7 Most Effective Postnatal Exercises For New Moms
At a time that is both incredible and full of new challenges, regular exercise after childbirth not only helps return you to pre-pregnancy weight and shape but gives you increased energy and improved mood, all of which you’ll need to cope with the demands of new motherhood.
When considering postnatal exercises, the stomach area is often our primary area of concern. However, it’s crucial that the muscles have healed before you do any serious abdominal exercises like crunches.
Also, rather than focusing on one area of the body it’s important to remember that there are many exercises that will help with overall health and fitness.
Activities such as lifting heavy weights, sit-ups and high-intensity aerobic activity, such as running and tennis, should be avoided for at least the first 3 months and only once you’ve had the all clear for your doctor.
It’s important to remember, too, that your ligaments and joints will be loose for at least 3 months following childbirth, so avoid any high-impact exercises or sports that require rapid direction changes, and avoid vigorous stretching.
Childbirth can weaken the pelvic floor often resulting in issues, such as incontinence, later in life. Many new mothers find that one of the biggest challenges to exercising the pelvic floor is actually finding them.
On the bright side, once you identify these muscles (they’re the ones that you tighten to stop urinating) the exercises can be performed lying down, sitting or standing: Try to relax your abdominal muscles and gradually squeeze to increase the tension until you’ve contracted the muscles as hard as you can. Gently and slowly release. Repeat. Simple.
You can gently exercise your pelvic floor and abdominal muscles daily, as soon as your doctor tells you it’s safe to do so. But make sure your abdominal muscles have healed before you do any vigorous abdominal work.
Generally, gentle tummy exercises can be safely started one to two days following the birth of your baby, provided there’s no increase in your pain or other complications. And once the gap in your abdominal muscles has closed, you can return to the more demanding pre-pregnancy exercises.
While you should absolutely avoid strenuous and high impact exercises in the first 12 weeks following childbirth, gentle walking, when pain and discomfort allows, is a great way to start your journey back to pre-baby fitness.
If your body is recovering well after childbirth, you can gradually increase your walking distance and speed. A 30-minute daily walk has been shown to improve general health and spending time outdoors is great for overall well-being.
Swimming & Aqua-aerobics
It’s best to avoid swimming until after you’ve had your 6-8 week postnatal check up with your doctor and there is no further bleeding. Once you get the all clear, swimming is incredibly effective in working your heart and lungs and doesn’t put too much pressure on your joints.
For postnatal women, swimming or an aqua aerobics class is great for developing muscle tone and strength, while providing a fitness regime that won’t strain your body too much after birth.
Aqua-aerobics, in particular, has positive benefits since it allows movements like jumping jacks, which can be problematic out of the water. Slow and large, however, can create potential issues for the pelvic floor, so faster movements are recommended.
There are similar advantages in using equipment like dumbbells and noodles in the water too and exercises that use equipment to float the body are considered pelvic floor appropriate as well as being great for overall strengthening.
While these exercises can help increase both muscular strength and endurance and can also be used for cardiovascular conditioning, making them ideal for anyone with pelvic floor issues, using a buoyancy belt may have negative implications for the pelvic floor and should be avoided.
Yoga encourages relaxation while helping to strengthen core muscles and prevent back pain making it increasingly popular in postnatal women. It’s a great way to strengthen core muscles and helps reconnect mind to body.
Yoga one of the most manageable fitness regiments, particularly in those initial postpartum months, since there are many yoga classes that include baby. It’s also a great way to connect with other mums, whilst boosting energy.
Pilates is considered one of the most effective postnatal practices, as it targets muscles generally weakened during pregnancy.
Pilates is non-impact so the risk of injury is significantly reduced. Not only is it physically beneficial and advisable but you’ll be exercising safely so there’s no need to be anxious during classes.
Pilates is a highly immersive and focused form of exercise; the focus and concentration required to mean it has mental and emotional benefits similar to yoga.
Low-impact Aerobic Workouts
Whatever aerobic activity you choose to begin with remember that you’re recently given birth and most likely getting less sleep than usual.
The best advice for resuming aerobic exercise is to listen to your body (as well as your doctor) and never exercise to the point of exhaustion. If you feel fatigued, slow down or stop. Initially, it’s recommended to stop your workout ten minutes before you think you need to and learn to pace yourself.
If you’re ready to get back into aerobic exercise, consider joining a fitness class (ideally one that caters to pregnant/new mothers) where you’ll get the best support and advice.
Just getting out of the house and forcing yourself into a routine, being around other mothers, and being in a formal class is beneficial, even if you don’t finish the whole class or do all the exercises.
Light Strength & Weight training
Lightweight training helps to tone up muscles and strengthen your core, so it’s a really effective postnatal exercise, though you need to discuss this with your doctor first.
Regardless of what you were lifting before baby, it’s super important to start with low weights and slowly work your way back to using the heavier weights.
Concentrating on comprehensive movements such as lunges will safely strengthen the body and can help heal abdominal diastasis recti. However, if this muscle separation isn’t resolved through exercise, or doesn’t heal naturally, there are other options, such as tummy tuck surgery.
Know Your Body
It is important to give yourself sufficient time to heal after childbirth, particularly following caesarean.
Consult with your doctor or midwife before embarking on any postnatal exercise program and avoid any activities that place stress on the pelvic floor and hip joints until strength and stability have improved.
Also, be mindful about activities requiring sudden changes in direction like high-impact aerobics and contact sports.
Initially, make sure you exercise for short periods and increase the length of your workouts gradually, drink plenty of water before, during and after exercise and make sure you’re all the rest you can.
Don’t push yourself too hard and if you feel breathless or experience pain, slow down or even stop. It may take you months to return to your pre-pregnancy shape and weight, so it important to be patient with yourself.
Our body gives out warning signs when it’s under stress or working too hard. So relax and enjoy this amazing experience and you’ll be back to your regular fitness levels and chasing a toddler in no time at all.