Bouncing Back After A (Baby) Bump
"Growing a human is no mean feat. Our bodies really goes through the mill with 40 weeks of sickness, tiredness, aches, pains, swollen ankles, knees and feet, weight gain, endless trips to the loo, and worst of all, we can’t even have a glass of wine to get through it!
Labour isn't exactly a walk in the park either... and then there's the recovery to contend with. It doesn’t help that as you scroll through social media during that 4am feed, you’re hit with constant images of fit bodies and celebrity mums who’ve bounced back into shape within a month, the same month that you’ve barely lifted your head from the constant cluster feeding. But remember that is the virtual world, and you’re in the real world. Most importantly, you are in your world, and every mother and every baby is different. Just like every pregnancy is different, every birth is different, and every post natal recovery is too.
Take it slowly
A gradual return to exercise is key to ensuring you don’t cause any lasting problems. Current advice is to wait 6 weeks if you’ve had a natural birth or 10 weeks if you’ve had a Caesarean before returning to exercise. If you’re getting itchy feet or starting to go stir crazy, there’s no reason you can’t go for gentle walks. Just listen to your body and talk to your midwife, health visitor or GP, and if you’re feeling any pain, particularly pain or pressure in the hips or pelvis then stop and wait a little longer.
Mind the gap
As tempting as it may be to start knocking out the crunches and sit ups to flatten that tummy, check for diastasis recti (abdominal separation). This is easily done by lying on your back with knees bent up and feet flat on the floor. Lay in a position that leaves your spine in a neutral position. Relax the abdomen and place two fingers of one hand sideways across the abdomen around the area of your naval, gently applying pressure. Take a gentle breath in, and as you exhale draw naval to spine, slowly raising the head and shoulders off the floor. Feel deep with your fingers and you will feel the two sides of your rectus abdominus (the most superficial abdominal muscles or the ones you may think of as the six pack muscles). If the gap between the two sides of the rectus abdominus is more than two fingers wide, or you see a doming effect when you do this or try to sit up from a lying position, then you need to avoid anything involving sit ups or crunches and work on the deeper abdominal muscles (transverse abdominus) before taking part in any large group classes. A physiotherapist or pre and post natal exercise specialist can advise on the best exercises to help with healing and those to avoid which can slow down the healing process. If you're unsure on any of this, then talk to your midwife, health visitor or GP.
Fun and functional
Find exercise that you enjoy, and think about exercise that is functional and replicates the way you move throughout the day. Weight training is great for this as you can start by using body weight only, before gradually increasing load as you get fitter and stronger. Think about the way your body moves throughout the day and choose exercises that mirror this. For example, working on correct technique for deadlifts will strengthen the muscles in your back and legs which you use when picking your baby up from their cot, squatting replicates standing up from a seated position, lunging is something you’ll get used to as you’re picking up toys from the floor as your baby becomes a toddler, and as you play with your baby and dance with them in the air, it isn’t dissimilar to pressing a dumbbell in the air.
Relaxin is a hormone which the body produces in larger amounts during pregnancy to widen the pelvis ready for delivery. Unfortunately it also reduces stability in other joints and increases the risk of injury when exercising. The effects of relaxin can still be present up to 6 months after delivery which is why it is important take your time to gradually increase load with weight and avoid excessive weight bearing activities in the early stages, particularly if breast feeding.
Impact or intensity
In the early days it is important to avoid high impact exercises such as jumping or skipping to avoid pressure on the weakened pelvic floor and whilst the effects of relaxin are still present. If you’re breastfeeding, you don’t need me to tell you that jumping up and down isn’t the best choice right now. This doesn’t mean to say you can’t increase the intensity by speeding up an exercise or gradually increasing the load. Swimming is great for this as you can increase the speed you swim at with little risk to your joints.
Sounds easy doesn’t it, but correct breathing through exercises can be crucial in preventing pelvic floor dysfunction. This is a good reason to choose exercise classes or personal training with a post natal specialist or physiotherapist, particularly in the early stages. They will help you to manage breathing techniques and correct posture whilst exercising which will aid recovery of the weakened core and pelvic floor.
Above all, find something you enjoy, and that fits around your routine. There are so many classes and groups to choose from with instructors specialising in pre and post natal fitness, that there really is no excuse not to get moving. And with most having an obligatory cuppa afterwards it’s not just your physical health that will benefit, emotionally you may just need that support too."
- Article and images by Vicki Bradley, of Keep Fit Mammy, Newcastle.