If you’re a mom-to-be, congratulations! What an exciting journey you are embarking on. We know that this can be one of the most challenging (and rewarding) times you will ever face. As a personal trainer, one of the common questions I get asked by expecting mothers is, “How soon can I start training after the birth of my baby?” Well, it comes down to a few things:
- What the doctor says
- How you feel within yourself
- How you recover
After my first baby, it took 12 weeks before I felt ready to get back to regular exercise. I felt like my nether regions had been hit with a baseball bat and I had a lot of bruising for quite some time. Yet, with my second son, I was back in the gym and on the treadmill in just six weeks after his birth.
I trained through both pregnancies right up to two or four days before giving birth, and never suffered from any morning sickness that kept me away from my regular training routine – I think I was pretty lucky! But everyone is different and every birth experience will be different. Your recovery will also vary from someone else or your own past births. The key is to always listen to your body. If you’re ready to start training after your pregnancy, here are a few dos and don’ts to follow.
Get Your Gynaecologist’s Approval
I said it before, and I’ll say it again – always get the okay from your doctor before you resume anything!
Practise Kegel Exercises
Start these as soon as possible! These are exercises that help restore strength in your pelvic floor, so you don’t get those embarrassing oops-I’ve-peed-my-pants moments when you sneeze, cough, laugh, or jump. There are loads of YouTube tutorials on how you can do this.
Start with Wall Sits and Hip Bridges
These two bodyweight exercises are great starting points. A wall sit requires you to press your back against the wall, slide your knees or feet so that you are at a 90-degree angle with your legs, then sit and breathe. Even better? Add a kegel exercise!
The hip bridge is done by lying on the floor with your feet being hip width apart and about one foot away from your bottom. Push through the heels of your feet, squeezing your buttocks, to lift your hips up towards the ceiling. Again, add a core contraction (see below) before you start and at the top of the motion – and hold a kegel too! These two exercises also count as strength training! Who wouldn’t want that?
Contract Your Core
This is a breathing and strengthening exercise of your transverse abdominis (deep ab muscles), which will aid in supporting your stomach and lower back. You can sit, lie down, or do this against a wall (essentially doing wall sits). Take a deep breath in through your nose, expanding your rib cage. As you exhale, draw your belly button to your spine and tense it as you get your belly button as far as it can go.
As you tense, try not to push your belly out. Hold the tension if you can whilst breathing (this is the tricky bit) for two to three breaths, then let go. The other great thing about this exercise is that it can help relax you. Motherhood is full of challenging moments, and breathing the right way has multiple health benefits. This exercise and even kegels are great to practise when you are in the car driving! Give it a try every time you get stuck in traffic!
Take Gentle Walks
Start walking for 10 minutes and gradually increase the duration every few days. You can even take the little one in a stroller with you! Those who are used to running (prior to birth) should take it easy. Now isn’t the time to go running marathons. Instead, take it slow and gradually build up your strength again. At this point, you would still likely have relaxin (a hormone that assists with loosening muscles and joints to ready you for birth) in your system, which can affect your joints if you do high-impact exercises.
Wear the Right Shoes
Wear supportive shoes as often as you can – including inside the house! I know we tend not to wear shoes when we are home, especially after birth as we recover. Again, with the relaxin in your system (which can last up to 12 months post-birth), it is very easy for your arches to collapse after pregnancy. This can cause all sorts of issues for you later, especially if you are someone who loves running.
Listen to Your Body
Becoming a mum (even if this isn’t your first rodeo) is a triumph in itself. There are going to be days where you can barely take a shower, let alone do a workout. If you have a day or two when you feel like you just want to curl up in bed, then do it! If you are buzzing about with energy, then go do that workout you planned! Wherever you are, whatever your day is like, know that it is okay to be feeling how you are and that there are going to be good and bad days. Being a mum and a personal trainer, the biggest piece of advice I can give you is to be kind to yourself and listen to your body.
Charge Like a Bull
Please don’t go enter a marathon before you’ve even had the time to walk. Let the recovery process happen. It took you nine months to grow that baby, so it’s possibly going to take that much time – and maybe some more – to feel a little more like you used to.
Do High-Impact Exercises
Try to avoid jumping and running too early on. Doctors usually suggest waiting until you are 12 weeks postpartum before they give you the green light to increase your exercise intensity. High-impact exercises generally put a lot of stress on the joints. The muscles and ligaments around your joints will already be relaxed due to the relaxin, so putting them through high-impact exercises can lead to an increased chance of injury. Also, until you have your bladder back under control, anything with jumping won’t be all that fun!
As previously mentioned, joints and muscles are already extended and relaxed after birth, therefore, they don’t need to be stretched more when you are cooling down from your workout. Hold a stretch for 10 to 12 seconds at most. If you feel any niggles (especially around the hips and groin), then rest the area for a few days as it is easy to ‘over stretch’ in the post-natal period.
On another note, some common exercises can become more difficult. Regular push-ups are one example. As we hold our babies for hours on end, day after day, in awkward positions, it puts a lot of pressure on our arms and wrists. The alternative? Try push-ups against a wall first instead of on the floor. Because of your angle (against the wall), less of your body weight will need to be supported by your arms and wrists compared to when doing a push-up on the floor.
As much as you can, avoid any twisting motions. After birth, you are likely to have a decent gap in your abdominal wall called the diastasis recti. This is where the linea alba (connective tissues over your ab muscles) stretches and separates your abdominal wall to allow your baby to grow. Twisting motions, or motions where you use your obliques (the muscles at the side of your abs) can strengthen and hold the linea alba and abs apart.
Having a gap of three centimetres or more can create what we call the “mummy pouch” and cause a lot of issues for your lower back. Even when picking up your baby from the car or crib, try to directly face your child without twisting before lifting. When getting out of bed, roll completely over onto your side, then push yourself up to a seated position with your legs hanging over the side of the bed.