7 Truths You Need to Embrace for Postnatal Exercise Triumph
Take the stress and uncertainty out of returning to exercise after birth with The Bump Room’s secrets to success. Discover why online postnatal exercise classes are the solution whether you are looking for exercises for diastasis recti, pelvic floor weakness or you just don’t know how to begin.
Daydreaming of your maternity leave evokes images of lunch with friends, strolling with the buggy, and having lots of time to work out. After all, newborns sleep most of the time, don’t they?
Fast forward 9 months. There is no greater humbling experience than the reality of becoming a mum. You are no longer the master of your own time. Postnatal exercise will likely look entirely different from how you anticipated. Even the best-intentioned new mums find that their fitness takes a backseat after their new arrival.
Here, are some need-to-know facts about postnatal exercise that nobody tells you. Embrace these and you will set yourself up for success.
1. Finding the time is impossible
Get up, care for baby, make meals, clean up, do laundry, put baby to bed, sleep (a little….maybe), repeat. Where are you supposed to fit in exercise?
Starting or sticking with an exercise routine can be a struggle for anyone. But for busy and overloaded mums, squeezing in exercise can feel near impossible. After all, how are you supposed to find time to work out when you can’t even go to the bathroom without interruption?
Halle Berry’s abs have been carved to perfection and are the envy of all women. Especially after birth when your tummy feels like a bowl of jelly. Of course, we would all love to look half as toned but I bet you didn’t know that she is rumoured to exercise for 4 hours a day.
Yep, 4 hours a day. I mean that’s doable, right? Just need to hire a childminder, a cleaner, a chef, someone to do the laundry, and another to complete life admin.
So, in the absence of 4 spare hours in your day, I guess we need to alter our expectations. In the trenches of motherhood resetting our goals to being healthy and strong rather than the next Bond girl in a tiny bikini will serve us best.
Let’s get back to basics. How much is recommended for health?
The World Health Organisation recommends 150 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic exercise for health, with additional benefits of twice-weekly moderate to high-intensity strength training.
That is 2.5 hours per week (not 4 hours a day we had tormented ourselves with earlier). This sounds quite daunting when you are not currently exercising, and you feel your current demands outweigh you 100:1. The good news is that it does not all have to be together. Breaking it down into smaller more achievable chunks is the only way of succeeding.
There is a huge misconception that you must exercise for an hour at a time (great when you have no dependents and time is your own). There is no scientific truth to this. There are no added benefits to one-hour exercise compared to 4 x 15 min, or 3 x 20 min workouts. So why do women keep setting themselves up for failure trying to fit in long workouts?
Let’s start by setting yourself up to win. First, you need a realistic goal. Begin by trying to get in a 20 min workout most days. Online postnatal exercise classes are a quick and efficient way of fitting exercise into your busy schedule. You don’t even have to leave the house (or get dressed). When you join The Bump Room Community you get access to a library of postnatal workouts that you can use at your own pace at home. Sign up HERE https://thebumproom.ie/join-our-community/
2. Leaving the house with a baby should be classed as an Olympic Sport
Do you remember leaving the house to go to the gym before your baby bounced into the world? Probably not, because it was no major life event. Pick up your keys, a bottle of water, and maybe your phone, and off you went.
Now, since the arrival of your little one, leaving the house needs a minimum of 36 hours of planning, 6 lists, 4 changes of clothes, 3 dummies, 6 muslins, and that is without mentioning the buggy! That “expertly designed” travel system, that you must remove the back wheel just to get in the boot of your car (We need more women in design!). Getting to the gym can seem like your own version of an endurance iron man challenge and that is before you even exercise.
Let’s get back to setting yourself up for a win. Make life easier. Online postnatal exercise classes could be your saviour and save the drama of leaving the house for nice things like meeting friends for coffee. Sign up to The Bump Room Community HERE to get access to online live and pre-recorded classes.
3. Exercise is essential for your health, not a selfish indulgence
Only 38% of women in Ireland are meeting the National Physical Activity Guideline recommendations. Women will small babies are even less active compared with age-matched peers and dads! So how come dads can find time to exercise and mum’s struggle?
