There are major pressures for women who have just given birth to ‘get their body back’ the second they step out of the maternity ward. And while being healthy during and after your pregnancy is important, doing it your way, in your time is just as vital.
Delivering that tiny human into the world is one of life’s greatest accomplishments, so the key requirements when finding a fitness routine again is that there’s no pressure, and you’ll need to exercise patience and mindfulness (pun intended). Despite what we often see in Hollywood – celebs back in the gym almost immediately and all the damn time (they have full-time chefs, nannies and trainers anyway), finding a new routine takes time. Lots of time. There’s no pressure to juggle the needs of your newborn and stringent exercise schedules. Let’s say that again: there’s no pressure. No pressure to exert your body way beyond what it may be physically capable of doing right now.
What works for you
And every labour experience is different, which means that every woman is going to recover and heal in different ways. If you did not have a complicated labour, then it’s normal to be able to get back on the fitness wagon six weeks after giving birth. There are, however, a few factors that could interfere with post-partum exercise, such as having to heal from a C-section, post-partum depression or heavy bleeding, excess weight gain during pregnancy and diastasis recti (the partial or the complete separation of the rectus abdominis muscles, which meet in the middle of your tummy). You’ll be checking in with your doctor around this time, so chat to them about your plans to exercise first. The most crucial thing to remember here is that, whether the labour was stress-free or complicated, you need to start a training plan gradually, gently and mindfully.
Speaking of diastasis recti
Diastasis recti (say: die-ass-sti-sis rec-tie), is a largely common post-pregnancy symptom. After having a baby, the core muscles remain stretched and many women even describe this feeling as being disconnected to their tummy, like it doesn’t even exist. So if it happened to you, you are not alone! Considering how important core strength is for exercise (and daily movement), these feelings can make post-partum activity challenging. So while you’re easing yourself into things, focus on strengthening the transverse abdominis (deepest muscles in your core) to regain your stability.
Understanding the pains
When you go into labour, your placenta secretes a hormone called relaxin. Its main task is to help loosen your joints and cause your cervix to dilate. Once you’re home with your new baby and settling into your life, relaxin is still buzzing in your system, and can actually stay in the body for as long as 12 months. This means your joints remain looser, and the lack of stability can make your body more prone to aches, pains and injury. Relaxin aside, as a new mom, you’re doing things that your body is not used to, such as sitting in an odd position for hours while breastfeeding, or hunching over a crib patting your baby to sleep, all of which can lead to niggles and aches you’ve never felt before.
It’s an emotional trip, too
There can some extreme hormonal shifts during this time – just think about everything your body went through and is still going through. According to Postpartum Support International, it’s normal for many women to experience mild mood changes, while around 15–20% experience more significant symptoms of depression or anxiety – and one out of every seven new mothers will experience post-partum depression (PPD). No doubt, even gentle mood swings can totally derail any plans to exercise, but try to remember that it will help to boost your mood and confidence, and clear your mind a little.
The S word
Sleep. That beautiful word. You may be used to starting your day at 6 am filled with energy, but when your new-born only sleeps for a few hours at a time, getting in some solid rest may be a thing of the past for a while. Once again, this is why you need to launch into a training plan gradually – you don’t want the exercise to completely deplete what was left in your tank, leaving you even more exhausted. Listen to your body and do what feels right for your energy levels. One day, a fast-paced walk or slow jog will feel great, but the next day you may only be able to muster the strength for some stretching.