The journey of pregnancy and early parenthood is an incredible experience for any woman. A paper, published in June this year by Science Advances, has found that pregnancy pushes the boundaries of human endurance, similar to elite cyclists on the Tour De France. Just as these elite athletes would allow their body to recover from this, so should any new mum after pregnancy and childbirth. Here are 5 top tips to help the body recover, which will support a return to exercise sooner.
1. Allow yourself to rest (as much as you are able) for the first 6 weeks. Enjoy motherhood and the new addition to your life. Try not to feel the pressure to ‘bounce back’ just yet.
2. Don’t forget to look after yourself. Practice conscious breathing 3-5 times a day. Allowing your breath to deepen, expanding through the ribs and diaphragm and then slowly exhale. This will not only help your pelvic floor muscles, which they are closely linked to, but also help you to increase oxygen to the brain which will in turn help to release tension and improve your mood. This can be done in a relaxed environment at home or whilst out walking with the buggy.
3. Staggeringly, research shows that approximately 50 per cent of women do not know how to exercise their pelvic floor correctly. It is a small but extremely important exercise to do. The muscle works like a hammock for your internal organs. During pregnancy it is worked much harder due to the load of the baby sitting on top of it, the way the bump alters your posture and also the increase in the production of the hormones relaxin and progesterone. It is important to retrain it after pregnancy to help prevent pelvic organ prolapse and urinary incontinence. The better you can contract and relax it consciously, the better it will work for you subconsciously during exercise too. The part of the muscle surrounding and behind our back passage is actually about 2 times the size of that around our front passage. Because of this, I teach my clients to think about stopping themselves from breaking wind (sorry to be crude but it is effective!) and then to imagine holding back from urinating. Hold this for 5 seconds and then allow it to relax over the count of 10 seconds. Repeat 5 times and aim to do this exercise 3-4 times a day. It’s never too late to start retraining the pelvic floor again after pregnancy.
4. When returning to exercise, allow a 3 month time frame to build up your low intensity exercises to prepare for high intensity or high impact movements. Elite athletes would give a similar time frame when returning to training too. New guidelines for post-natal women returning to running, that have been written by physiotherapists, recommend that ALL new mums, regardless of the method of delivery, can consider returning to running no sooner than 3-6 months post natally and only after completing a strengthening programme to prepare for this.
5. If you have been experiencing any urinary, bowel or sexual dysfunction, noticed a tummy gap (also known as a divarification or Recti Abdominus Diastasis) or want to know how best to return to sport and exercise then it is best to be checked by a women’s health or post-natal specialist physiotherapist. The best place to find one is on the Mummy MOT website where they have a nationwide register of qualified physiotherapists. https://themummymot.com/
Rosie Cardale is a Post-natal specialist Physiotherapist. She has a regular clinic at Bristol Physiotherapy Clinic or follow her on Instagram @pilateswithrosie