Unfortunately the rhetoric around postnatal recovery is still very much along the lines of panic, confusion and a mad rush to get back to ‘normal’ as soon as possible. I totally understand why this happens as we want to feel good and return to a familiar level of exercise.
Firstly, I think its important to say there is no shame in wanting to get back to your pre pregnancy exercise routine & wear your old clothes again. Feeling strong, body confident and moving pain free is so good for your mental health as well as your physical wellbeing. However I always say to everyone please do not rush the process! Trying to run before you can walk (often quite literally!) isn’t going to do you any favours either in the short or long term.
We can however help the process along by eating a well balanced nutritional diet and staying well hydrated. That doesn’t mean dieting but making sure you are eating enough, not skipping meals, getting a good mix of food groups and avoiding constipation, which is a common complaint in those first few weeks after delivery.
OPTIMUM POSTNATAL RECOVERY STAGES
So where do we start our journey to return to exercise…
PELVIC FLOOR REHAB:
Whether you had a vaginal or c-section delivery this is vital. Your pelvic floor went through a lot supporting the added weight of your bump through pregnancy. For vaginal deliveries you may have tears and stitches that need to heal. Performing kegels can actually aid the recovery of these due to increasing blood flow to the area so don’t be afraid to work on them. Ideally we want to start doing kegels once you have had your first wee after delivery. The optimum amount of practise is three times a day each time performing 10 x squeeze and releases and 10 x 10 second squeeze and holds. The NHS Squeezy app can be really helpful as it times you and sends you reminders so you don’t forget (which is easily done in the newborn blur).
Learning to connect your breath with core engagement is your secret weapon to help getting your core muscles strong again. This should be practised daily to rehab your core muscles. It can be tricky at first as often things feel very disconnected but keep practising and it will start to get easier and feel more natural. You want to inhale to prepare relaxing your pelvic floor and tummy and then as you exhale draw your pelvic floor and belly button in and up. Repeat for 15 breaths and perform twice a day. This type of core connection breath work can be done as soon as possible after vaginal delivery. For c-section mamas I would advise giving your scar a couple of weeks to heal first just so you aren’t putting any pressure on your stitches or feeling any discomfort.
Walking is often the first port of call for postnatal exercise and with good reason. It’s gentle, low impact and it helps get mamas outside into the fresh air. Walking can commence whenever it feels comfortable for you to do so. Start with a slow pace and short distances. The first few walks it might be worth staying local so if you experience any discomfort or fatigue you are close to home. If you feel any pain or discomfort whilst walking it’s a sign you might need to take a break or stop. Gradually build up both the distance and speed of your walks over time.
POSTNATAL CLASSES AND BODYWEIGHT EXERCISES:
ADDING WEIGHTS: If you like to use weights or resistance bands these should only be used after you have had clearance from your doctor to return to exercise. Also you should have worked through the rehabilitation stages above to ensure you have a solid foundation of pelvic floor and core strength first. If adding resistance start with light weights, low reps and take adequate rests between sets so you can then build up safely and gradually.
Adding high impact exercises such as jumps and running is the last thing to add in the postnatal journey. This type of exercise creates the most impact on our pelvic floor, core and joints so we want to ensure we have taken the time to regain strength and stability throughout the body first. It’s now recommended to wait a minimum of 12 weeks after delivery before running and that’s only after comprehensive rehab has taken place. When starting running again even if you ran during your pregnancy start right from the beginning. I highly recommend using the free NHS couch to 5k programme.
The time it takes you to move through each of the different stages above will be unique and individual to each woman which is why getting advice from professionals who understand pre and post natal fitness can really help you. If you want to speak to me about the postnatal classes and 121 sessions I offer please feel free to contact me for more information.
My final and probably most important piece of advice is please try not to compare yourself to other mums. Everyone has a different journey back to exercise which is affected by so many factors. Please be kind to yourself and trust the process.