Pregnancy and childbirth are times of significant change for our bodies and the right exercise is a great way to assist your body in adapting to these changes as well as preparing it for the final stages of pregnancy and the birthing process.
Exercise throughout pregnancy will stand you in good stead for a quick recovery after the birth, giving you a head start in getting back in to shape and providing you with the extra strength you need for life with a new born!
Your first step in postnatal recovery can begin any time after your 6 week check up with your GP. Exercise (especially Pilates) will help you regain your stability and core strength and it will also increase energy levels and help you adopt techniques enabling postural support. Crucial for carrying your new baby around or lifting the pushchair into the back of the car!
The post-natal period if often a difficult time in terms of maintaining the commitment to exercise. Getting to know your baby and learning how to care for baby is an amazing experience but it takes a lot of time! And therefore, little personal time for yourself in which to exercise, but I cannot stress the importance and benefits of post-natal exercise. So try your best to get back to exercising and stick to it.
My rough guidelines to when you can resume exercising after birth:
0-6/8 weeks: Pelvic floor exercises and gentle walking (even post Caesarean).
8 weeks – 3 months: low impact aerobic exercise and post-natal Pilates or yoga.
3 months+ – gradual return to all other exercise.
- Injury from reduced joint stability
- Injury from weak abdominals – only do gentle core exercises like tummy tightening and pelvic tilts to begin with.
- Breast-feeding – avoid dehydration and drink lots of water, have a good bra and avoid exercises lying prone during the early stages.
- Diastasis Recti (separation in the abdominals) – make sure you get guidance and advice (healthcare specialist or a qualified fitness professional) when testing for separation to help determine the presence and severity of it.
Post-natal exercises (all you can do at home while your baby is sleeping so NO excuses!)
- Pelvic Floor exercises (if you have had stitches you may wish to start the exercises lying down and work your way up to doing them whilst sitting down).
- Imagine that you are trying to stop your flow of urine mid-stream.
- The feeling is ‘squeeze and lift’ without tightening your bum or holding your breath.
- Sit or lie comfortably with your knees slightly apart. Squeeze and lift the pelvic floor muscles and imagine that you are trying to stop yourself from passing wind and trying to stop your flow of urine mid-stream at the same time. Hold and count to 10 and remember to breathe normally. Repeat x10 repetitions.
- Then do quick contractions – squeeze and pull up the pelvic floor muscles strongly, then let go straight away. Repeat up to 10x.
- Abdominal ‘tightening’
- Place your hand on your lower part of your tummy under your belly button
- Breath in through your nose and as you exhale deeply, gently draw in your lower tummy muscles (imagine you are trying to get into a very tight pair of trousers!).
- Now relax as you inhale. Repeat several times.
- You can do this exercise in different positions but kneeling on all fours is my preferred.
- Begin kneeling on all 4’s with your knees beneath your hips and your hands beneath your shoulders.
- Make sure your neck and spine are neutral and think about drawing your core up and in.
- Extend one leg behind you, sliding it along the floor and slowly lifting it up. Then slowly, without letting your body drop to one side, lift the opposite arm out in front of you. Keep lifting your core and chest up towards the ceiling.
- Hold each side for 10 counts and alternate sides. Repeat for 10 reps.
- Lying on your side with head on bottom arm. Make sure your heels, hip and shoulder are in line, with a gap between the waist and the mat. Knees bent to 45 degrees hip flexion, 90 degrees knee flexion
- Squeeze the heels together and slowly lift the top knee to hip level. Hold it at the top for at least 5 seconds and then slowly lower
- Repeat for 1 minute with a 30 second hold at the top. Repeat on either side.
- Glute bridges
- Lying on your back, knees bent and feet hip distance apart.
- Engage your core abdominals, squeeze your bum tight and lift your hips up towards the ceiling. Do not let your rib cage pop open. Repeat x20-40 repetitions
- On the final one, hold your hips at the top and squeeze your bum together as hard as you can for about 1 minute.
- Then add in a small pulse, lifting your hips up and down an inch for another minute.
- Side Plank
- Start sitting sideways with your legs bent.
- Place your supporting forearm onto the mat with your elbow underneath your shoulder. Lift your top hand up towards the ceiling.
- Draw your core in, squeeze your bum and draw your shoulders away from your ears.
- Lift up into the side plank and hold for 30 – 60 seconds. Alternate sides.
- Tricep dips (can be done on the floor or a hair)
- Sit on the floor with your knees bent, feet on floor, hands on the floor below your shoulders with fingers pointing towards your body
- Lift your hips off the floor and slowly bend your elbows straight behind you, hold at the bottom and slowly extend the arms back to straight (but don’t lock the elbows)
- Keep your shoulders down and away from your ears. 3 sets of 12-15 repetitions.
words by Chloe Hodgson