By Katie Graves @Katie_trueyoufitness
Katie is a mum of two, Personal Trainer and Group Fitness Instructor, Pre and Post Natal Qualified.
You might remember my blog from last year where I focused on how women can best support themselves and their bodies during pregnancy through safe, effective exercise and nutrition. It’s great to think about how to be physically active whilst you’re pregnant, but moving your body whilst you’re growing another human being can feel hard enough, so what happens after you’ve given birth? Your body may well be sore and will definitely feel different. You’re likely to feel incredibly tired and pretty emotional so the thought of pulling on skin tight lycra and knocking out a round of burpees has the potential to push you well and truly over the edge!
The pressure to ‘snap back’ and ‘shape up’ post pregnancy can feel overwhelming and downright depressing. And if this is your key motivator to get back into exercise after having a baby, then I’m willing to bet that the experience of a workout of any kind is unlikely to bring you a huge amount of enjoyment….
But I am a massive advocate for exercise after giving birth. Moving our bodies through exercise can bring so many benefits; physically, mentally and emotionally. Being a mum is tough, never mind the labour bit, just the day to day cycle of lugging a buggy in and out of a car boot, lifting the load of a car seat plus baby, balancing a little person on one hip whilst simultaneously carrying a load of washing/bags of shopping/second little person is tough! You’re far less likely to pick up aches and pains, and feel physically able to handle these demands if you support yourself by building strength and fitness through physical activity.
Emotionally and mentally, becoming a mum can be challenging. It’s wonderfully rewarding, but our whole lives are turned upside down! It’s normal to crave a bit of time for yourself, want to feel a bit more like you rather than just a feeding machine, and maybe just get the chance to leave the house alone! This is where exercise can be a fantastic release. After the birth of my first child was the moment when I really started to enjoy and appreciate physical exercise. Up until that point, workouts had just been something that I felt like I ‘ought’ to do. But after I had my daughter Lola, I suddenly couldn’t wait to get to the gym or go to my buggyfit class. Yes, I’ll admit that initially the sense of freedom I got leaving the house to go to the gym was a massive bonus ;) but then I started to truly enjoy the sense of my body getting stronger, and my mood being boosted through fresh air and endorphins. So I know first hand how powerfully positive exercise postpartum can be, but it’s got to be done in a safe, supported and beneficial way.
First up there’s absolutely no rush! Don’t be fooled by the media into thinking that every other new mum is trotting off down the gym a couple of weeks after giving birth! If they are then that’s not only insane, but also incredibly dangerous. The earliest that you should consider undertaking any form of exercise that is any more intense or vigorous than a medium paced walk, should be once you are at least 6 weeks post birth. And even then, you need to meet with your GP or Midwife (ideally in person) to get their medical sign off that your body is sufficiently recovered from pregnancy and delivery. Bear in mind that if you had a delivery with interventions or a c-section, it could take you longer to get to the stage where you and your doctor feel ready to say yes to exercise.
OK, so you feel ready, mentally and physically, your GP/Midwife has given you the go ahead….what now? Should you just pull on your trainers and go for it??
Not quite……Firstly kit yourself out right, Even if you’re a seasoned gym goer you may find that you need to invest in some new exercise gear, as it’s normal for our bodies to change in shape, size and needs post birth. An absolute must have is a super supportive sports bra, especially if you’re breastfeeding. When I first went back to exercise post birth I found that I needed to wear two sports bras at once to get the level of support that was necessary! For comfort around the tummy and waist area, look for high waisted leggings and don’t be afraid to go for sizes bigger than you would previously have worn. It’s far better to feel comfortable and ignore the number on a label, than squeeze yourself into something that almost cuts off your blood supply. Finally check out your trainers. You want a good solid base, so if your trainers have been around forever, now could be a good time to replace them. And don’t be surprised if you need a larger size, my feet went up a whole size after my pregnancies and never shrank back!
Once you’ve got your wardrobe sorted, my advice would be to take your time to consider what you’d like to get out of exercise at this stage. Your body has been through a huge amount internally, even if your pregnancy was relatively plain sailing. Be realistic with your expectations of yourself; if you exercised consistently throughout your pregnancy and had a natural birth, then it’s likely that you’ll find returning to physical activity easier and more straightforward than if you haven’t done any exercise in some time, or had any form of surgery as part of your delivery. Either scenario is fine, we’re all on different journeys when it comes to fitness, and the best we can do for our bodies in the longer term, is to take things at a pace that feels right for us. You’ll probably make some wonderful friends during and post pregnancy but definitely try and resist the urge to compare yourself, your body and your level of physical activity to anything that anyone else is up to.
Time for yourself is super precious when you’ve got a young baby, so think about how you can truly enjoy the time you’ve got to exercise. Would you prefer to get outdoors? Are you more comfortable in a gym? Do you want to workout with other people? Are you looking to build strength? Flexibility? Cardio fitness? There are so many options, and you can absolutely go for more than one!
Whatever approach you think you’d enjoy most, aim to find an option that is specifically designed for women post pregnancy. As I’ve said, your body has been through a huge amount, so it’s essential that it’s treated with care and supported by a fitness professional fully qualified to work with ladies postpartum. There are plenty of group sessions available for new mums; some even enable you to take your little one along so that childcare isn’t a consideration. But all should be able to effectively support you in returning to exercise and getting the most out of your workout, plus you get the added benefit of meeting other new mums in the local area! You could also consider a few sessions with a specially qualified Personal Trainer; I work with several ladies who just fancy a few sessions to build their confidence, strength and fitness back up post birth. Whatever you decide, definitely try to resist the urge to just go for it alone; you may feel totally back to your pre-pregnancy self, but you’ve got no way of knowing what’s going on internally, so get some support and ease yourself back in gently.
My final bit of advice for getting back to exercise after having a baby would be to afford yourself patience and kindness. You’re going to have days where you planned on going to the gym, attending a class or popping out for a run, but you just feel too exhausted. That’s ok. Take rest as you need it, then see how you feel the next day, week or month. Try not to immediately expect your body to do everything that it did pre-pregnancy. You can, and will return to your previous fitness and strength levels, and even exceed them if that’s your goal. But go at a steady and consistent pace to help protect yourself from getting injured.
Measuring your success against progress based on how you feel, rather than how you look can also make a huge difference to your mental health. Noticing how your heart rate starts to recover more quickly after a cardio interval, or how you can lift an extra couple of kilos on your squats, how much freer your downward dog feels or how much you enjoyed the dance class will bring you so much more genuine joy than what size your jeans are!
Here’s a quick rundown of my top tips for getting back on your feet when it comes to exercise post pregnancy:
● Do nothing until 6 weeks and always seek medical sign off
● Take things at your own pace and listen to your body
● Get a great sports bra
● Find a qualified post natal fitness professional or specialised class
● Drink loads of water during and after exercise, especially if you’re breastfeeding
● Give yourself time to recover and rest between workouts
● Take your journey back into fitness at a sensible pace
● Find ways to move your body that you genuinely enjoy