Written by: Cally Worden
Getting your body back after the birth of your baby can feel strange. One of the best ways to reclaim yourself is to take control of your body and start exercising. While this may feel like the last thing you want to do when you’re fatigued beyond belief it is well worth the effort. As well as offering a massive mood boost and helping you to drop your baby-weight, the long-term health benefits of post-natal exercise are well documented. And gentle exercise will actually give you more energy if you make the effort regularly. Here’s the low down on what you could be doing, and when.
Your body takes a battering during childbirth; there are parts of you that will feel sore and tender for several weeks afterwards. Your pelvic floor muscles need time to recover, but you can help them regain their strength and tone from day one, by doing some gentle exercises every day. You may initially feel like there is no benefit from this, but after a week or two you should start to feel the difference.
You can also help your back, tummy and pelvic areas regain strength by talking a short walk each day. Keep it light to begin with, no more than 10 minutes, gradually building this up as your energy returns. There will be days when you don’t feel like doing anything. Listen to your body and only push yourself as far as you feel comfortable in doing.
Gentle exercise should not affect the quality or quantity of your breast milk if you are breastfeeding and, caesarean sections notwithstanding (see below), it is generally considered safe to exercise as long as your body is not protesting. If your lochia (post-natal bleeding) becomes more red or heavier it could be sign you are doing too much, so back off and take a rest. If you’re not sure if you should be exercising, ask your health visitor or doctor.
If you’re okay to proceed, the important thing is to get into a habit of doing something. This focus will also help you feel less overwhelmed by everything ‘baby’. You are still a woman too, not just a mother.
Avoid These Exercises at First
- Swimming – to limit the risk of infection it’s advisable to avoid swimming for the first 6 weeks post birth, until you have been bleed-free for 7 days. If you have had a caesarean wait until after your first post-natal check
- Exercises on your Hands and Knees – exercising in this position in the first six weeks after birth carries a small risk that your may develop an air-clot at the site where your placenta was attached
A caesarean section can leave you feeling very fragile, you should not attempt any exercise until you feel mentally well and physically ready. That said, all the gentle exercises we mention in this article are considered to be relatively safe whatever type of birth you have had. As always with any of the exercises here, if you are at all unsure then discuss your plans with your doctor or health visitor first.
Gentle tummy exercises can really help post-caesarean tummy muscles recover. They may generate a light sensation of pulling, but they shouldn’t hurt – if they do, stop immediately. And be kind to yourself – after a caesarean you may become tired very easily. Take care.
Lower Tummy Muscle Exercise
Exercises for your lower tummy actually also benefit your pelvic floor and strengthen your back too. The other bonus is that they can assist in improving the tone of your post-baby belly. Try this:
Lie on your side or back with knees bent up. Breathe in and out slowly, tightening your pelvic floor muscles as you exhale, and pull your belly button in and up. Hold for a count of ten, remembering to breath, then slowly relax. After five seconds of rest, repeat. If holding the muscles for a ten seconds is too much to begin with simply do as long as you can, then work up to the ten
Pelvis and Back Exercise
A pelvic tilt is where you gently raise your pelvis – this has the effect of stretching your lower back, and also exercising your tummy muscles. Pelvic tilts can be done lying or sitting down:
- Lying down – lie on the floor or bed with a pillow under your head, and knees bent up. Squeeze your pelvic floor muscles, pull in your lower tummy and gently press the small of your back downwards. Hold while you count to three and then allow your back to arch back up slowly. Try not to hold your breath. Repeat ten times
- Sitting Up – sit on a stool or chair with feet flat on the floor. Tighten your pelvic floor muscles and pull in your lower tummy. Slump your back down and out, hold, then arch it in as you stick our your chest and bottom. Hold again. Keep alternating between these two positions for ten repetitions, keeping your breathing steady. Break and relax your muscles when you need to
Upper Back Exercise
Slumping is common for new Mums, who spend lots of time sitting feeding their newborn. It’s not great for your posture, so it’s important to stretch and strengthen your upper back:
- Sit up straight and cross your arms over your chest. Twist first to the left, then the right. Repeat ten times.
- Sit straight and link your hands behind your neck. Twist first to the left, then the right. Repeat ten times.
- Sit straight with your hands linked together in your lap. Raise your arms in front of you and up above your head as far as you can, keeping your back straight. Hold for a count of three, then slowly lower your arms. Repeat ten times