You might be itching to get back to your usual exercise routine or just know that pregnancy and birth have left you needing some strengthening and toning in certain places. Doing the right exercises in the early weeks really matters for your health, fitness and enjoyment of sport in the long-term.
There have been many changes to your body during pregnancy that did not just return to ‘normal’ immediately after the birth. These all need to be taken into account when you are returning to exercise.
Your uterus takes 6-8 weeks to shrink and you may have some post partum bleeding. Your pelvis needs up to 3 months to re-stabilise and this affects your hips and lower back. Perhaps you have experienced some abdominal separation. At the vey least your abs have been stretched, as has your pelvic floor. Your breasts are larger and tender affecting the upper back and neck. The hormone Relaxin that expanded your blood vessels during pregnancy and your pelvis for birth, is still in your system. It keeps your ligaments hypermobile and therefore susceptible to injury for up to 6 months. This can be even longer if you continue to breast feed or that’s just how your body works. You may also be carrying a little more weight than before pregnancy and this affects your centre of gravity and pressure on your joints and pelvic floor.
The most common mistake is doing nothing for the several months after your baby is born and then attempting to go straight back to what you used to do before pregnancy. It is best if you can see your immediate post natal period as a rehabilitation phase. Ideally it starts as soon as possible after the birth and slowly, step by step gets your body up to a level where it can happily cope with what it used to do before, or ready for any new activities you have planned.
Your first mission is to reactivate your pelvic floor and deep abs. This is the secret to everything else, not least of all avoiding back pain and incontinence. Just a few minutes per day can make a difference as these muscles ‘switch back on’ once they are being stimulated again, as well as getting stronger over time.
There are many personal trainers and classes that can teach you how to exercise your deep abs and protect your pelvic floor before you return to more traditional abdominal exercises. One session could give you enough knowledge to start doing some exercises independently at home. Then you can take advantage of those precious moments when bub is asleep to squeeze in a few exercises.
If you have severe abdominal separation, can’t seem to feel your deep abs working or notice your pelvic floor is not improving. Seek help. There are women’s physiotherapists who specialise in these issues. The use of ultrasound machines can give invaluable feedback on these small muscle contractions. They will get you on the right path, so you can return to your usual exercise sooner, knowing how to manage problems in the short-term and avoiding bigger problems in the long-term.