Tuesday, 29 March 2016

When and how do I begin exercising after my baby is born?

One of the most common questions I receive from new moms (or those finishing their last Prenatal Fit class) is when they can return to class or regular exercise post-baby.It is important that you, as a new mom, take time to learn your new lifestyle. Whether this is your first or your fourth baby, your daily life will change and that itself is an important adjustment Allowing your body time to heal post-pregnancy and delivery is also important. No matter the length of one's labour and what kind of delivery they had, the body needs to recover. Starting slow and thinking about re-strengthening the core from the inside out is the perfect place to start.

Enjoy these moments
(image by Roughley Originals)

I know it can be difficult to "take it easy" physically when you're used to exercising regularly, but also so important after a major physical event, like childbirth! This is especially important if you have an assisted delivery (vacuum or forceps) or a caesarean birth. Your body is also adjusting in so many ways both hormonally and physically. That being said, you can safely start incorporating a little more activity as you feel your body is ready. As a general rule, we are told to wait six weeks after giving birth before physical exerting our bodies. This is typically when we have a follow-up appointment with our healthcare provider and they are able to assess if our bodies are ready. I 100% support this and recommend it! That being said, there are little things we can do to move our bodies in the right ways that are beneficial. If you ever have any concerns though or something just does not "feel right", you should stop and see you healthcare provider. 
Fresh air is great for you & baby!

After you are feeling semi-normal in your post-birth body, try walking! Start with a little and see how you feel the next day. If you feel great, add 3-5 minutes of walking. If you are feeling more tired, experience increased bleeding, or incision pain, take that day off and try again the next day. If your body is responding well, you can increase the pace and/or duration of your walks, but try to only do one of these per day. In another two weeks (i.e. at the four week postpartum mark), if you are feeling the "need", you could try some gentle arm exercises (i.e. biceps curls, triceps extensions), but be sure to not strain your core. Those muscles will still be healing. If at the five week postpartum mark, the walking and arm exercises are feeling good, you could add some lower body work (i.e. unweighted squats and lunges), but again be very cautious of your low and deep core throughout your movements. The more active you were prior to and during your pregnancy, likely the quicker your body will recover. However, everyone is different and you must listen to your body and respect what it is telling you!

Another thing you can start almost immediately, as in the days after you are home from the hospital, is pelvic floor work and deep belly breathing. You should be doing your pelvic floor exercises (aka kegels) every day. Every. Day. Promise? Even if you did not push and had a caesarean birth, you had extra weight on the band of muscle that attaches from the front of your pelvis to the back like a hammock. It becomes stretched with months of added weight and pressure. To ensure you are doing these correctly, sit comfortably. Place one hand of your belly and one hand on your butt. Do a few kegels. Did you feel underneath either hand contract? If so, you are doing them wrong! You should not feel any glute or abdominal engagement with kegels. Practice!

Belly breathing! This is a great way to begin to engage through your deep core before your superficial core muscles are ready. We are going to regain strength and tone from the inside out. Sit comfortably, probably cross-legged or on your knees. Place both hands on your belly. Inhale and allow your belly to expand, don't force it, but allow it to relax. Exhale with more force and with control, bring your entire belly back towards your spine and pull in. Repeat the inhale, Repeat the exhale. Start with five repetitions and increase as it feels right. 

Once you have been cleared by your healthcare provider, begin to incorporate exercise into your routine every few days, or a few times per week. Focus on full body exercises and continue to listen to your body by assessing how it feels the day after your workout. Attending a postpartum-specific exercise class is a great way to learn what moves are appropriate and also what moves you can incorporate baby into! 

As for continuing to retrain your core, after being cleared by your doctor or midwife, static core exercises while continuing to practice your pelvic floor and deep core activation are best! Side plank and bridges are great exercises. Also, balancing exercises, such as one-legged squats and pendulum lunges work your deep core from a standing position and therefore not putting addition pressure on your superficial abdominals (rectus abdominis). In the coming months, your core will feel stronger and you will slowly be able to add more movement to your abdominal and low back exercises. 

Let them be your reason, not your excuse

Congratulations on the birth of your sweet baby and continue to enjoy each moment of this adventure!


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