Getting back into exercise post birth
If you’re unsure about when is the right time to start exercise post birth or you would like some more information on how to get back on it, check out Jenny’s article below…
Firstly, congratulations! I hope your little family unit is all well and enjoying the adventure that is parenthood. You might be sleep deprived and feeling like a constant feeding vessel, but how wonderful that your little person is finally here!
One thing I have learnt in both my professional and personal life is that all pregnancies are different. No-one has the same birth story and by no means is any one body the same! But what I can tell you is this...your body is amazing, even if it may not feel it right now, just look at what it has done!
I’m Jenny - a physio, qualified Pilates instructor (Salt Pilates) and mum to a very active 16-month old called Jago - and I’m going to chat to you about getting back into activity and exercise post birth.
“Be kind to yourself...giving birth, by whatever means, requires time for recovery…”
My first piece of advice is please don’t compare yourself to anyone else. Not to your pal in NCT or a celeb on Instagram who “snaps back” in a microsecond. Your body has been adapting and changing over the past 9-10 months and it can take time to feel ready to get back into doing things. And let’s not lie,“free” time isn’t quite what it used to be!
My second piece of advice is that feeling overwhelmed, exhausted and anxious are all normal feelings. Even if people don’t talk about it, every new parent will be feeling this way at some point.
My third piece of advice is try to be kind to yourself and give yourself time. Listen to your body – if you just want to rest, then do it. Resting is part of the recovery, and giving birth, by whatever means, requires time for recovery.
Understanding the body’s warning signs and reacting by seeking advice from your midwife or GP will help you return back to the things you love. A few things that signal you might be doing a little much are:
- vaginal bleeding that restarts
- heaviness or a bearing down sensation around the vagina
- incontinence or new pain
So, after all that, where to start with postpartum exercise…
Pelvic floor muscles
I would suggest starting with the pelvic floor muscles (PFM). These are the hammock or muscles that run from your coccyx and wrap around to your pubic bone - basically, they hold everything in! During pregnancy the increased weight and strain on these muscles can affect how they function, and, like any muscle, they need to recover and be re-trained.
Pelvic floor activation can be started as soon as you feel ready (as long as you’ve done your first wee!) When I left the hospital, I was just told to do them, which is fine if you know what you're doing. But let's be honest – most of us don’t have a clue where to start!
I teach pelvic floor activation as the “wink and zip”. This is easier to explain in person, so have a little watch of my 5 minute video on how to do these exercises.
The NHS also have a fab app called squeezy, which provides lots of information on PFM and will send you reminders during the day to do your exercises. If you’re like me, the baby brain is real so these reminders are actually incredibly helpful!
It’s worth mentioning that relaxing your pelvic floors is just as important as contracting them when it comes to good pelvic floor health.
“Just like with everything – build up the exercises slowly…”
In terms of starting any specific strength and core work, I usually advise a minimum of 6 weeks post birth and, in some cases, more time may be required. I was very active both pre and during pregnancy, and I thought I’d want to get straight back on it right away. But when I reached the 6 week mark, I didn’t actually feel quite ready for it. I needed to give my body time and really ease back into things. And don’t forget that being a new parent isn’t exactly sedentary work!
Once you’ve given yourself some much needed recovery time (6 weeks minimum), you’ve begun your pelvic floor activation, and most importantly, you’re feeling ready to exercise, Pilates can be a fab way to begin your postnatal journey. It can help you regain the control, balance and strength needed to achieve any goal.
“Pilates can give your body not only the strength, but the TLC it requires.”
In this current climate, getting out to postnatal classes is not an option, so online classes are your best bet. They’ll still give you a space to meet other new parents, as well as providing a little bit of “you” time - even if your baby is lying on the mat beside you!
My final thoughts...
- Exercise is good for your physical and mental health
- Never compare yourself to others
- Be kind and give yourself time
- Start with pelvic floor activation as soon as you feel ready. Check my video for how to do this!
- Slowly build back up to the activities you love
- Pilates can be a fantastic foundation
- Being a parent is pretty active in itself - pushing that pram, lifting and carrying your baby and all the general day to day baby related activities. Just think about your pelvic floors whilst you do them!
- Ask for help if you need it from family or friends, and also from the wonderful health care practitioners out there
If you’re worried about your recovery or need any additional help, women’s health physios are absolutely fantastic. They can assess your pelvic floor health and help ensure you’re doing the right things.
How to find a physiotherapist near you - Squeezy App Directory
For information and help - The Pelvic Obstetric Gynaecological Physiotherapists (POGP)
Specialist postnatal examination - Mummy MOT