I was delighted to be asked to write a series of articles for West Essex Life focusing on women's health and fitness. This month, I focus on how to exercise safely and look after your nutrition in the first few months after giving birth.
Being a new mum requires a lot of strength, both physically and emotionally. Carrying a car seat, changing bag and a growing baby all put strain on a body that has been through a lot of changes and stress in pregnancy and labour.
As mums, we are often so busy looking after our little ones, that we forget how important it is to look after ourselves. Many women rush into exercising after having a baby but it is important to exercise safely.
This wonderful hormone that softens our ligaments, helping us to prepare for childbirth, can still be in your body up to 6 months after childbirth. This can be a problem as it leaves us vulnerable to injuries and permanent over-stretching of our ligaments.
The connective tissue between our 6 pack muscles is stretched during pregnancy to allow space for the growing baby. This weakness can take a while to heal. A non-specialist exercise class often includes crunches and other intense abdominal moves that can prevent the connective tissue healing and closing back together.
Your pelvic floor
Your pelvic floor can take 3-6 months to fully retract. Even if you don’t have any problems, high-impact sports like running can increase your risk of issues later in life.
Rushing back too quickly and intensely can lead to prolonged recovery or even injury.
Don’t despair. There are plenty of exercises you can do! Here are a few exercises to get you started after you’ve had your 6 week check with your doctor (8-12 weeks after a c-section).
For the first 3 exercises lie on your back, hip bones and pubic bone in line with each other – spine neutral (natural curves only). Knees bent, hip-distance apart. I recommend 8-10 reps to start. Not to exhaustion!
This may seem like a simple thing to do but taking a moment to breath, deeply and purposefully, is incredibly healing for both mind and body. Deep breathing, as used in Pilates, oxygenates the blood, releases tension and helps to activate the deep support muscles of the stomach and pelvic floor. It takes the pressure off your belly and allows any abdominal gaps to heel.
Rather than focusing on breathing to the front of your chest, inhale through your nose, for a count of 4, focus on the sides and back of your rib cage expanding.
Exhale through pursed lips, for a count of 8, allowing your rib cage to close. When exhaling gently draw up the pelvic floor (around 25/30%).
(great for your core and hip mobility)
Breathe out, engage your lower tummy muscles and pelvic floor, relaxed ribs. Open one knee to the side, allowing your foot to roll to its outer border. Try to move the knee as far as you can without moving your pelvis or opposite knee.
Breathe in and return to the start position keeping your pelvis still.
Breathe out, repeat on the other side.
(great for your core, bum and hamstrings)
Breathe in, engage your core and squeeze your bottom.
Breathe out and slowly peel your spine off the mat until your hips are lifted and
your weight is resting between your shoulder blades, not on your neck. Keep ribs softened down.
Breathe in and hold.
Breathe out and slowly roll down through your spine from the top to the bottom.
(great to release upper and mid back tension)
Lie on side with knees bent and both arms out in front of you at shoulder height. Palms touching each other. Head on floor or on pillow.
Inhale, lift top arm up to ceiling.
Exhale, reach your arm down towards the floor behind you as you twist your body, knees together. Look towards your hand. Do not force the movement.
Inhale, bring arm back up to ceiling
Exhale, return to start position.
Food for thought
Now that you have some exercises to get you started here are some top postnatal nutrition tips from Sophie Vaz of Natura Thrive.
Counting calories is likely to rob you and your baby of vital nutrients and might encourage greater fat storage in the longer term. Focusing on eating a well-balanced diet of nutrient dense food will nourish you and build your strength in the longer term.
Prioritise protein every time you eat to promote tissue repair and healing and keep you full for longer so you are less likely to snack on sugary foods.
Eat the rainbow! Fruits and vegetables are packed with vitamins and minerals which are important for good health. It is important to eat fruits and vegetables of varied colour each day. Aiming for one to two of each colour per day is a healthy goal to strive for!
Drink plenty of fluid. Dehydration is often a cause of fatigue and low energy. As a rule of thumb, aim to drink eight glasses of fluid per day. If you are bored of water; add lemon, cucumber slices or ginger to it.
Keep it simple! Eating should be enjoyable, not stressful. Eat in a way that works for your body and your lifestyle.