Very few postnatal women make exercise a priority, a study by Saligheh in 2016 found. The three highest priorities for women with young children were:
- Looking after the baby and other children,
- Taking care of husbands/partners
Here we are in 2022 and women are still prioritising everyone and everything other than themselves. And how have we gotten from the topic of postnatal exercise to feminism so fast!! Let’s leave that for another blog.
Michelle Obama could not have put it better when she said:
“When I get up and work out, I’m working out as much for my girls as I am for me because I want them to see a mother who loves them dearly, invests in them, and invests in herself. It’s just as much about letting them know as a young woman that it’s ok to put yourself a little higher on your priority list.”
There is a sense that exercise is something that you do when you need to lose weight, but exercise is a fundamental requirement of health. Exercise strengthens your bones and muscles, prevents a multitude of chronic health conditions, and sweats life’s stress right out of you. It has been proven to be the single best thing you can do to prevent and treat postnatal depression and mood disorders.
Perception is everything found by Sarah Liva in her 2020 study. She found that the women she interviewed were mostly experiencing the same sorts of barriers, like lack of time, frustration, and limited childcare options.
“But it was the women who had different perceptions about how important activity was for them to meet their needs — the degree to which they thought, ‘Hey, being active helps me, makes me feel good as a mom’ — those people, despite all the things that were happening, they were able to negotiate and get activity because it was so important to them.”
It’s easy to find a reason why you just can’t fit in some time for exercise. Exercising doesn’t drain you of personal energy, it should boost it, and this is exactly what mums need. Maintaining an exercise routine is probably the single best thing you can do for your mental health, and your physical health and boost your energy. A healthy mum is a much happier mum.
If you take the time to exercise, you’ll likely feel better — so will everyone else around you.
4. You’ll experience brand-new aches and pains.
You probably don’t need to be told, but hormones shift in pregnancy. Remember the hysterical crying when watching Tik-Tok videos of cats………hormones!!! Body tissue sensitivity is increased due to more circulating oestrogen (one of the many hormones) making your muscles and joints easier to irritate. Oestrogen remains quite high if you breastfeed after birth which may, in turn, affect your return to exercise. Combine that with lack of sleep, and physical exhaustion and your body can feel very old and achy.
Your new mum’s lifestyle can create some aches and pain too. Motherhood allows little time to think about how you are moving and positioning your body because there are needs that feel (and often are) more urgent; like the baby is crying, needs a nappy change, needs a feed, etc. Looking after young children is demanding on your body. You are lifting the car seat; you are lifting the bags and you are having to do a lot of manual work.
You might be tempted to stop moving when you hurt (It is a primitive human reflex) but a sedentary lifestyle increases pain and makes for poor overall physical and mental health. Regular exercise works against pain, reduces fatigue, and increases energy.
Here is Laura, a mum of 3, who had pelvic pain in all her pregnancies, and who initially was fearful of postnatal exercise in case it exercises made her pain worse:
“My Postnatal recovery has been slow after 3 babies in 4 years, but Fiona and The Bump Room are amazing at putting you at ease and supporting you in your journey back to fitness. Her knowledge and understanding are so comforting explaining what is normal and encouraging you to work at your own pace. I’m feeling so much stronger and fitter as a result”.
How your body functions and moves, has changed dramatically throughout your pregnancy and childbirth. Sometimes it’s hard to know what is best for your body. Should you stretch or workout through the discomfort? Take the confusion out of getting back to exercise after your baby and get the right support to get back to exercise safely. You deserve it.
Sign up HERE to get a free 10 min exercise video to ease common postnatal pain issues. These postnatal back stretches will help you feel great again.
5. You will feel disconnected from your core muscles.
Feelings of disconnection, absence, and nonexistence are commonly reported by women when describing how their postnatal core feels. Back to Sarah Liva, who found over and over that women were struggling with the physical changes they were experiencing. They felt isolated with nobody to guide them and were left adrift trying to get back to exercise safely.
