Congratulations on becoming a mum!
Months of pregnancy followed by labour have taken its toll on your body and it will take time to recover from all the events of the last 9 months. There is no rush to push your body to its limits right away; however it is time to gradually regain your strength and fitness.
1. During pregnancy your body adapts to accommodate your growing baby. You have a piece of soft tissue called the linea alba which attaches itself to the pubis symphesis (centre of the pubic bone) and the xyphoid process (the bony bit at the bottom of the sternum between the top of the rib cage). Its purpose is the connection of other muscles around the abdominals. As you grow during pregnancy this tissue can separate and the abdominal muscles spread away from each other. This is a perfectly natural thing to happen. However, before you anticipate exercising after giving birth you must wait until this tissue has returned almost to its original form. It is therefore import that you get clearance from your GP before starting a training programme. If you delivered your baby via caesarean section then you will take a little longer to heal. Also the remaining scar tissue in the muscles renders them slightly inactive and they will take time to start working properly again. It's important to communicate with your GP/obstetrician who will be able to advise you when you have recovered sufficiently from the surgery to begin an exercise programme.
2. It should be noted that for a few weeks after giving birth hormones are still racing around your body. There are still residual amounts of relaxin in your body. This hormone is released during pregnancy to allow soft tissues to become more elastic to allow extra space for the baby. Because of this, for a short while after birth you need to take care when stretching to avoid injury by stretching too much.
3. Are you breast feeding? If so then it is advisable to plan your workouts around feeding times. Some research suggests that if a mum breastfeeds straight after very rigorous exercise, her milk may contain high levels of lactic acid that can temporarily affect its taste. However, this only applies to truly strenuous exercise.
4. Once you are ready to start getting back into shape, take care which exercises you choose to begin with. The pelvic floor has been put through a lot of strain during labour which can cause stress incontinence, however the good news is that you can start pelvic floor exercises almost immediately after giving birth.
5. The core muscles have also been put through a lot of strain during pregnancy and labour. These muscles need activating to get them firing properly and help improve posture. This will help with any lower back pain too. Try this simple reverse breathing exercise to get them working again:
- Place yourself on the floor on your hands and knees.
- As you take a deep breath in push your belly towards the floor and hold for a couple of seconds.
- As you breathe out slowly, pull your belly in towards your spine as tight as you can. Breathe out as far as possible and again hold for a couple of seconds.
- Repeat the exercise.
- Make sure you take long slow deep breaths; you may even feel the pelvic floor lift as you breathe out.
As you improve you can make this exercise more challenging by extending out your arm and/or opposite leg. This places more tension on the core to stabilise.
6. Progress at a steady pace. After your 6 week check up, don't try and run a marathon the next day (unless you are Paula Radcliffe!). Start working at around 5 out of 10 (10 being maximum effort) and after a couple of weeks increase to 6 out of 10 and take care with high impact exercises. When your lochia (post natal bleeding) has stopped you could try swimming, although it's best to wait for at least 6 weeks to avoid infection.
7. Finally, eat good quality fresh organic food and drink plenty of water, which will be good for you and the baby if you are breastfeeding.
So here's to your good health and wellbeing. Good luck!