Exercise Post Pregnancy
With the rise of social media, there is as much pressure as ever on new mums to look good and get their pre-pregnancy bodies back. We often see celebrities bouncing back as though nothing ever happened, as well as a multitude of confusing and conflicting advice. For the average mum out there, it can be hard to know where to start. Luckily, this week’s blog addresses just that…exercise in the post pregnancy – when to start and what you should be doing!
Before we can talk about exercise following pregnancy, we first need to understand a little about a woman’s anatomy and how it can be affected by pregnancy – namely the pelvic floor and the abdominal muscles.
Let’s start with the pelvic floor!
Many of you will have heard of the pelvic floor, but mightn’t know much about what it does, or even where it is. The pelvic floor is a sling of muscle and fibrous tissue that sits at the bottom of the pelvis. It attaches to the pubic bone at the front, the tailbone at the back and from the sides of the bottom of the pelvis. The pelvic floor has two main roles – to support the contents of the pelvis (the bladder, bowel and uterus) and to help control continence.
The increasing weight of the growing baby, as well as the labour process puts the pelvic floor under a huge amount of strain and can lead to weakness of the pelvic floor muscles. This is something that definitely needs to be addressed in the post natal period and needs to be considered when returning to exercise after pregnancy. But more on this later!
Now let’s talk about the abdominal muscles!
The abdominal muscles (rectus abdominus, obliques and transversus abdominus) act as a functional brace to support our lower back. During pregnancy, these muscles, particularly the transversus abdominus, become stretched and weakened and puts us at risk of injury. Something else to consider when returning to exercise after pregnancy.
Ok, so now that we have an idea of what we need to work on, how do we go about exercising after pregnancy?
The first thing to remember is that although a woman’s body is designed for pregnancy and birth, it is still a big stress on our bodies, so it is important that we allow appropriate time for recovery.
So… when and where do we begin?
Gentle exercises can be commenced at home in the first few weeks after birth – specifically pelvic floor and deep abdominal strengthening. More on this to come!
It is important to wait until you have had an appropriate post-natal check-up before commencing more intense exercise. This generally occurs around 6 weeks post partum. If you have had a caesarean delivery, then it may be advisable to wait longer before returning to exercise (8 to 10 weeks).
Pregnancy and motherhood can be a challenging time for a woman’s body as it undergoes many hormonal and physical changes to support the growing baby and prepare for birth. Postural changes and an increased level of stress on the body may result in a level of pain and discomfort, which may be relieved by specialised physiotherapy treatment. Revive can advise on appropriate exercise during pregnancy and the immediate postnatal period to keep you fit and well during this exciting stage of life.
Following are some suggestions for returning to exercise post pregnancy:
- water aerobics
- low impact aerobic workouts
- light weight training
However, even after choosing an appropriate form of exercise, there are still some things to take note of:
- make sure you take time to recover first and listen to your body
- the hormone relaxin (which is released to assist with labour and birth) is still present in your body for up to 4 months post birth, therefore you still have reduced stability in your joints and are at greater risk of injury
- as mentioned before, your pelvic floor and abdominal muscles are weakened and therefore need appropriate strengthening first
Ok, so there has been a lot of talk so far about strengthening pelvic floor and abdominal muscles, but how exactly do we do this?
Strengthening Pelvic Floor and Abdominal Muscles
Pelvic floor exercises can be performed lying down, sitting or standing. You are looking for a gentle squeeze and lift of the pelvic floor, similar to the sensation you would have when you are trying to stop yourself from going to the toilet or passing wind. Start with short 2-3 second holds, repeated 8-10 times, 3 times per day, gradually increasing the length of the hold.
Deep abdominal strengthening can also be performed in the same way, starting with short holds repeated 8-10 times. To contract the abdominal muscles, you gently draw your belly button towards your spine, the same way you would if you were trying to zip up a tight pair of pants.
With both pelvic floor and abdominal muscle exercises, it is important that you are not straining or holding your breath.
This video from the Royal Women’s Hospital provides some great information and advice on how to correctly activate and strengthen your pelvic floor:
See the full article over at The Women’s Hospital (https://www.thewomens.org.au/health-information/pregnancy-and-birth/a-healthy-pregnancy/the-pelvic-floor/)
As well as strengthening the pelvic floor in the post natal period, it is also important to protect the pelvic floor from further damage, not just after giving birth, but always. Here are some tips on how to protect your pelvic floor:
- avoid constipation and straining during bowel movements
- squeeze, lift and hold your pelvic floor before coughing and sneezing
- avoid repetitive heavy lifting
- avoid excessive weight gain
Now that you know where to begin, here is some more general advice for exercising post pregnancy:
- wear a good supportive bra when exercising – the changes in your body due to breast feeding means your breasts are heavier than usual so it is essential to make sure you are well supported during exercise
- if you are breast feeding, feed before exercising
- wear appropriate footwear – the presence of relaxin means the joints in your feet are more vulnerable to pain and injury
- drink plenty of fluids before, during and after exercise
- don’t exercise on an empty stomach
- incorporate exercise into your daily activities as much as possible
- swap your exercise session for a rest if you are feeling particularly tired
- abdominal and pelvic floor exercises can be done while you are doing other tasks
However, I think the most important advice is:
- don’t be too hard on yourself
- don’t expect too much too soon
Remember that it took 9 months for your body to get to the position it is in, so allow yourself AT LEAST that long to recover. Also remember that these are precious moments with your little one that can’t be replaced. Don’t put so much pressure on yourself trying to live up to the image of “perfect”, that you forget to enjoy them. For more information and advice on getting back into exercise post pregnancy, call us today or send us a message to book your Post-Natal Assessment.