Having a baby is a joyful yet challenging time, both mentally and physically. Although exercise may be the last thing on your mind in the early days, it can be a really beneficial way of energising and strengthening the body.
When you have the time and motivation to focus on starting to exercise again, it is vital to go about it the right way – safely and respecting your body. Whether you’re doing yoga, or wanting to hit the gym, it is important to be knowledgeable about the many physiological adaptations made in the body to accommodate pregnancy and childbirth. Even if you feel physically the same, it is worth being mindful of what has happened internally and to take care of your pelvis, hips and core, especially during exercise.
Dr Masarat Jilani the Selfcare Doctor says, “Going at your own pace after you’ve given birth is key to not overwhelm yourself mentally or physically. Everyone has different needs postnatally and getting individualised support is important."
Abdominals: The rectus abdominis muscles will separate to accommodate the growing foetus, and although in lots of cases they close by themselves after birth, it is good to encourage this healing with beneficial core exercises. This stretching and separation of the abdominals also cause the core to be weaker which can, therefore, impact posture, resulting in lower back pain. So these muscles should be engaged and strengthened as much as possible.
Pelvic Floor: This will have stretched and become weaker in the later stages of pregnancy and through childbirth. Whether you had a vaginal birth or C-Section, you will need to work to strengthen your pelvic floor. Benefits include including reducing the risk of incontinence, supporting the internal organs, promoting good posture and improving sexual sensation. If there is any feeling of pressure, or leaking when exercising it is advised to stop what you’re doing and go back to pelvic floor activation. Go to see a women’s health physio for a check-up as leaking is not something as women we should accept. It is a sign of pelvic floor weakness and could indicate incontinence in later life, so is definitely worth tackling now.
According to NHS advice, you can start with gentle exercise such as walking and pelvic floor or tummy exercises as soon as you feel up to it but should wait until after your six week post-natal check to start high impact exercise like running or aerobics. If you had a complicated birth or caesarean, your recovery time will be longer and it's best to speak to your midwife, health visitor or GP before taking part in any strenuous activities.
Pre & post-natal trainer Hannah Mummy Mills gives her top post-birth exercises to strengthen the abdominals and glutes, as well as stretch out the chest, back and hips:
7 great post-natal exercises:
7 great post-natal exercises
1. Glute Bridge (with yoga block/cushion)
A great exercise to strengthen both the glutes and core.
Begin lying flat on your back with the knees bent, and feet flat on the floor. Place a yoga block or cushion between your knees – keeping your feet hip width apart. This will provide your pelvis with more stability. Inhale, and as you exhale begin tucking your pelvis under rolling up through the spine, engaging the glutes. Once you reach the top point – ensure your ribs aren’t flaring – inhale, and as you exhale lower down through the spine.
Aim for 6-10 reps, moving consciously with control.
PROGRESSION: once you have stability through your pelvis, remove the yoga block/cushion.
2. Bodyweight Squat
To help strengthen your lower body, begin with your feet slightly wider than hip width apart, toes facing ever so slightly outwards. Ensuring your knees track in line with your toes, as you squat down, keeping your chest high and core engaged. Exhale, as you lift up through your pelvic floor and core, driving your heels down in to the ground to stand.
Aim for 10-15 reps.
3. Heel Slides
A really great exercise that helps to close the gap between the abdominals (diastasis recti).
Begin lying flat on your back with the knees bent, and feet flat on the floor. Keeping your spine in a neutral alignment, inhale and as you exhale, engage your core, sliding one heel out along the floor. Be mindful to keep the core engaged, and not let your pelvis tilt. Inhale again, and as you exhale, bring the foot back in. Repeat on the other leg.
Aim for 6-8 reps on each side.
4. Wide Childs Post with Side Reach
Stretch out your back and sides, with this relaxing stretch.
Come in to a table top position on your hands and knees. With your knees wide, bring your toes towards and sink the hips back towards the heels. Spider crawl the finger tips out in front of you, resting your forehead on the floor. Walk both hands over to the right – you may want to place your left hand on top of your left as you breathe into your left side body. Repeat on the other side.
Take 3-5 deep inhale/exhales on each side.
5. Clasp Hands Behind
A fantastic stretch for all mums, helping to open up the chest and shoulders.
Standing with your feet hip width apart, and knees slightly bent. Clasp both hands behind the body, pushing your palms together as extend the arms. Be mindful to keep your core engaged throughout, and avoid arching the spine.
Hold for 15-30 seconds.
6. Thread the needle
Improve your mobility, while stretching out your back with this marvellous move.
Begin by coming into a table top position on your hands and knees, ensuring your shoulders are directly over your wrists, and hips over knees. Slide one arm through, palm facing upwards, dropping your ear towards the floor.
Aim for 6-8 reps on each side.
7. Kneeling with Pelvic Tilt
Tight hips from sitting down feeding and tending to little one? This stretch is for you.
Kneel down on one knee, with the other foot flat on the floor. Square the hips, tuck the pelvis and engage the glute of the kneeling leg. Feel the stretch at the front of the hip. Repeat on the other side.
Hold for 15-30 seconds on each side.
Doing your pelvic floor exercise daily can help to prevent any leaks of urine or faeces, control wind, whilst also providing support to the pelvic bones. Having strong muscles around the pelvis can help to prevent pelvic girdle pain in future pregnancies.
If you're struggling with your bladder postnatally or while pregnant, there are places to seek support and advice, as well as from your GP or midwife, you can call Jude’s free Bladder Support Hotline on 01908 103 387 and speak to their dedicated bladder customer care specialists.
Hannah Mills is a pre and post-natal personal trainer. As a mum Hannah knows first hand how much anxiety can come with being a new and expectant mummy, especially when it comes to knowing what exercises are safe to do. Which is why she wants to empower women, just like you, to stay fit and feel confident throughout pregnancy and motherhood.