It’s both amazing and exhausting having a new baby, and for many women the thought of returning to exercise soon after giving birth feels scary and unrealistic. There are others who are desperate to start exercising again as soon as possible.
Whichever group you are in there are huge benefits to following a well designed postnatal exercise programme, which can really help to improve your energy levels and help you to regain your strength to help you better cope with the demands of your baby.
However it is really important that you return to exercise when your body is ready and you feel ready in yourself. Whilst the 6 week mark is often talked about (because that is usually the time that you have your check up with your GP), for many women that may feel too soon - if that’s you, then enjoy the sofa snuggles and buggy walks in the park and know that there is plenty of time!
However you are feeling about returning to exercise, there are some gentle exercises that are really important for every woman to begin as soon after having a baby as possible. These are pelvic floor exercises, abdominal hollowing and pelvic tilts and below is a some information about these exercises and why they are so important:
Pelvic Floor Exercises
The pelvic floor is a collection of muscles, ligaments and tissues that support the pelvic organs including the womb, vagina, bladder and bowels. Think of these muscles as like a sling or hammock stretching across your pelvic bones. These muscles become stretched and weakened during pregnancy and birth as immense pressure is put on them and in some cases this can lead to problems with incontinence or pelvic organ prolapse.
It’s perfectly safe to start strengthening your pelvic floor as soon after giving birth as you feel able and the sooner the better. At first it might feel strange and you might not be able to feel the muscles at all, but don’t panic, it’s totally normal and after a few days you will be able to feel the muscles getting stronger.
Pelvic floor exercises can be performed standing, lying or sitting - get into a comfortable position with your feet slightly apart, you should then draw up and tighten the muscles around the back passage and take that feeling round to the front as if stopping a wee. Lift up through the vagina. Remember to breath normally.
There are two different types of exercise you should be doing regularly:
Slow contractions: Draw up and hold. Work up to 10 x 10 second holds
Fast contractions: Assume the same position as above, but this time tighten all the muscles in 1 fast contraction. Hold for a count of 1 and then release with control and repeat 10 times.
Aim to do these exercises around 3 times per day.
Abdominal Hollowing & Pelvic Tilts
Pregnancy obviously puts a lot of pressure on your abdominal wall (your tummy muscles) - during pregnancy, your abdominal muscles will separate as the baby in the uterus pushes against the abdominal wall. This separation of the muscles of called Diastasis Recti and is completely normal during later stages of pregnancy. The gap is usually around 5cm (or 3 fingers wide) and gradually closes up after the baby is born. Gentle exercises to strengthen the abdominal muscles will help this process.
This exercise can be done lying on your back or on your side, with your knees bent. Place your hands on your lower abdomen and slowly draw in your tummy away from your hands towards your lower back, hold for 10 seconds and relax. Repeat 10 times, and remember to keep breathing! You can also try this exercise standing.
Begin with abdominal hollowing in the lying position as described above, then lift up your pelvic floor and tilt your pelvis so that your lower back flattens into the floor, release gently and repeat 10 times
These exercises can be done in the days and weeks after delivery on a daily basis - aim for a couple of times a day.
You should take care when doing these exercises, ensuring that the movements are slow and controlled and avoid letting your tummy ‘dome’ or bulge in the middle whilst doing any exercises. As your abdominal muscles begin to strengthen again and the gap in the abdominal wall begins to narrow these exercises can be progressed. If you feel pain, or have any concerns at all then be sure to speak to your midwife, GP or a specialist women’s health physio.