Virtually all women experience diastasis recti at the end of pregnancy. This is when the connective tissue between the two sides of the sit-up muscles thins and stretches to allow the baby to grow in the tummy during pregnancy. It is a natural phenomenon, so not to be feared but loading the abdominal muscles at the right level is the key to success. This is best done with the guidance of a health professional with expert training on diastasis recti.
Women need support when returning to tummy exercise postnatally. If you overload your body with exercises that are too demanding, you can cause harm to your pelvic floor muscles and back but if your exercises underload your body you will not make the changes you need to get stronger. An experienced chartered physiotherapist specialising in women’s health is an ideal postnatal exercise instructor who will help put you at ease and find the right level of exercise for your body at this time and get you back to moving with ease.
Sign up HERE for a one-week free trial to get access to physiotherapy-led exercise classes and education videos.
6. Your pelvic floor needs attention
You might think that after your six-week postnatal check it is all guns blazing back to exercise, but this is not the reality. The Return to Running Guidelines postnatal, published in 2019, recommend waiting a minimum of 12 weeks before returning to high-impact exercises such as running or gym workouts.
Your growing baby uses your pelvic floor as a trampoline during pregnancy and during childbirth, the pelvic floor muscles stretch up to an extraordinary 3.26 times its length at the end of the second stage of labour. So, we need to give our pelvic floor the attention it needs after birth.
Because you cannot see your pelvic floor it is an area many women struggle to connect with particularly after pregnancy and childbirth. If you cannot connect well with the area then you cannot strengthen it.
The pelvic floor, although small, is a critical area of your body. It has a lot of jobs and functions. A pelvic floor that is functioning well supports the bladder and other organs, preventing prolapse and incontinence; it improves sexual function and supports your core. Re-establishing good activation, coordination and strength should be the foundation of any postnatal exercise programme.
This is the part that often gets skipped. There is a process involved in getting your body ready to cope with the demands of running and gym classes after pregnancy. Rehabilitation is best when starting from the inside out.
Pelvic floor muscle training and core activation exercises are your foundation and where your postnatal exercise should begin. This is ideally followed by a period of progressively loading your body and muscles safely. From there back to impact exercise.
You are not meant to know how to do this by yourself. Trying to skip parts of your rehabilitation and go straight back to high-level exercise may only cause harm to your already recovering body. Get support from professionals who have specific training in pelvic and women’s health to get you on the right track and work on a progressive programme that takes you from birth progressively back to impact exercise.
7. “Bouncing Back” is rare
We all know a few genetic unicorns that left the postnatal ward in their pre-pregnancy skinny jeans, fitted top, and tan untouched by the physicality involved in bringing a child into the world. This is a rare phenomenon.
According to a 2008 study published in the journal Women & Health, self-reported body image hits a low at 6 months postnatally for mums. We are bombarded by images of celebrity mothers who have immediately ‘bounced back’ to their pre-pregnancy body shape after giving birth. There is so much unrealistic pressure on new mums to snap back, shed the baby weight, and transform into ‘yummy mummy’ mode soon after birth.
“The whole idea of ‘getting your body back is not attainable for 95% of women,”
says Dr Stefani Reinold, a board-certified psychiatrist who specialises in perinatal mental health and eating disorders.
“Society is very stereotypical, believing that the whole purpose of postnatal should be to get your body back, and we miss the boat in our opportunity to nurture the mother in this amazing journey she just took.”
Postnatal recovery takes time. This is a challenge because you want to feel like your old self again but the sleep deprivation and the change in your body shape and how it works can leave you feeling uneasy.
While it can be easy to deprioritise your health after becoming a mother, exercise is one of the best things you can do for yourself and your baby. Perhaps the focus should be less on ‘bouncing back’ and more on healing and strengthening our postnatal bodies that brought life into this world.
Join a growing community of pregnant and postnatal women nourishing their health and wellbeing with The Bump Room. Start your free trial HERE.
Chartered Physiotherapist Specialising in Women’s Health