When you have just given birth and you are coping with looking after a new baby it would be fair to say that exercise is the furthest thing from your mind. However, there are many physical and psychological benefits to starting your exercise regime as soon as you can.
If you focus on some gentle lower abdominal and pelvic floor exercises it will help your body to return to its pre-pregnancy state and will also help your mood. It is not uncommon for a new Mom to feel a bit down from about 3 or 4 days after they have delivered their child.This is usually caused by a combination of maternal hormones, exhaustion and the responsibility of looking after a brand-new life. If you are having serious problems coping with life at that stage it is important that you seek some medical help because you may be suffering from post-natal depression. There is plenty of help out there, you just have to ask.
On the other hand, if you just have a mild case of the ‘baby blues’, exercise can be very useful. When you exercise, your body will produce a chemical called endorphins. These are the happy hormone and they will boost your mood and help you to feel more positive.
Exercise will also help you to lose any excess weight that you gained during pregnancy but you should be aiming for gradual weight loss rather than going on a drastic diet. Exercise can also help build up your physical stamina and this will be useful in the coming weeks and months.
Exercises suitable immediately after birth
The single most important exercise for you at this stage are pelvic floor exercises. Your pelvic floor is a shaped like a hammock and supports all of the important organs of the lower abdomen and pelvis including the uterus (womb) and the bladder. It is put under a lot of strain during pregnancy and childbirth and it needs some help to get back in shape.
A strong pelvic floor is essential to prevent stress incontinence which is a common issue for ladies who have given birth. It is an embarrassing problem because accidental leaks of urine happen when you cough, sneeze or jump up and down. It also helps to prevent prolapse of the pelvic organs as you get older and is an excellent habit to get into.
Pelvic floor exercises are a type of exercise that you can build into your daily life. Hopefully, you will have started them when you were pregnant. If not, there is no need to worry because there is no such thing as starting too late. Your health care provider will be able to give you detailed instructions on how to do the exercises properly but there is also plenty of advice online.
Once you feel like it, you can get out and about with your baby. Just getting out of the house with a newborn can be a workout by itself! Start off with a gentle walk pushing the pushchair and then build up the pace. A short walk of around 10 minutes duration is ideal to start off with and then get a little longer each day. Take some water with you and don’t be scared to sit down and have a rest if you have to.
Very gradually you can get back to running or cycling or whatever your pre-pregnancy exercise routine was. Swimming is a highly beneficial exercise as the water supports your joints as you exercise.
You may want to start your new exercise regime at home and then after a few weeks, find a gym here where you can build on what you have already achieved. Attending a gym regularly will give you a break from being at home with your newborn baby and will help to stop you feeling isolated.
Lower abdominal and back exercises after giving birth
Your lower tummy muscles are the most important ones to exercise after you have had a baby. They are important and without them, your pelvic floor muscles cannot work properly. They also play an important role in supporting your back and pelvis. Many young Moms suffer from back ache and it is down to weak abdominal muscles.
If you gave birth by caesarean section you need to be careful about exercise. Your doctor will be able to advise you on what is safe and on what level of exercise is needed to help you to heal. It is common to feel a pulling sensation when you tighten your muscles. If you feel pain then it is time to stop.
Here are some ideas for gentle abdominal and pelvic floor exercises that you can do whilst soothing your baby to sleep:
1. Lie on your side in a comfortable position with your knees slightly bent. Breathe in slowly and as you breathe out, tighten your pelvic floor muscles. You should be aiming for a squeeze and lift. Repeat this three times. On the fourth set, once you've tightened your pelvic floor, gently pull your belly button in and up. As you do it, you should be able to feel your lower abdominal tummy muscles tighten.
2. Hold this position for about 10 seconds but don’t worry if you have to release it sooner. Now completely relax the muscles. Wait at least five seconds until you do the exercise again. Be careful not to over-tighten your tummy muscles.
Your back is very vulnerable to injury at this time so start some lower back strengthening exercises. Pelvic tilts work well because they gently move and stretch the lower back muscles and abdominal muscles at the same time. You can do pelvic tilts lying down on the bed next to your baby.
Lie on your back and pop a pillow under your head. Bend your knees and tighten your pelvic floor whilst pulling in your lower abdominal muscles. Now, try to push your lower back gently into the bed and hold for 10 seconds. Release and repeat.
Always work at your own pace and remember to breathe!