Following the birth of her 4th son Jesse Jones earlier this month, Fitness League patron Sophie Ellis Bextor, along with thousands of other new mums, will be looking to get back into shape. Fitness League classes are brilliant for mums returning to exercise as we really concentrate on posture and core work and keep a very careful eye on all participants
So how quickly can you start exercising post delivery and what can you do?
Although full exercise classes should not be restarted until after the 6 week check (8 – 10 weeks post C section), pelvic floor exercises should be resumed within 24 hours of delivery!
Now the question is…do you know how to do pelvic floor exercises? Here is a good explanation from www.nhs.uk
Pelvic floor muscle exercises strengthen the muscles around your bladder, vagina and back passage. This can help to stop incontinence, treat prolapse and make sex better too.
You can do this exercise lying down, sitting or standing. With practice, it can be done anywhere and at any time – even while you’re watching TV.
- Squeeze and draw in your back passage as if you’re holding in wind.
- Squeeze around your vagina and bladder tube (urethra) as if you’re stopping the flow of urine, or squeezing during intercourse.
- Now relax. This is a short squeeze. Rest for a second, then repeat these squeezes until you feel the muscles get tired.
- After a short rest, squeeze again as above. This time hold the squeeze for as long as you can (but not for more than 10 seconds) then relax.
- It’s important to keep breathing normally while you do these exercises. Make sure you don’t pull in your stomach or squeeze your buttocks when you squeeze.
- Aim to build up to 10 repeats of each exercise, four to six times a day.
In the past, women were taught to practice these squeezes while urinating (having a wee). This isn’t the best way to do these exercises because you may not empty your bladder completely. Sitting on the toilet can be a good reminder to do your exercises though. Just make sure you do them after you have finished.
So now you know!! All women should do pelvic floor exercises every day whether they have just had a baby or not. In fact, you should be doing them whilst reading this article…. are you?
So now we are all doing our pelvic floor exercises, what about the abdominals? Again, here’s a great explanation from www.nhs.uk:
Separated stomach muscles (diastasis recti)
The amount of separation varies from one woman to another. It happens because your growing womb (uterus) pushes the muscles apart, making them longer and weaker.
Most women don’t notice any problems as their stomach muscles separate in pregnancy. But you might notice a bulge developing down the front of your bump, above and below your belly button.
After you have had your baby, you can check the size of the separation with this simple technique:
- Lie on your back with your legs bent and your feet flat on the floor.
- Raise your shoulders off the floor slightly and look down at your tummy. Using the tips of your fingers, feel between the edges of the muscles, above and below your belly button. See how many fingers you can fit into the gap between your muscles.
- Do this regularly to check that the gap is gradually decreasing.
The separation between your stomach muscles will usually go back to normal by the time your baby is eight weeks old. If the gap is still obvious at eight weeks the muscles may still be long and weak. This can put you at risk of back problems. Have a word with your health visitor or GP. Your GP can refer you to a physiotherapist who will give you some specific exercises to do.
Regular pelvic floor and deep stomach muscle exercises can help to reduce the size of the separation between your stomach muscles. It’s also important to stand up tall and be aware of your posture now you’re no longer pregnant.
So what sort of exercises can you do to help tone those deep stomach muscles? Crunches and double leg lifts are out until your separation has returned to normal. If you attempt them before recovery you can cause damage to your back, abdominal corset and your pelvic floor.
Try this exercise which can be done whilst looking adoringly at your new baby
- Lie on your side with your knees slightly bent.
- Let your tummy relax and breathe in gently.
- As you breathe out, gently draw in the lower part of your stomach like a corset, narrowing your waistline.
- Squeeze/ draw up your pelvic floor muscles at the same time without tightening in your thighs.
- Hold for a count of 10 (keep breathing normally), then gently release.
- Repeat up to 10 times.
Back ache can be a real challenge both during pregnancy and after. During pregnancy the centre of gravity changes to accomodate the bump and the spine arches to accomodate it. Post delivery, the abdominals are weak and infant carry chairs are heavy so it is easy to hurt your back.
Working the abdominal muscles whilst supporting the spine (and looking at your baby) can be beneficial. Try this:
- Kneel on all fours making sure spine is aligned, knees are under hips and wrists under shoulders
- Draw in the abdominal muscles slowly and steadily without moving the spine or dropping your head. Don’t forget to breathe and pull up the pelvic floor at the same time.
- Hold them for a count of 10 without tightening your thighs then slowly release.
When you return to full exercise remember your body has been through some major changes. Be realistic. It may take up to 12 months for your body to fully recover. Every mum is diffferent so please don’t compare your recovery with others in your post natal group.
One of the best forms of exercise is brisk walking. Stride out with your baby in his/her pram. Stand tall, hold in your abdominals, pull up that pelvic floor and look the world in the eye.
Whatever exercise you chose to do, here are some helpful tips:
- wear a good, well fitting sports bra. This will help with posture and help prevent mastitis
- If you wear trainers for exercise get your feet re measured – they may have expanded during pregnancy
- If you are breast feeding then feed or express BEFORE exercise. Make sure you have plenty of breast pads in your bag as exercise can promote the let down reflex and you may end up producing milk when you least expect it!
- Drink plenty of fluids before, during and after exercise
- Don’t exercise on an empty stomach
- Incorporate exercise into your daily activities
- Avoid high impact activity until at least 3 months post delivery
- If you feel unwell then stop exercising
- If you are tired then
In addition, remember that during pregnancy your body produced a homone called relaxin which softens the tendons and ligaments in preparation for birth. This hormone remains in the system for some time post delivery and you may find your joints become more mobile as a result. Take care not to overstretch joints during this phase as you can cause long term damage, particularly to the hips and spine. So any exercise that involves a very wide stance should be avoided – your Fitness League teacher will provide you with safe alternatives.
If you are in any doubt about what exercise is right for you, talk to your doctor or health visitor.
Above all, be proud of what you have achieved and take some time to be with your baby.