As a mum, you’ve experienced physiological changes that are unique to females and which are unable to be replicated in any other situation. Your body has undertaken a transformation, which commenced the moment you became pregnant and continues well beyond birth.
When you’re ready, your return to exercise will need to be unique because your new fitness journey will be heavily influenced by what happened during your pregnancy and by your birthing experience.
One of the greatest strengths and most powerful tools that mothers possess is intuition – a.k.a, your ‘gut feeling’. We’re often told to ‘listen to your body’ however, as a new mum this advice can sometimes feel confusing. Mindset, beliefs, determination, societal mantras like ‘no pain no gain’ or ‘no excuses’, and lots of other baffling pressures can lead to a sense of overwhelm, leaving mothers feeling completely confused about the messages that our body is sending.
The result can see new mums jumping back into things too quickly post-birth, leaving you with insufficient time to heal, and thinking you can out-train that post-natal period. Unfortunately, what happens in this situation is you unnecessarily place yourselves at risk of developing dysfunctions which can hinder your healing, restrict your body for years to come (and in some cases, for life), and potentially hold you back from returning to movements, exercises, or sports we love.
So how do new mums, return to exercise safely and effectively, and get back to doing all those things you love? Here are my top four tips.
1. Give Yourself Permission to Heal
In my experience, the drive for new mothers to return to exercise often is to get their ‘pre-baby’ body back, and they think delving back into intense exercise is their best option. Generally speaking, I would not recommend intense activity be undertaken within at least the first four – six months following the birth.
This is primarily because the process of labour on a women’s body can be likened to a sports injury. Adequate recovery, nutrition, rehabilitation, mindset development, the utilisation of a support network, and seeing appropriate health professionals will all help ensure the return to physical activity is safe and effective.
Birth is a traumatic experience for your body, and just like an athlete, you must dedicate sufficient time to heal, restore, return to function, strengthen, and then integrate back to what you were doing prior to pregnancy or during pregnancy. You must ensure that you can do what you love for longer, without incurring any setbacks by way of injury or dysfunctions.
Only YOU can give yourself permission to heal. Be generous with yourself, and be sensible.
2. See A Women’s Health Physiotherapist
We’ve all heard the saying ‘knowledge is power’ and it’s true; but the real power lies in being able to apply what you know to your everyday life. After all, knowledge is no good if you aren’t putting it into practice. You have to use what you know in order to take control throughout your pregnancy and during the recovery period of one to two years post-birth.
Many women feel that they can just get back into their normal life and resume their pre-pregnancy activities once they’ve got the ‘all clear’ at their six-week check up with a general practitioner (GP). However, I personally believe that every woman should go and visit a Women’s Health Physiotherapist, so you can be aware of exactly where your pelvic floor is at, and how it’s functioning as a whole.
A Women’s Health Physiotherapist will help you identify where you’re at in your healing journey. Most of them will do a post-natal check up, which includes questions to better understand your pregnancy, your birth, and your recovery to date. It will also typically include a pelvic floor function test, which is usually done using an ultrasound machine. After this assessment, specific exercises and strategies will be tailored to your needs to help you on your recovery journey. You will then typically be advised as to whether or not you are physiologically ready to return to exercise.
3. Find An Experienced Fitness Professional
Once you’ve received the official nod to return to exercise, the next step is to find a fitness professional who understands and is experienced with and qualified in pre and post-natal conditioning. You may not need them forever, but working with this type of professional in the beginning will make it easier to train yourself objectively and safely.
Some of the areas they may focus on include:
realigning your posture
reorganising your breathing strategy
encouraging you to take the time required to heal, and encourage you to take it slow so as to allow the body to restore itself
helping you recover from abdominal separation and encouraging core reconnection
prescribing appropriate and safe exercises
helping you move safely after a C-section
understanding how the reality of mum life (e.g. fatigue, stress, dehydration, quality of nutrition, lack of movement) can affect how ready the body is to move on any particular day completing an individual assessment providing you with tools and strategies to apply to everyday life, to ensure you are safe and effective in your daily movements such as lifting babies/toddlers/washing baskets/shopping bags, having safe bowel movements, being aware of posture, and being aware of your breath and pelvic floor throughout each day.
When recovering, things to avoid during that post-birth period include:
high intensity exercise (e.g. jumping, running, sprinting, burpees)
inappropriate core exercises (e.g. crunches, planks, push ups)
returning to sports too early
You can potentially return to all of these activities in time, but it is best to establish strong foundations and recondition your body first, in order to avoid putting yourself at risk of pelvic dysfunctions or prolapse. By doing so, you’ll be able to continue to do all the things you love, in the long term.
4. Stop Trying to Get Your Pre-Baby Body Back
New mums often feel a societal expectation to get back to whatever they were doing pre-baby,particularly if they were very physically active prior to falling pregnant. But the truth is, this is not an expectation that others have placed on you. It’s one that you are placing on yourself.
Unfortunately, this mindset can be very damaging because it means we stop listening to our body, we lose awareness of what it needs, and we deny ourselves the time to heal properly. Despite what you may think, your body may simply not be ready to get back into your former sports or exercise regime as fast as you’d like.
Consider What’s Really Important
As a new mum you have so much to learn and so much to gain. You need to think about what’s important during this special time of your life. It may pay to ask yourself ‘Is getting your pre-baby body back really the most important thing to you, right now?’
Getting to your pre-baby body weight will not necessarily equate to happiness, self-worth or self-confidence. Being driven by the end goal of physical appearance can result in women pushing their body past their limits, and leaving themselves open to injury. The key is to be kind and patient with yourself. Enjoy the time with your new bub and allow yourself to truly recover before you embark on a new fitness journey.