06 Sep Exercising for the right reasons after having a baby
After I had my baby, I was inundated with ads on social media telling me it was time to “get my pre-baby body back”. There were all kinds of brands selling all kinds of programs and detoxes and equipment. I couldn’t believe this was a thing. Are we seriously still telling new mums that they should be trying to lose their “baby weight”?
As a new mum, I was focused on healing, getting to know my baby and figuring out who I was all over again. The absolute LAST thing I wanted to think about was how to change my body.
But this is the reality for so many new mums. There’s immense pressure to “bounce back”.
I spoke to Accredited Exercise Physiologist and mother of two, Sarah Collins, about how this pressure impacts new mums and how we can change the dialog around exercise postpartum. Here’s what she had to say…
Mums feel so much pressure to get their “body back”
A lot of pressure is applied to new mums to “bounce back” after birth. There’s this expectation to look as though they haven’t undergone one of the most transformational experiences of their lives. A lot of that comes from social media and celebrities but can also come from friends and family.
So many times, the first thing we say to a new Mum is “you look great!”
We immediately focus on how she looks, rather than acknowledging how she feels or recognising the amazing job she’s doing as a Mum. This can create pressure to look like we did pre-pregnancy rather than have the focus on how we are managing motherhood and how well the new baby is thriving.
As mums, we need to apply some compassion to ourselves. The changes that our bodies have undergone didn’t happen overnight, they took nine months. They also allowed us to grow and deliver our babies. It’s incredible!
We need to be realistic that it’s going to take an equivalent amount of time to rebuild our strength and improve our fitness levels. Our bodies are meant to change and evolve over the lifespan and that’s ok.
Pregnancy is different for everyone
Just because someone can fit back into their pre-pregnancy jeans does not mean they’re a better Mum. It doesn’t mean they’re more disciplined or even that their bodies are working as they should (urinary incontinence, low back pain, etc). It’s simply how their body responded during pregnancy and the postpartum period.
We need to shift the focus from weight loss to the health benefits of exercising after you have a baby.
Why is it important to exercise postpartum?
Moving your body is an important part of your postpartum recovery. There are so many great reasons to be active that have absolutely *nothing* to do with losing your baby weight. Here are just a few:
Improving Mental Health
The postpartum period can be a tough one. Our mental health needs to be continually monitored and nurtured during this time. Motherhood is a huge change for most and can be incredibly lonesome. Being active during your pregnancy and in the postpartum period can help prevent or manage symptoms of postpartum depression and anxiety.
Restoring your Core and Pelvic Floor Strength
Your deep core and pelvic floor muscles have changed during pregnancy and birth. We need to dedicate time to specifically rehab and strengthen these muscles groups to relieve symptoms of urinary urgency, incontinence, and pain. These in themselves can be factors that limit you to getting out and being active. It’s important to see your Women’s Health Physiotherapist in conjunction with an Accredited Exercise Physiologist to get them working properly.
Regaining your Strength
Regaining your strength is super important as a new mum. Strong muscles are crucial for keeping up with the demands of motherhood, as well as for your overall wellness. There’s lots of lifting and awkward positions as a new mum (hello, breastfeeding!), and we need strength and good activation patterns to reduce the incidence of low back pain, shoulder pain and headaches. Keeping your muscles strong also assists with returning your centre of gravity to normal.
Mums are prone to overuse injuries due to caring for babies and young ones. Mother’s thumbs, shoulders and neck are all extremely common and can become chronic if not address and managed. Regular physical activity can help to reduce the risk of injury and chronic pain down the track.
Tips for new mums who want to start exercising more
Let’s be real, new mums (or any mums, really) are time poor. Here are some tips getting back into exercise after having a bub:
“Snack” on exercise
Break your exercise down into movement snacks. Instead of focusing on getting in a 45 to 60 minute workout, think about getting 5, 10, 15 minute sessions in when you can. Maybe that’s when the baby is having a sleep, doing tummy time or with your partner so you can get some “me time”.
It’s much easier to think about fitting in a 10 minute workout than trying to find the time for a 60 minute workout. One day you may do a 5-minute pelvic floor focused session and the next day you may then have time to complete a 30-minute total body session. It’s changing the mentality of “all or nothing” when in fact, getting in little bits of exercise is just as effective.
Go for a morning walk
It’s a great way to guarantee you’ll get exercise in. The fresh air and sunlight will help to get your serotonin pumping, releasing feel good hormones that give you an energy boost for the day. It also means you’re less likely to get distracted in the morning. Whether it’s school pick-ups for older siblings, getting dinner ready or those beloved “witching” hours, you never really know what the afternoon will bring!
Ask for help
Don’t be afraid to ask for your help or for 20 minutes alone time so you can fit in exercise. Creating that time for yourself is so important for your mental health and well-being. A happy, healthy woman is a happy healthy mother, wife, partner, friend, or co-worker. Self-care isn’t selfish.
If you’ve had any complications after birth, such as urinary incontinence or prolapse, it’s important to work chat to a professional like an Accredited Exercise Physiologist (AEP) before getting started. They will help you to exercise safely and can help to restore function to your pelvic floor. To find an AEP near you, click here.
Written by Sarah Collins. Sarah is an Accredited Exercise Physiologist at Sarah Collins Health.