5 steps to returning to exercise after having a baby
Updated: Jun 22, 2022
Returning to exercise after having a baby can come with many mixed emotions – fear, excitement, anxiety, stress, to name a few. On the one hand, it’s great to be able to have some ‘me’ time and finally do something for ourselves, whilst on the other there is the worry of what exercise looks like now as our bodies have totally changed. It can be scary to see how much strength, endurance and fitness we have lost and not necessarily knowing what our bodies are now capable of doing. Not to mention the potential stress and expectation that we put on ourselves, and may feel from society, to look a certain way post birth.
Although returning to exercise after having a baby is a really positive and exciting step, it doesn’t mean you should be jumping straight back to where you were pre-pregnancy. Our bodies have been through 9 months of pregnancy, labour, birth and the subsequent months caring for our babies – so it’s not surprising that we can’t just jump straight back to where we were a year ago. Like most things in life, it’s a marathon, not a sprint – taking the time to build your foundations is much better in the long run.
If you’re thinking about returning to exercise, here are five activities that I have found really useful. Although some may seem obvious, they will put you in a really good position for when you decide to increase the intensity of your training.
1. Breathe: It’s so simple! This is honestly the first thing I did after having my baby. When I’m asked as a fitness professional how to get back in shape after pregnancy, people expect some incredible secret. When I say start by breathing exercises, I get looked at like I’m a crazy woman. The deep core has been stretched and weakened and this includes the diaphragm. You may notice your ribs have expanded to make room for bubba, well this affects the entire core and how it coordinates. Starting with some deep diaphragmatic breathing is a great base to get some of your strength and coordination back.
2. Pelvic floor exercises: Again, this is about starting with the foundations and strengthening from the inside out. The pelvic floor sits right below the diaphragm and has been through a lot! Even if you had a C-Section (like me) your pelvic floor has borne the weight of the baby over the last 9 months. If you had an emergency or crash caesarean, you would have also had hours of contractions and the weight of the baby pressing down. The last thing we want is to pick up heavy weights when we don’t have the support of our pelvic floor or deep core.
It's worth noting that this isn’t just about 100s of Kegel exercises. The pelvic floor needs to be strong but flexible like all muscles. We must, therefore, learn to relax through deep inhales as well as to contract and strengthen it. Also I would say that if you are having any particular problems in this area such as leaking or painful sex, or you just want some reassurance that all is okay down there, make sure you get yourself checked out by a women’s health physio. If you are local to Tunbridge Wells I can recommend the lovely Jenny at The Mummy Hub (@the_mummy_hubtw).
3. Mobilise: I’m sure most women have aches and pains by the end of their pregnancy. This is to be expected when you are just about to pop and have carried another human around for 9 months. After having my baby, I spent a lot of time in bed or sitting without actually sleeping. When we’re sore and tired, we grab any opportunity to rest but prolonged sitting can cause muscle imbalances which can result in tightnesses across the body. On top of this, there are all of those baby cuddles and feeding! As lovely as they are, this hunched position can cause our shoulders to round, resulting in stiffness in the upper back and shoulders. Just a couple of stretches a day whilst baby is down will make you feel so much better and will help to improve your posture and reduce the risk of injury in the long term.
4. Walking: Get some fresh air and some movement. It's free and, best of all, baby usually sleeps so a little peace for mumma! Walking is a great way to build your fitness back up in the early days. Again, there is absolutely no pressure, just as far as you feel comfortable with. A daily walk will loosen everything up, get your blood flowing, legs working and give you some of that much needed Vitamin D.
5. Optimal nutrition: Our bodies are HEALING, don’t forget this! In order to create the most supportive healing environment we need to reduce anti-inflammatory foods, stay hydrated and consume enough protein and micronutrients. If we start doing more intense workouts without this foundation, we will put further stress on our bodies which will not allow us to heal properly.
It may seem ridiculously simple, but it works! If starting to exercise seems overwhelming for you then these are some great baby steps. If you are a fitness junkie and are raring to go then these 5 steps will put you in the perfect place for when you are ready.