By constade, Jun 9 2015 12:03PM
Attention new mums!! Are you desparate to get back in shape after giving birth? Immediately planning on getting back to the gym, or maybe you're already there just a few weeks after your little one has arrived? If so, are you SURE you're doing the right exercises for your post-natal body and not putting yourself at risk of injury?
Look, I get it - you've just spent several months not being able to see your feet and feeling like a beach ball, so you're desparate to get rid of that excess baby-weight as quickly as possible so you can start to feel fitter. Get your confidence back and feel more like you. But this urge to get yourself back in shape too quickly could be putting you at risk of injury, if you're not doing the right exercise for your new post-natal body.
Here's the science bit.....When you're pregnant, your body releases a hormone called Relaxin. This hormone is present from around the second trimester and your body increases it's production level during the third trimester and is present during the post-natal period for at least 6 months (or up to 1 year, or longer if still breastfeeding). Relaxin's purpose is to help prepare your body for childbirth, by essentially softening and loosening your muscles around the reproductive area. However, the problem is, it doesn't stop there! Unfortunately, Relaxin doesn't target only the areas where you actually need it. Once it's being released, it's circulating around your whole body, which means it is also softening ALL of your other muscles and joints, along with your connective tissues - ie, your ligaments and tendons. This means that while these connective tissues are usually responsible for making sure your joints don't over-extend during movement, by acting as a form of reigns and only allowing joints to move within their safe limits - they are now much looser and won't hold joints as tightly during movement.
Simply put, your body is less capable of moving in a restricted way and it's highly possible for you to over-extend a joint during movement and cause yourself an injury. For example, running is a massive no-no due to the high impact on the joints and could cause injuries to not only joints, but muscles also. Not to mention the impact on your weak pelvic floor muscles after birth. Infact any form of 'impact' exercise is best avoided. Jumping in any form, whether it be a fun game of netball, an aerobics class or a HIIT session - steer clear. Aerobics classes can be adapted to suit your needs and your instructor should be happy to help suggest changes if you inform them of your post-natal status. Some mums don't realise it's important to mention, as they think that once they've had their baby, things are back to normal, but this is far from the case.
Stretching is another thing to be careful of, during your post-natal period as given your joints newly found flexibility (good old Relaxin again!), you could actually over-stretch the muscles and cause an injury there. A recommended time for a gentle stretch, is 8-10 seconds per stretch, post-exercise. This is also something to be mindful of if attending a yoga class. Again, if there are no specific, tailored post-natal classes in your area, speak to your instructor at the beginning of the class and they should be able to adapt for you.
So now you're probably wondering what you CAN actually do? Well, there's a whole list of exercises you can do and also plenty that you should do, in order to rebuild and strengthen areas put under pressure during pregnancy. For your cardio, you could do the following (keep all at a gentle pace, so as not to over stretch joints)
Walking / power walking
Cross t rainer
Swimming (try to avoid breaststroke, as it's an unnatural movement and could cause injury)
Resistance / weight training is actually very important during the post-natal period, as it can help to rebuild and strengthen many areas that are weakened during pregnancy. Areas such as your upper back, chest and shoulders to help bring your posture back in line (which would have been pulled out of line by the added weight in your front). Other areas that should be strengthened are your glute (bottom) muscles, as these tend to disengage during pregnancy, where the weight shifts to the front of the body. Post-natally you'll want to start engaging them and strengthening them again, which in turn will help to strengthen your lower back, which is supported by the glute muscles. Plus generally, any exercises working your glutes will also work and tone your legs, which is always an added bonus with the summer almost here!
Another area which will need special attention is your core, as this has obviously taken a lot of pressure during pregnancy. A very important thing to know is that abdominal crunches are to be avoided at all costs. You should get checked for diastasis recti (separation of the abdominal muscles) before you start any form of core work, but crunches are out either way, while exercises such as the plank are a great way to work your core and assuming you do have separation, start 'knitting' those ab muscles back together.
I speak to new mums often, who have no idea of how to exercise post-pregnancy and what's good for them - more importantly, what's not. If you're thinking of undertaking a new fitness regime after pregnancy, please make sure you speak to somebody fully qualified in that area, who can advise you properly. Any trainer worth their salt will inform you if they don't have the correct amount of experience in that area and refer you on to someone who does. You will also need to have sign-off from your GP in order to exercise, which is usually from around 6 weeks post-birth (10-12 weeks if you had a C-section).
If you're interested in discussing post-natal training with me, please feel free to get in touch! Do stay safe and remember, your body can do amazing things, but it can still be fragile at times - look after it :-)