not advisable until your abdominal muscles have drawn back together fully. But you can stand up straight from day one!”
If you’ve had a caesarean, don’t be afraid to do this – “Think ‘hips to handles’ – your hips should be tilted towards the buggy handles,” says Rachel. “The idea in these first few weeks is not to be thinking about getting a six-pack stomach! It’s about making sure your ab muscles deep inside are getting used to doing what they need to again. Your abs need to remember what it’s like to be pulled in.”
“I try to check on my posture little and often throughout the day – like when I’m in the supermarket queue or standing at the cooker,” said Angela Robbins, 36, from Warwick, mum to Jacob, 5 weeks.
Weeks 6-7 – Try a class
By week 6 you’re ready for your GP check up – and that means you can think about upping the ante on the exercise. We’re not talking hardcore aerobics – but again, going to a class can help your self-esteem as well as your muscles. “
Take it easy. Find a class that caters for postnatal mums, and ask the class leader if they’re trained in working with postnatal bodies. Many aren’t and that can be risky,” says Rachel. “Go to classes that are slow and controlled. Very jumpy classes are still not ok at this stage. Don’t judge on what you used to be able to do, take it gradually. Under no circumstances should you be jogging before 16 weeks after the birth!”
Pilates is great for your abs but tell the teacher that you’re postnatal. Spinning is low impact but be careful with sprinting because of your weaker ligaments.
Week 8 – Sweat, don’t jump!
“Ligaments are like scaffolding and, postnatally, they’re like soft spaghetti. So you have to be very careful with jumping and stretching, otherwise you could pull, tear and damage things irreparably,” says Rachel.
As well as joint laxity, the other risk with jumping around too soon is the risk of a vaginal prolapse that can be extremely serious. But just because you need to be careful with your healing down below and your ligaments, doesn’t mean you have to sit on the sofa for weeks on end.
“You can go back to the gym, just remember the mantra ‘sweat, don’t jump!’” says Rachel. “If you like to feel like you’ve done something, sweating can help. Try the cross trainer – get the instructors to teach you how to use it properly so you get the most out of it.”
“At my local gym I asked them which female instructors had had babies as I felt they’d understand what it’s like to go through a pregnancy. And it would make me feel less conscious of being a bit overweight and out of shape,” said Jo Wyatt, 24, from Cambridge, mum to Ellie, 3 months.
“Dads put on weight while their partners and wives are pregnant,” says Rachel Berg. “So getting into exercise together can be a great solution.” Try walking together (let him push the buggy too!), swimming together or even teaching him pelvic floor squeezes.