Updated: Oct 23, 2019
Congrats mama! You have a new bundle of joy, and you’re feeling ready to get back into your old exercise routine. While that’s great news, there’s a few things you should consider before hitting the gym, or heading to your favorite yoga class. From my years of experience as a pre & post-natal yoga instructor, I’ve compiled a few tips that will help you get your sweat on safely:
1. Take your time! There's no rush to get back to your full on, pre-pregnancy exercise. In fact, it could be detrimental to your healing process, as we’ll see below.
2. Get checked! Many yoga teachers and trainers with suggest you wait 6 weeks (vaginal birth) or 8-12 weeks (c-section) before you begin exercising again. This is important not only because all of you organs are slowly making their way back to their place, but very importantly, because of Diastasis. Diastasis is the separation that can occur in the rectus abdominus (our "6-pack" abs) during pregnancy. Your doctor should be able to check this for your at your 6 weeks post natal check, and if not, many trained specialists like physios can have a look for you. The dangers of beginning exercise before this, are that you can increase the separation, which can lead to bulging in the belly, weak abs, and low back pain.
3. It's incredibly important that you avoid crunching core exercises until you have been properly checked, and even then, begin with exercises that stabilize the transverse abdominals (our "corset abs"). Seek out an experienced post-natal instructor (such as myself) or do your research on safe post-natal exercise.
4. Gentle yoga stretches for the neck and shoulders are a great place to begin and safe in the early days post-natally. An excellent exercise to help knit the core back together is called 'Reverse Breathing". To do this, lie on you back with your knees bent. Place your hands on your belly and take a deep breathing, feeling your belly rise as you do. Slowly exhale. Take a few rounds of this (we'll call this "normal breathing). Then begin to alternate between "normal breathing" and "reverse breathing". For reverse breath, on the inhale pull your belly in, as though you're drawing it to the spine, on the exhale relax. Complete 10-20 rounds of this daily. It sounds simple, but I can’t stress how effective this exercise can be, even years after separation has occurred.
5. Listen to your body! It got you this far, and brought your beautiful bundle of joy, so lend it an ear just a little longer. If you feel up to it, start with walking, and ease yourself back into your old routine slowly. As you begin to attend more classes or hit the gym, bear in mind that your body will still be full of hormones post-pregnancy, not to forget the effects of lack of sleep. If you are breast feeding, relaxin (a hormone responsible for helping to relax the joints and ligaments during pregnancy and birth) will still be in your system, so be mindful that you don't push yourself 100%, otherwise injuries can occur. Aim for 75-80% of your normal effort.
6. Squeeze before you sneeze! I know, you thought cringey advice about your pelvic floor was strictly pre-labour, but it's not. In fact, the pelvic floor has importance for everyone, men or women, pregnant or not. However, pregnancy and birth (both vaginal and c-section) can exert extra pressure on your pelvic floor muscles, which can cause leakage/incontinence, back pain, a weak core, and more. So aim make a regular routine of working your pelvic floor muscles. Imagine lifting from within, rather than squeezing or gripping. Make sure the rest of you (glutes, abs) remains relaxed. And although squeeze before you sneeze is very catchy, try a gentle lift instead to reduce leakage. Don't be embarrassed or afraid to seek out a good women's health physio is you are struggling.
Remember you can always seek out a professional who runs post-natal classes, or even take a few private lessons to ensure you’re on the right path. But more importantly, be kind to yourself, patient with your new body, in awe of yourself, you created a tiny person inside you! Happy exercising mamas!