In this article we explain the best ways to get back into shape after a pregnancy and provide some very helpful tips that can help you get fit for motherhood and help you look and feel your very best.
Over the past 9 months your body has been through many changes and you have most likely been through a roller-coaster of emotions along your journey.
With the new joys and challenges of motherhood ahead of you, one of the most common concerns for a new mother is ‘how do I get back my pre-pregnancy body’?
The body actually recovers from most aspects of pregnancy naturally; the uterus contracts to close to its former size in about six weeks and the body’s ligaments return slowly but surely to their former length and elasticity (around 3 to 6 months).
Unfortunately though, muscle tissue doesn’t respond in the same way, so it is necessary to introduce exercise into your new routine in order to return your muscles to their former length, strength and functional capability – some of us may even want to improve on what we had before, but let’s work on this one step at a time shall we!
The most important thing to remember is, as that good old saying goes ‘move it or lose it’…you need to introduce a common sense strengthening program and exercise routine to prevent your muscles from atrophying (shrinking) and weakening – and with all the lifting you will be doing, this will become important in order to prevent injury and a weakened lower back (not to mention speeding up your metabolism to assist you in reshaping your body).
The key considerations of a healthy, strong and supple spine are to ensure that your program is focused on the reestablishment of good alignment, functional stability, core strength, balance of opposing muscle groups and flexibility.
It is quite often a good idea to enlist the help of a health professional (such as a personal trainer or osteopath for example) specialising in women’s health and fitness to help you with your program.
How soon after giving birth should you start exercising?
If you are a first-time mother, you may be a little shocked at how your body looks immediately after giving birth; what was previously a full, round hard belly now resembles something more like a deflated bundle of skin with no muscle or tone in sight.
What you need to remember is that this is totally normal and over the first six weeks as your uterus is contracting, so will some of your ‘belly’. The rest will be up to your postnatal exercise routine.
So how soon after giving birth should you start to exercise? It is important to remember that you should consult with your doctor or midwife before you start any exercise program as you may need more time than you think to heal from the tremendous strain that childbirth places on your body; especially if you have had a caesarean birth. However you can start to exercise your pelvic floor and abdominals (with gentle exercises) as soon as you feel ready.
Generally speaking, you may be asked by your Doctor to wait until your six week examination before beginning any exercise program; however this will depend on individual factors as well as how you feel and if you were exercising before and during your pregnancy.
It is not uncommon for women who exercise during their pregnancy and have an uncomplicated birth to return to exercise within the first week or two.
Making time to exercise
It is important that you listen to your body and don’t feel pressured to exercise before you are ready, and even more importantly, try not to place any extra pressure on yourself by setting yourself unrealistic goals – you will find there are enough pressures as the mother of a newborn without adding this to your load.
And don’t expect too much too soon; many women experience difficulties in losing their post pregnancy weight – so allow yourself between 6 to 12 months with a constant and consistent program to achieve your goals.
The first weeks are an important time for resting and bonding with your baby and finding a routine that you can both settle into.
Once you are feeling settled into a routine you are more likely to find an exercise routine that fits in with both of you which allows you to enjoy the journey to your new body.
Here are some tips that may help you to plan and stick to your exercise routine:
- First and foremost, you will need to be flexible and don’t be hard on yourself if your plans go out the window.
- Try to make ‘back up’ plans – if you have planned to go for a 30 minute stroller walk and the weather turns bad, have an exercise video/dvd that you could do instead – have a range of video’s/dvd’s with differing programs and lengths so that you can do a quick 10 minute workout if you are pressed for time or a 45 minute to an hour workout if your baby is sleeping.
- Take your baby in the stroller wherever and whenever possible, the more ‘incidental’ exercise you can do, the faster you will see results.
- Don’t rely on the ‘breastfeeding for weightloss’ theory – unfortunately this does not work for all women and many women actually put weight on during breastfeeding.
- Try to find someone who would be happy to baby-sit for you for an hour or so once a week so that you can to go to the gym, meet with a personal trainer, power walk, etc. It is important to be at home and bond with your baby, but it is also important to allocate some YOU time where you can.
- Try to find a gym, personal training studio or fitness facility that is ‘child friendly’ where you can bring your stroller or baby capsule while you exercise.
- Exercise your tummy and pelvic floor throughout the day – you can do these sitting or standing.
General exercise guidelines and safety suggestions
Generally speaking, you should be able to return to the types of exercise you were doing prior to and during your pregnancy, but you will need to ease back into these.
Remember to always listen to the advice given to you by your Doctor, tune in to your body and don’t push yourself too far too soon.
Some recommended postnatal exercises include:
- Yoga and Pilates (also Mums and Bubs Yoga).
- Swimming and Aqua aerobics.
- Brisk walking – if you were running previously, you will need to work up to that again.
- Stroller Circuits.
- Strength training – with a personal trainer or appropriately qualified health professional is recommended.
- Low impact aerobic workouts – nothing that changes direction too quickly.
Some important factors to remember when exercising:
- Don’t do any exercises that hurt your breasts and always wear an appropriate sports bra that offers good support – it is a good idea to get yourself properly fitted with your sports bra; think of it as an important investment in your health and wellbeing. Also try to exercise after you breastfeed rather than before when your breasts are full and heavy.
- Remember to eat regular, healthy meals; your body needs to be well nourished to produce milk as well as give you energy to exercise. What you eat will play a big part in regaining your pre-pregnancy body – you have to go back to ‘eating for one’ but avoid going on fad diets. Healthy food equals a healthy body and healthy mind.
- Aim to exercise between 3 to 5 times per week, and remember to be flexible.
- If at any time you feel short of breath or dizzy during exercise, slow down or stop.
- In the early stages, avoid high impact exercise or any exercise which requires sudden changes in direction.
The benefits of postnatal exercise
There are many benefits to exercise, and even more so for you as a new mother.
The major benefits of postnatal exercise include:
- A faster recovery and healing process after giving birth.
- An increase in your metabolism and a faster return to your pre-pregnancy shape and fitness levels.
- Reducing your stress levels and the likelihood of developing postnatal depression.
- More energy to deal with your new role as a mother.
So good luck with planning your exercise program; remember to speak with your Doctor, don’t be too hard on yourself and enlist the help of experts if you are unsure about any aspect of your body or exercise program and most importantly, remember to have FUN!