Camilla Lawrence, Women’s Health Physiotherapist at Six Physio, advises on getting into shape after having a baby. Your post-baby body.
I’ve lost track of the number of women I see through my clinic, Six Physio, who are postpartum and still have lots of unanswered questions even after their six-week GP check up. Until you give birth you have no idea how your post-baby body will be, so there’s always an element of uncertainty. So I’ve made a checklist of the top 10 things you need to know which will transform your postnatal experience.
1. Getting assessed by an expert will enhance your entire postnatal experience. A full assessment of your back and pelvis, posture, and pelvic floor and abdominal muscle function will identify areas which are recovering and areas of weakness or tension. These areas all affect your sleep quality, bonding with your baby, sexual function and getting back to normal levels of exercise.
2. Hormones during pregnancy and breastfeeding may put you at increased risk of injury. The hormone relaxin increases the flexibility of your soft tissues and joints and can remain in the body for up to six months after delivery, making you prone to joint strains or sprains. The hormones produced when breastfeeding can also have an effect on your soft tissues which is why it is important to really build up your muscle strength and core stability before you return to impact exercise.
3. 30% of women have ongoing urinary incontinence post pregnancy and 50% have some form of prolapse after childbirth. This is caused by weakness or tension in the pelvic floor muscles from pregnancy and labour. The good news is – this can be treated!
4. Around half of postpartum women complain of ongoing back and pelvic pain following pregnancy. While common, this should never be seen as ‘normal’. If your pain is not settling by itself within one week of giving birth then seek a specialist therapist for treatment.
5. A third of women who try to contract their pelvic floor muscles, do so incorrectly. Common mistakes include tensing the buttocks and thighs, instead of the pelvic floor muscles, and breath holding. At best this will mean your pelvic floor strength won’t improve, at worst it could mean that you could actually be straining and weakening your pelvic floor further.
6. In some women, the pelvic floor also becomes ‘overactive’ or over-tense (like a muscle spasm). Kegel pelvic floor exercises for these women can actually be detrimental and worsen the spasm, causing symptoms of pain and difficulty emptying the bladder or bowels.
7. Simple actions such as feeding, changing, bathing and soothing your baby can all put unwelcome pressure on your back and pelvis. A few top tips: try to not lift anything heavier than your baby for the first six weeks, think about keeping your tummy muscles gently engaged and your pelvis directly under your shoulders when soothing your baby.
8. Start with low-impact exercise, to address the areas that you will be weak in such as core, back and glutes. Leave six weeks after your delivery (or up to eight weeks after a c-section) before starting low-impact cardio like swimming or a cross trainer. Accompany exercise with core-strengthening and conditioning work like postnatal Pilates.
9. When to have sex again – the big question! It is important to remember that everyone is different and there’s no normal time when you should aim to have sex by. The most important thing is to wait until you are physically and emotionally ready. Make sure your post-baby body can cope.
10. You can go back to being a gym-bunny but first optimise your core strength and control before re-starting high-impact exercise, such as jogging, running, aerobics, and team sports. Ensure you are pain free before gradually getting back to this around three months postpartum.
Want to know more? In an attempt to debunk the myths of prenatal exercise we caught up with Charlie Launder, head of pre and postnatal at Lomax Bespoke Fitness, to give us the lowdown on exercising while pregnant.
Plus, our list of the best maternity workouts in the capital here.