Having a baby is a joyful yet challenging time, both mentally and physically. Although exercise may be the last thing on your mind in the early days, it can be so beneficial as way of energising and strengthening the body.
When you have the time and motivation to focus on starting to exercise again, it is vital to go about it the right way – safely and respecting your body. Whether you’re doing yoga, or wanting to hit the gym, it is important to be knowledgeable about the many physiological adaptations made in the body to accommodate pregnancy and childbirth. Even if you feel physically the same, it is worth being mindful of what has happened internally and to take care of your pelvis, hips and core, especially during exercise.
Abdominals: The rectus abdominis muscles will separate to accommodate the growing foetus, and although in lots of cases they close by themselves after birth, it is good to encourage this healing with beneficial core exercises. This stretching and separation of the abdominals also cause the core to be weaker which can, therefore, impact posture, resulting in lower back pain. So these muscles should be engaged and strengthened as much as possible.
Pelvic Floor: This will have stretched and become weaker in the later stages of pregnancy and through childbirth. Whether you had a vaginal birth or C-Section, you will need to work to strengthen your pelvic floor. Benefits include including reducing the risk of incontinence, supporting the internal organs, promoting good posture and improving sexual sensation. If there is any feeling of pressure, or leaking when exercising it is advised to stop what you’re doing and go back to pelvic floor activation. Go to see a women’s health physio for a check-up as leaking is not something as women we should accept. It is a sign of pelvic floor weakness and could indicate incontinence in later life, so is definitely worth tackling now.
Post-natal personal trainer at MAMAWELL Rosie Stockwell gives her top post-birth exercises, focusing on abdominals, pelvis and chest opening:
7 great post-natal exercises:
This exercise helps to activate the deep core muscles.
1) Transverse Abdominis Breathing
Lie flat on your back with the knees bent, feet flat on the floor. Allow your spine to have a natural curve in it, so don’t imprint your back into the floor. Inhale fully to the diaphragm. On the end of the exhale engage the core – feel like the belly button is connecting to the spine and the sides of the body are drawing in, like you’re wearing a tight belt. Hold for 5 seconds, then relax the core as you inhale fully again.
This can also be performed on all fours. Repeat 20 times.
This is a great core activator without having to do crunches.
2) Elbow to knee
On all fours, with a flat spine, engage your core by activating belly button to spine. Stretch one leg out behind you and the opposite arm out in front. Imagine both your hip bones are facing towards the floor.
Hold this position for a slow count of 5.
Adaptation 1: Tap your hand and foot on the floor and then lift, keeping a straight spine. Repeat up to 10 times before changing sides.
Adaptation 2: Draw your elbow to knee, rounding your spine and then stretch again. Try and imagine your core is really working to pull your knee in to promote strength in this area. Repeat up to 10 each side.
This exercise really promotes the closing of the gap between the abdominals (diastasis recti).
3) Leg slides
Lie flat on your back with the knees bent, feet flat on the floor. Allow your spine to have a natural curve in it, so don’t imprint your back into the floor. With your core engaged as for the transverse abdominis breathing, slide one leg away along the floor be careful to really hold onto your core and not let your hips tilt. Bring the foot back in and change to the other leg.
Do 10 times.
This exercise is a real workout for all the abdominals, particularly the lower ones.
4) Heel Taps
Lie on your back with your feet in the air, knees bent at 90 degrees. Imprint your whole back into the floor and place your hands behind your head, or by your sides for more support. Without letting any part of your back lift from the floor, slowly lower one leg to the mat, keeping it bent, until the heel taps. Then lift it again and repeat on the other side. It is important to really hold onto the core here and not let the back arch.
Keep moving slowly for a count of 10 before resting and repeating.
It is important to do these exercises slowly to promote the endurance aspect of the muscle which will support you in daily life. Equally important are the fast pulses as they strengthen the pelvic floor for when you need more support, for example in higher intensity exercise or when you cough.
5) Pelvic Floor
Get in a comfortable position, either lying on your back with your legs bent, kneeling on all fours or seated with a straight spine Take a few deep clearing breaths, in through your nose and out through your mouth. Then, inhale deeply and at the end of the exhale imagine drawing up through both your front and back passage and holding there. Don’t tighten your buttocks or tense any part of your body. Let the pelvic floor relax gently and immediately inhale to start the process again.
These moves can be done in two ways:
• Slowly: as described above. Hold the contraction for a slow count of 5, then release. Do around 10 at this speed.
• Quickly: At the end of the inhale, contract (pull up) your front and/or back passages and then pulse them for a count of 10. Relax, then repeat another 5 times.
This exercise helps with internally rotated shoulders that occur with all the time spent holding the baby, feeding and pushing the pram. Stand tall with a straight spine and engage your core. Stretch your hands to the side with the palms flexed, and look up whilst pushing your hand back behind you to open your chest.
6) Chest opening
Oppose this stretch by rounding your back and arms in front of you, then repeat.
Meet the expert: Rosie Stockwell is a post-natal personal trainer at MAMAWELL. She has worked with high-profile clients including Vogue Williams, who she helped to get back into training following her son Theodore's arrival.
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