Have you ever noticed how celebrities get back into shape within weeks or a few months of giving birth? If you are a mum like me, you could be forgiven for rolling your eyes in disbelief and cynicism…How is that possible? How do they do it? It must be trick photography, (I hear you ponder). But perhaps there is some well-kept ‘celebrity secret’ that we should explore in more depth.
OK – So is it that celebrities have highly paid personal trainers and nutritionists looking after them, or is it something simpler than that?
I’m so glad you asked!
More than ever the importance of a mother’s health and longevity is becoming increasingly apparent.
Well it may sound too good to be true but the foundation for successful physical recovery after giving birth is this –
THE 3 ‘R’s
A RESTED and RESTORED body RESPONDS better!
Let’s be real – a new mum experiences joy, a sense of being overwhelmed, new love, hormonal change, lower back pain, pelvis and vaginal tenderness all at once! And this also means that your body will respond differently to exercise than someone else’s.
During your pregnancy, the whole focus has been on keeping fit and healthy. Now that your baby has arrived, it’s time to look at getting back into shape and investigate what strategic things you can do in the first 4-8 weeks after delivery to help this happen.
Depending on whether you have had a Caesarean section or natural birth will determine what exercises you are able to do immediately after the birth of your baby. In a perfect world, a natural birth with no epidural is preferable when it comes to a quicker physical recovery, but I know this is not always the case for a whole range of reasons.
With Caesareans, doctors must cut through layers of muscle, therefore time and rest to allow healing and recovery is absolutely essential. The best advice I can give if this is you is to follow your doctor’s instructions carefully. You have the rest of your life to get fit and in shape again, it’s more important that your healing is accelerated by rest and balanced nutrition – this also helps to avoid other complications further along, especially once you recommence exercise.
My number one tip is to not rush back into exercise prematurely – take your time and when you begin, do so gradually, easing in as you go, listening to your body. Make this your motto: “A Rested and Restored body Responds better!”
These are the questions I am most often asked by new mums:
- How soon after I have given birth should I start to exercise?
- I’ve had C-section and I’m not sure where I should start with exercising.
- How soon can I have sex with my partner?
- (Pelvic Floor): Have I gone all baggy and saggy?
- Can I ever recover my pre-pregnant shape?
- Will my sex life be affected?
- What pelvic floor exercises can I do and how long does it take to see results?
- I have had three children and never focused on my pelvic floor – is it too late for me?
With many emotionally concerning questions floating around in your head, it is important that you be gracious with yourself and work within your capacity at your individual stage. The very first thing you can do is make a determined decision that you will be persistent and committed to your recovery and wellbeing especially when it comes to exercise.
Ideally, a new mother should sleep, rest and recover for a good 4 to 6 weeks rather than rushing to get back into shape. You will need every bit of energy you have for milk-production and for your natural flow of hormones to cope with sleepless nights and night feeds.
If you are in the 35+ age group, your stamina may not be that of a younger mum, so rest is more important than any kind of exercise.
RESTED AND RESTORED BODY
A great way to begin is with gentle pelvic floor contractions and exercises such as the Breathing 4-point Kneeling. Please see the instructions in Mary Bacon’s book Pregnant, Fit and Fabulous, exercise #H2.
Every “body” is different, so please check with your doctor for advice on when you are ready to commence simple and effective exercise. If you are especially keen to start exercise, or you are an athlete then begin with stretches for the lower back, hips and chest area, or alternatively enjoy a gentle stroll with the pram for some fresh air and to get you outdoors. Athletes experience the same hormonal changes like any regular mum. She may bounce better because of her pre-pregnancy training, however she needs to be aware of her body just like you and me.
If you had a natural birth (with or without epidural), you can even begin some gentle pelvic floor contractions (see later) within the first 24 hours while your uterus is still contracting and shrinking. Do not be concerned with the wobbly layer on your tummy! As frightening as it may look, it will recede. Be patient and give yourself time, and in the meantime, start from the inside with pelvic floor contractions. Beside the fact that it will help you begin the process of flattening your tummy, pelvic floor work will help to greatly strengthen the ligaments in your pelvis and relieve lower back pain.
We see many mothers in the gym who have a great “2-pack” but a bulge below their navel. Many of them will continue doing multiple abdominal crunches but forget about the lower abdominals. Save yourself from the bulge below, and start with the core muscles’ eg: pelvic floor.
Also a lesser known benefit worth remembering is that as you work your transverse abdominals your bowels are massaged, so if constipation is an issue this aids in assisting the bowels to work more effectively.
What to do in the first 4-8 weeks…
In Mary Bacon’s book Pregnant, Fit and Fabulous book you will find the following guide:
|Fitness Program||0-4 weeks||Frequency||Intensity||Time||Type|
|Resistance Training||Absolutely NIL *|
|Flexibility||Stretches at home||Daily||Low||10-20 mins||Body only, on the Swiss ball|
|At home, floor work
|Daily||Low||As often as you can||Pelvic floor and stability work|
* The only option I would make here is 4 -point kneeling, breathing exercise. This should be sufficient to do on a daily basis for the first 4 weeks.
|Fitness Program||4-8 weeks||Frequency||Intensity||Time||Type|
|Cardiovascular||Within 4-6 weeks||3-4 times per week||Light||20-30 mins||Walk, bike or
|Resistance Training||Light stability work from 6 weeks onwards||3-4 times per week||Light||30 mins||Ball or floor stability work or Yoga|
|Flexibility||Yes||Daily||Light||20-30 mins||Body only or Yoga|
|Yes||Daily||Light||As often as you can||Floor or ball work|
- Caesarean births – please follow your doctor’s instructions.
- Births with complications – wait until your 6 week post-delivery check-up and follow the guidance of your medical practitioner or physiotherapist.
Ladies be encouraged! Rest and Restore your body on every level, and you will gain greater results.