Regain your shape after childbirth

Deep down you know it is true. It took you nine months to have this baby and your body will take approximately that amount of time to return to its prepregnanacy fitness level and body composition.

Apart from pelvic floor lifts and stomach squeezes recommended for the early post delivery days, how soon you can commence an exercise programme will depend on what type of birth you have had and what your fitness level is. If you are a woman who has not exercised in her pregnancy and have had a C-section then a gentle start about 10-12 weeks is likely. If you are a keen gym queen who has experienced a straightforward delivery then you may feel ready to start about 2-3 weeks after birth. These are very broad guidelines. Always tell your medical caregiver what you intend to do and seek their permission. Discuss your needs with fitness professional, preferably one with postnatal expertise.

There is no one type of exercise that will suit all needs and preferences. Some women like walking. Carving out time for you with a young baby can be difficult and that is why I recommend Power Pram Pushing to mothers who would like walking as a way to get back into shape with their babies. To progress you increase the amount of time and speed at which you walk with your baby in the pram day by day. However some women want to return to group exercise classes and specialised postnatal exercise sessions are another excellent way of exercising with a young baby and meeting other mothers. My classes are held in Newcastle and Sunderland. If you are from the area and are interested in attending, contact me on linda.hicks at ic24.net. Other teachers can be found on the website www.postnatalexercise.co.uk. If there are no specialised classes locally then choose a beginners/all listed low impact class or legs, bums and tums workout and tell the teacher you have recently had baby.

Other women want to start at home, preferring to work with a personal trainer or a video. A couple a sessions of personal training with focused stomach work and exercises designed to improve postnatal posture should give increased muscle tone, fitness and energy level and an enhanced feeling of well being. Exercise should invigorate and energise you. You should feel great. If you have any aches, pains or increased blood loss you are exercising too hard. Listen to your body and be willing to adapt your routine. Recumbent rest and relaxation is an important part of a postnatal exercise.

Advice for stomach work postnatally is usually offered in the form of week by week guidelines. I find this unhelpful as all mothers are individuals and will progress through the following baby belly work at their own speed. Firstly, new mothers need to check their stomach for separation of the recti. If you have separation then you need to perform corrective coaxing exercises until such time that separation is no longer detected.
You can check your stomach muscles yourself. Lie on your back with your knees bent. Place your fingers just below your belly button. Raise your head and press your fingers sideways into your stomach to feel the two hard band of stomach muscle. If you can feel a gap of more than two fingers, this is separation. You need to coax. If you have two fingers or less than you can gradually work through the following guidelines for banishing the baby bulge.

1. Coaxing and compression of the deep stomach muscles
Lying on your back with your knees bent (a small pillow under the lower back and buttocks can be helpful for those mothers who have recently had a C-section), breathe in and feel the abdomen rise. Breathe out and coax the stomach muscle downwards.

On your hands and knees (facing down to the floor), drop your belly keeping your back where it is and then pull you stomach muscles up to your spine.

2.Compression and contraction
As the separated stomach muscles come back together, a curl up, lifting the head and shoulders can be added to progress the intensity. Make sure that you continue to breathe out and coax the stomach muscles downwards as you move your head and shoulders upwards. If your stomach protrudes upwards as you lift your body off the floor in the curl up action, return to the coaxing breathing action. Compressing the stomach and lifting a leg a small distance off the small can also add progression. When the muscles get stronger you could lift the head and a leg.

3.Pelvic tilts
Moving on from this solid foundation of deep stomach activity, leg-sliding work, bridging activities, oblique exercise and stomach contractions in various positions will add variety and challenge to the baby belly and most importantly will give results. I will detail this work next time.

All these exercises can be made progressively more difficult be adding lever, length and weight variations. A large part of the stomach bulge that women encounter postnatally is distension following the birth of a baby. This displacement of organs, fluid and skin and slowly corrects itself. This takes about 4-6 months.

Pelvic floor exercises are vital and no article on postnatal work could be complete without mentioning them. The following exercises can be done in any position.
Draw up and close your back passage and then your front passage and vagina as if you were trying to stop yourself from leaking urine. Hold this action for as long as you comfortably can whilst breathing regularly and relaxing the muscles of the hips, thighs and buttocks. Relax the muscles and repeat this exercise as many times during the day as you can, perhaps doing a few of them every time you feed your baby. They need to be done regularly and correctly from birth.

Pelvic floor muscles are difficult to locate and if you are having difficulty with these important exercise speak to your health visitor or doctor.

I will include a variety of pelvic floor exercises, more demanding stomach work and suggest specific postural exercises to help you regain your shape and ease postnatal aches next time.

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