So you’ve had your baby and you’re ready for exercise. Congratulations!
The first step in any post-natal training program is to seek an assessment from a Women’s Health Physio; one that can literally get inside and check that everything is working properly.
Once you have the all-clear, where do you start? The fact is, many exercise regimes can cause more harm than good for the post-natal woman. The unique physical challenges undergone by a women through pregnancy and childbirth require a different approach to program design. And if you’re house-bound [exhausted], you’re doing it without any design at all! So what exercises are safe, effective, and possible to do at home, in the weeks after having a baby (wait until after your 6wk check at the doctor, and/or your physio assessment).
Here are 5 of our favorites:
- Synchronise your “kegal” (the pelvic floor lift and squeeze) with your breath–out. In a variety of body positions (lying, feeding, sitting, standing, cleaning, changing, etc), draw your attention to your pelvic floor and breathing. Lift and squeeze, as hard as you can, during your exhale. Repeat x8, have a rest, then do it again. Once you have the hang of that, try and hold the squeeze for two breaths. However, the most important thing is the synchronisation of your exhale and pelvic floor contractions, because this will prepare you for lifting later down the track (in the very least you’ll be lifting a 15kg toddler!).
- Posture. To train your posture, begin by standing with your baby in your arms (in front of you), lift your chest, get your shoulders down and back, and tuck your pelvis under like you’re trying to flatten your lower back (but don’t actually flatten it, you should feel your butt and abs “switch on”). Holding the baby on your chest makes your centre of gravity higher, thus engaging more of the true core (ie. the internal bits). In this position, twist and look over your shoulder, both ways, x10. Then bend side to side x 10. Then slump and look at the floor, and band back and look at the roof x 10. Perform all of these maintaining that great posture, don’t feel that you have to perform a huge movement, just go as far as you can do well. This can be performed sitting or standing or lunging. You should feel the muscles between your shoulder blades and down your back. If you are lunging there should also be a fabulous hip flexor stretch.
- Bridges. The good ol’ pelvic bridge, but pop your baby on it’s belly across your hips. You can do belly-time, wind the baby, and train your butt, all at once. Do 3×10-20, progressing to single leg when you are ready. Please keep two hands on your baby!
- Balance. To train your balance, stand on one leg (duh). You can either practise your squeeze and breath-out, or challenge your balance by reaching in all different directions (or both at the same time!). Progress to picking up objects from the floor. A good way to do this is to stand in the middle of your baby or toddler’s toys, and pick them all up whilst standing, facing the same direction, on one leg. This will challenge both your hip mobility and stability, as well as your strength in a functional movement. When you’re really strong, you can do it with a weight, doing it with your baby is possible, but quite difficult, so be aware of your posture.
- 4-point exercises. Any exercise on your hands and knees is a good ‘un in the weeks following having a baby. “Brace” your abs (stop short at flattening your back, but you should feel the abs & pelvic floor drawing up). Exercises include Yoga’s angry cat, opposite arm and leg raise, Jane Fonda’s peeing dog, etc. Perform 3 x 20 reps. Balancing a ball or water bottle on your lower back (just on the top of your hip bones) is a good way to ensure that it is not too flat, nor is it rocking side to side when you move your arms and legs. Have your baby on it’s back underneath you so you can blow bubbles and coo at the same time.
All of these exercises will develop the foundations of your true core, in preparation for the future; whether you engage in a formal training program, want to start running, or simply being a mum of a growing child. Promise me that you will not do crunches until your inner-abs are well and truly strong and synchronised!!