Why ‘bouncing back after baby’ should jog on and take a seat!

bouncing back after baby

As a mother of two young children, I have lived through the changes that occur in the body both during and after pregnancy, and the impact these changes have on fitness. I’ve always been a keen exerciser and enjoyed staying fit and in shape, and it was a shock to discover what having children did to my body – and also to see the continued effects of having two small humans in my life, wreaking havoc on all my fitness routines. TV shows and magazines are obsessed with ‘bouncing back after baby’,  which piles on the pressure for women to expect her body and fitness levels to come back the same as they were before. 

Last month I was asked by Kate Meakin (instagram: mrskmeaks) to run some Instagram Live workouts for post-natal women. Kate is a hugely inspiring blogger on miscarriage and fertility (with a lot of followers) so it was a daunting prospect—even to someone like me, with qualifications in pre-and post-natal fitness. There are just so many individual considerations for post-natal women that affect the way their bodies and their minds respond to pregnancy, birth, and postpartum life. The main aim of any good pre-and post-natal trainer is to protect women and their ability to maintain physical activity long-term for their overall health and wellbeing, so daunted as I was, I took on the challenge … and found that it reignited my passion for post-natal fitness all over again. Given the fact our very own Editor-In-Chief is due a new arrival imminently, I thought that this would be an ideal issue to share my six top tips for regaining health, fitness and overall wellbeing in the post-natal period. 

Sufficient screening for any post-natal women is vital. I’ve heard on so many occasions from new mums that their 6-week GP check did not cover their own physical needs adequately. From my own experience, these checks were very much centred around how my new baby was doing, with not much attention given to my own recovery. Whether women are experienced exercisers or keen to develop a new routine to counter the demands of looking after their baby, making sure that women get proper individual screening from a post-natal instructor is vital. During a post-natal screening, women should be asked about details of their pregnancy, birth and overall health. 

A good practitioner should address all individual issues such as diastasis recti, C-section scars and the possibility of pelvic organ prolapse, all of which impact exercise prescription. This is a key opportunity to build the right foundations to recover well and regain (or gain) fitness levels post-pregnancy. 

Start by breathing! Well, hopefully, you never stopped. But finding the right breathing technique is a really important part of post-natal fitness.

Your whole mid-section is held together like a cylinder type structure. The bottom of this holds up your pelvic muscles, the sides are your deep abdominal muscles and the top is held on tight by your diaphragm. When this mechanism is functioning well it balances inter-abdominal pressure to support your pelvis and lower back. Now, imagine months of this being stretched. It weakens the abdominal muscles and creates downward pressure on your pelvic floor. When you breathe out you use your diaphragm muscles to help push the air out of your lungs. When the diaphragm is contracting the pelvic floor is also being contracted and lifting. It’s like a loop system. Unfortunately, the loop sometimes becomes disconnected throughout pregnancy and childbirth so the very first port of call in any postnatal recovery programme is to re-connect this loop – that is, get the pelvic floor muscles working in conjunction with the breathing. Diaphragmatic breathing exercises are something you can teach yourself – but again, getting a professional to help guide you through this is always helpful.

Eat well. Optimum nutrition is really important for post-natal women. In a bid to ‘lose the baby weight’ many women fall victim to under-nourishing their bodies, restricting calorie intake and missing vital nutrients. This is at a time when babies and their diets are in focus, and it’s easy for new parents to concentrate on feeding baby well, with little thought to their own needs. Breastfeeding mothers in particular need to make sure they are eating well and getting enough of the right kinds of calories.

Get stretching (but take care!). Muscle aches and pains in the neck and across the upper and lower back are very common in post-natal women, primarily due to a combination of altered alignment, abdominal weakness and ligament laxity. Pregnancy causes the pelvis to tip, which alters spine alignment and in turn causes specific muscles to shorten and tighten. A good post-natal trainer will show women exactly which stretches to include, factoring in any adaptations needed in an individual recovery plan. Increased ligament laxity (caused by a hormone called relaxin that alters the properties of cartilage and tendon by activating collagenase) lasts for many weeks after pregnancy and so women should not work on trying to increase their flexibility. Short bouts of stretching are better than long sessions and easier to combine with the demands of babies and young children. 

Take your time! I refer back to my article August article ‘Slow and Steady Wins the Race.’ The media pressure to perform pre-pregnancy fitness and slimness as quickly as possible is damaging; it’s a long game and developing a body and routine that is resilient to family life takes time and patience. Losing weight too quickly can be detrimental to health at a time when women need it the most. 

Have fun, and watch out for any red flags. Exercise should always be undertaken with care, but post-natal women should be particularly cautious; they are learning to work with a whole new body, as well as learning to live with new demands on their time. Pain or bleeding can signal damage requiring medical attention and serve as a warning to take things slowly for longer. Exercise with a post-natal practitioner, especially if it is in a class with other women, should be a source of pleasure and fun – even very gentle exercise is known to lower anxiety and stress, after all, and this is a time when women can really benefit both physically and mentally. Making exercise manageable and enjoyable should be a key aim in post-natal classes.

Those who have had or are having babies in the middle of a pandemic are a reminder to us all that life goes on, even in trying circumstances, and that regaining physical fitness after childbearing is a challenge as old as humanity. I look forward to being able to welcome the newest members of the biggest club of all to the fitness scene when I can finally reopen S051Fitness in 2021, and to including post-natal fitness needs in the diverse community we serve in physical space as well as online.

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