It will always be a difficult thing to undertake any exercise after you have had a baby, but it is essential for the health of your body that you are not completely sedentary. The exercise should always be gentle, and should always be taken slowly. Exercises for the lower abs and pelvic floor are perfect for the first few weeks after you have given birth and will help you recover at this stage, post pregnancy.
Although you may feel like exercise is the last thing you want to do while adjusting to life as a new parent, it can have some key benefits such as:
- Releasing endorphins and as a result, boosting your mood (RCOG 2006)
- Helping you to lose weight and regain the body you had prior to your pregnancy (RCOG 2006) provided you eat correctly and sensibly (Amorim et al 2007)
- Protect your from aches and pains, specifically in the vulnerable lower back region
- Give you energy and counter tiredness an drowsiness (ACPWCH 2010, NHS 2011).
- Improve strength, stamina and muscularity, making caring for your new born easier
The most essential exercises in the few days after you have given birth are the pelvic floor exercises. It is important to start doing them as soon as possible. Strengthening your pelvic floor muscles will help protect you against Urine Leaks, and other weaknesses, it will also increase the speed of recovery by increasing circulation, aiding in the reduction of swelling and bruising. It is also helpful to know that if you have stitches, exercising your pelvic floor won’t put any strain on them. At first, it may feel like you aren’t achieving anything but it can often take a few days for feeling to return and the exercises will be working even if you don’t necessarily feel it happening.
As soon as you feel able and well enough to do so, it is important to try and get up and about, ideally walking whilst pushing your baby in the pram. Ensure the pram handles are the right size and height for you so you don’t have to bend forwards or reach upwards, reducing the risk of back pain or stiffness. Start off with short walks of 10 minutes and build slowly and gently to 20 minutes. If possible for you, try and include this walk as part of your daily routine to encourage you to do it regularly (NICE 2010). If your lochia becomes redder or heavier, this may be a sign that you are overdoing things, so take things easy (NHS 2011). In fact, the key to exercising healthily is to listen to your body (ACPWCH 2010).
Don’t push yourself too hard. Reward yourself for every bit of exercise you manage by having a good rest. It will be incredibly challenging and tiring for the first few weeks to try and exercise so don’t feel under pressure to do it if you don’t have the energy. If you are unsure about what you should be doing, talk to your doctor or midwife.
It is also useful to know that it is safe to exercise while you are establishing breastfeeding. Exercise won’t affect the quality or quantity of your breast milk (NICE 2010) as long as you ensure you remain well hydrated.
Post-Natal Exercise – Exercising After a Caesarean
The gentle exercises in this article are safe for you if have had either a vaginal birth or a caesarean section. Gentle exercise of your abdominal muscles can encourage a faster recovery from the operation. You may feel a pulling sensation when you engage your abdominal muscles, but provided you’re performing the exercises correctly you should not feel any pain. Use the way you feel as a guide; if you’ve had a caesarean it is likely that you will become tired quite easily (ACPWH 2010).
Post-Natal Exercise – Are there exercises I shouldn’t do in the first six weeks?
Don’t go swimming until you have had seven days without any bleeding or discharge from your vagina (lochia) (ACPWCH 2010). If you have had stitches or a caesarean section, wait until after you have had your postnatal check. Talk to your doctor about exercise regimes that go beyond gentle tummy-tightening (ACPWCH 2010, RCOG 2006). Don’t exercise in a hands-and-knees position for the first six weeks. There is a small risk that a little clot of air can form at the site where your placenta was attached (Brown et al 2009).
Post-Natal Exercise – How do I exercise my lower stomach muscles?
Your lower stomach muscles is the most important one to exercise after you have had a baby. It works with your pelvic floor muscles to support your back and pelvis (SOGC 2005, Gustafsson & Nilsson-Wikmar 2008). Exercising your lower stomach muscle may help you to lose your post-pregnancy belly.
Try this exercise, either lying on your side or on your back with your knees bent up. If you have had a caesarean section, you may find it uncomfortable to lie on your side for the first few days, so lie on your back.
- Breathe in and as you breathe out, tighten your pelvic floor muscles. The feeling is one of squeeze and lift. Imagine that you are stopping yourself from passing wind and doing a wee mid-stream at the same time. Once you’ve tightened your pelvic floor, gently pull your belly button in and up. You should feel your lower tummy muscles tighten.
- Hold this while you count to 10 without holding your breath (this is the hard bit!). Then slowly relax your muscles. Wait at least five seconds and then repeat. Try to avoid moving your back or over-tightening the tummy muscles above your waist.
You may find that you can only hold a squeeze for a second or two in the early days. Try not to worry – you’re doing fine. Aim to hold your stomach muscles in for 10 seconds by the time your baby is about six weeks old.
Post-Natal Exercise – You can try lower stomach muscle exercises sitting on an exercise ball once you can do them lying on your back or side:
- Sit on an exercise ball with both feet on the floor, preferably on a carpet to ensure the ball does not slide away from you.
- Squeeze your pelvic floor and lower tummy muscles and then gently lift one leg off the floor. Remember to breathe! Hold this for up to five seconds, slowly lower your foot and relax your muscles. Repeat between five and 10 times on both legs.
Post-Natal Exercise – How can I strengthen my pelvis and back?
Pelvic tilts are useful exercises that gently move and stretch your back and exercise your tummy muscles. They can also help to alleviate back pain. You can do pelvic tilts lying down, sitting or while balancing on an exercise ball.
Here’s how to do pelvic tilts while lying down:
- Lie on the floor or on your bed. Place a pillow under your head. Bend your knees by sliding your feet up towards your bottom.
- Tighten your pelvic floor and pull in your lower tummy muscles, before squashing the small of your back down into the floor or bed.
- Hold this for a count to three and then arch your back away from the floor or bed. Repeat this 10 times. Try not to hold your breath!
Here’s how to do pelvic tilts while sitting:
- Sit on a chair or stool with your feet on the floor.
- Tighten your pelvic floor muscles and pull in your lower tummy muscles. Slump your back and then arch it so you stick your chest and bottom out.
- Keep the exercise flowing smoothly so you stretch your back one way and then the other.
Here’s how to do pelvic tilts while using an exercise ball:
- Sit on an exercise ball with both feet on the floor, preferably on a carpet to ensure the ball does not slide around.
- Move the ball backwards and forwards with your bottom, allowing your pelvis to move with it.
- Try to keep your shoulders still. You can also move the ball from side to side to exercise your waist muscles.
Post-Natal Exercise – How do I strengthen my upper back?
It is easy to spend a lot of time sitting in a slumped position when you’re a new mum, especially while breastfeeding. Try these exercises to stretch and move your upper back and neck.
- Sit up straight with your arms crossed over your chest. Twist to the left and then to the right. Repeat 10 times each way.
- Sit and link your hands behind your neck. Twist to the left and then to the right. Repeat 10 times each way.
- Sit and link both hands together in front of you. Take your arms up in front of you and above your head as far as you can.
- Hold for two or three seconds and then slowly lower your arms down again.
This exercise will strengthen your neck:
- Sit and slowly turn your head to the left and then to the right.
- Slowly, tilt your head so you move your right ear down to the right shoulder and then your left ear down to your left shoulder.
- Slowly bring your head back to the middle and then bend your neck forwards to your chest and backwards to the ceiling.
- If you start feeling dizzy, do the exercises more slowly.
REMEMBER: Before undertaking any exercise in any situation it is essential that you consult a medical professional, in this instance a doctor or midwife, to ensure you are safe to do so and will not be putting yourself at any risk. Exercise that causes any over-exertion, stress or discomfort should be stopped immediately.
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