I was at a wedding the other week, and a friend had her gorgeous 5 week old daughter there. Whilst I was coo-ing and talking like an idiot to the child, my friend mentioned that since she had the bub, her core strength has disappeared.
I can only imagine how short-changed all you new mothers must feel. I mean, you grew a human child for 9 months and then pushed it out, and now suddenly you feel like you cant even run a few steps properly? So, like a good little blogger-friend, I have gone and done some reading, and will summarise my findings for her, and anyone else who is reading who has recently had a child and wondered where the hell their muscle strength has gone. At a time when you need to rally to keep it together. Thanks, evolution, thanks a bunch.
First of all, new mums should feel comfortable easing back into exercise as and when they are ready. Those who had an un-complicated birth can start light exercising right away, but remember that the child took 9 months to grow, so be kind to yourself in getting back to shape!
If you start to exercise, and you feel worse the day after, then you are pushing yourself too hard. Please always consult your doctor: I have done some research, but this is meant as a few suggestions rather than anything else. I am not a medical doctor. In spite of how many medical shows I have watched.
It seems that the first muscle that should be worked after pregnancy (and during) is the pelvic floor. The pelvic floor stretches from the pubic bone at the front to the base of the spine, and acts as a sling to hold the bladder, bowel and uterus. This is the muscle you’d use should you stop your pee mid-flow (not recommended as being a good thing to do!).
Kegels are the way to make sure your pelvic floor stays nice and strong. Basically, imagine that you are stopping your pee mid-flow, and you should feel your pelvic floor contract. In the first few weeks after giving birth, do these on your back or on your side. Hold for 5 seconds, relax for 5 seconds, and of 5 reps. You can also try pelvic tilts:
- Lie on your back with your feet on the floor, knees bent
- Round your pelvis back so that your lower back touches the floor, and gently suck your belly button towards your spine
- Hold for a few seconds, and do 10 reps per session, three times a day.
As you increase your strength, you can build up these exercises, holding them for longer each time. Your kegels can be done in various positions such as standing, sitting, and when you’re stronger, when doing other tasks such as walking. Some websites suggest using prompts to remind you to do your kegels: when boiling the kettle, or feeing your bub. The good thing about these is that they can be done very discreetly, as Samantha from Sex and the City taught us all many moons ago:
During the first few weeks of your child’s life, there’s no need to worry about strength. Give yourself a break! You’re already getting no sleep, and trying to fit in kugels around the feeding schedule.
However, by week week two or three, or even four, if you’re up to it, you can start to look at your core. A good beginners exercise for your stomach is this:
- Lie on your side, and let your stomach relax
- As you breath out, draw in your stomach like a corset and tighten your pelvic floor
- Hold for 10 seconds and release
This is kind of like the pelvic tilt, but you’re giving your abs a bit more of a workout. You can also start to plank for short amounts of time to really wake that core up, and incorporate gentle push ups as well. If you experienced Diastasis Recti, then you shouldn’t do any stomach work, and please consult doctor before trying it!
From about week 2-3 you can start to do gentle push ups to get your arms engaged. As you pick things up off the floor, try to squat rather than bend from the waist. This will start to engage your quads.
To get your hamstrings and butt into gear, you can try floor bridges:
- Lie on your back with your feet on the floor, knees bent, arms by your side
- Lift your butt off the floor by squeezing your glutes and engaging your core. Push your heels into the ground
- Do a kegel, and hold for three seconds, at the top
- Release and return your butt to the floor
- Repeat 10 times and do 1-2 reps
And now we can talk about cardio!! When you return to activity after pregnancy, cardio is the last thing you should jump in with. Work on the above muscle groups before you try anything crazy.
Immediately after the birth, you can start walking gently – maybe for 20 minutes at a time. Again, this is only if you feel up to it. As your strength and stamina increases, you can also increase the length and distance.
Running should only commence at least 6 weeks after you have given birth, and that is if your doctor gives you the go ahead. Your body has changed a lot over the past 14 months, and so running might feel very different. Runner’s World recommends starting with a walk-run programme, alternating one minute of walking with one minute of running fro 30 mins: so in total you have 15 mins running and 15 mins walking. It’s recommended to do this every other day to give yourself time to recover. After 8 weeks you can start to run for 20 minute blocks as long as you feel up to it.
As you increase your cardio, it’s really important to continue with your strengthening exercises. Muscles are weakened during pregnancy, and you don’t want to get injured!
So that’s it! That’s how women who have just given birth can start to re-integrate exercise into their routine. Gradually your muscles will return, and you can start to run again. I imagine the endorphins feel amazing after sleep deprivation.
All the new mothers, please take care and be kind to yourselves! These are suggestions on how you could approach it, not a judgement that you should. And for all the non-new mothers, thank you for sticking to the end! These exercises are good for everyone who want to develop a stronger core, and if you’re a runner, it’s always good to make sure your pelvic floor is strong.
- Anon (May 2013). When Can I Start to Exercise After Giving Birth? [WWW]. Available from: http://www.babycentre.co.uk/a196/when-can-i-start-to-exercise-after-giving-birth
- Bourne, A. (April 2013). I’ve just had a baby. How can I remember to do my pelvic floor exercises? [WWW]. Available from: http://www.babycentre.co.uk/x1014318/ive-just-had-a-baby-how-can-i-remember-to-do-my-pelvic-floor-exercises (Accessed 29th October 2014)
- Jhung), L. (30th August 2010). Up and Running [WWW]. Available from: http://www.runnersworld.com/womens-running/up-and-running?page=single (Accessed 23rd October 2014)
- NHS Choices (18th August 2014). Keeping Fit and Healthy with a Baby [WWW]. Available from: http://www.nhs.uk/conditions/pregnancy-and-baby/pages/keeping-fit-and-healthy.aspx (Accessed: 29th October)
- NHS Choices (13th January 2014). Your Post Pregnancy Body [WWW]. Available from: http://www.nhs.uk/Conditions/pregnancy-and-baby/Pages/your-body-after-childbirth.aspx#close (Accessed: 29th October)
- Shelton, S. (no date). Top Moves to Get Your After-Baby Body, Fast! [WWW]. Available from: http://www.fitnessmagazine.com/workout/post-pregnancy/post-pregnancy-exercises/?page=1 (Accessed 23rd October)