Between the actual process of childbirth (which I am still convinced you can never be totally prepared for), figuring out breastfeeding, dealing with sleep deprivation all whilst trying to soak in this new miracle that is now the meaning of life. It’s A LOT.
It comes as no surprise that for many the idea of exercise in the early weeks of the baby bubble doesn’t enter your mind. However, there will come a time when you feel ready, not necessarily for high-intensity gym workouts but a time when your body will crave movement. As a new mum myself I found that being active was a mental and physical necessity for me and I’m also a big believer that fresh air is so good for you and your baby.
The first 6 weeks is about being patient and realistic. Your body has gone through a myriad of changes during pregnancy. The muscles, connective tissue, and fascia have all been stretched to capacity and the weight of your baby has been bearing down on your pelvic floor muscles for the last 9 months. You then ran the longest marathon of your life to finally bring your baby into the world and depending on the type of delivery there may have been trauma such as tearing, stitches, or an abdominal wound if you had a caesarian.
Listen to your body and when you feel comfortable, walking is a great way to kickstart the road back. It might feel more like a shuffle at first but each day you will get stronger, more confident and your body will start to move more freely. During this time you can also commence some basic pelvic floor and deep abdominal activation exercises. Usually, a physio will come and see you in the hospital to run through these with you. If you don’t know how to do them I would strongly encourage you to ask someone who does, it’s not as simple as just doing an ab workout. If you had a Caesarean you might have a delayed start on these exercises and I would be guided by your Obstetrician.
When thinking about returning to more intense forms of exercise, the first step is a visit to a women’s health Physio. If you take anything away from reading this blog today, this is it. A Women’s Health Physio is not your regular physio but a specialist Physio that is going to help rebuild you from the inside out. They perform a proper internal examination of your pelvic floor. Yes, they physically feel inside, it’s the only way to truly know what the pelvic floor muscles are doing and how they are functioning.
They will also assess your abdominal wall for diastasis or ‘abdominal separation’. Every woman will have a degree of this during the later stages of pregnancy. Basically, it’s a thinning and stretching of the band of connective tissue called the linea alba that runs vertically between the left and right side of your rectus abdominis. The physio will assess the width and depth of this and you’ll undoubtedly be given a variety of deep abdominal strengthening exercises. It’s imperative to progressively load these tissues to ensure you regain good control and stability through this area.
Targeted rehab of your pelvic floor and abdominal wall are fundamental steps to return to exercise, especially if you are considering running or higher impact training. Like any rehabilitation program, it’s graded, starting out with basic activation exercises that train the mind to muscle and progressing to different loaded exercises. This process can take many months depending on what your individual goals and expectations are.
Finally, ladies be kind to yourselves. It’s ok to slow down and enjoy time with your new baby. Trust me the gym will be waiting for you when you and your body are ready.