There is a lot of confusing information out there about what you can, can’t, should and should’t do when returning to exercise after having children. I’ve decided to create a list of very common mistakes mums make when exercising post-birth.
Most of the mistakes below are closely related. And to be honest, I was also guilty of most of them (I’ve learned from my mistakes, though). They are not in any particular order.
- Doing too much too soon
There is loads of pressure on mums to get that pre-baby body back ASAP! That pressure isn’t just from TV or social media. We always complement people if they lose weight and say how good they look. And new mums want to look good, too. So as soon as they get a green light from the doctor to commence exercise (and some mums don’t even wait for that), they want to train hard to get quick results not thinking about how their bodies went through so many changes during pregnancy and labour and that they might need more time to heal. Many mums ignore the fact that they should start easing back into exercise gently.
Saying that, it’s not always about losing that baby weight. Some mums (especially the fit ones who kept training during pregnancy) just want to get back into their normal routine so they won’t lose their fitness level (this was me) and/or they just love that buzz from working out hard.
However, mums often have pelvic floor issues, abdominal separation, carpel tunnel issues, SPD, back issues, etc. And all of these issues need to be taken into account when retuning to exercise post-birth. Similar to your energy level, when you are sleep deprived and your body is trying to recover from birth, doing high-intensity sessions almost every day might not be the best idea.
- Skipping rehab exercises
If you had a knee surgery, you would do rehab exercising after surgery before going back to running, heavy lifting, etc. The same applies post-birth. Our tummy muscles stretch and lose strength during pregnancy, and mums often have issues connecting with the deep abdominal muscles and pelvic floor post-birth. We need to work on our weakest link first, and post-birth, in the majority of cases, that’s our core and pelvic floor. We need to learn to reconnect with these muscles first to ensure we can engage them properly and strengthen them before we get back to running, lifting weights, etc. These muscles are really important, as they support your spine and internal organs.
It’s also important to work on your body alignment and your breathing, as both have an impact on the pelvic floor and diastasis healing.
- Doing nothing before clearance from the doctor
We are told not to exercise before we get a clearance from the doctor, but that doesn’t mean that we should do nothing. There is so much we can be doing. And I don’t even mean going for a walk. (BTW, short walks are recommended just for your own sanity, unless there is an issue and your doctor told you specifically that you shouldn’t do it.) You can start connecting with your core and pelvic floor and start working on your breathing and body alignment. You can even start working on your glutes, which are very important for your pelvic floor’s health.
- Doing hundreds of crunches to get rid of that mummy tummy
If you have trouble getting rid of that mummy tummy, you should get checked for diastasis recti (also known as abdominal separation). Diastasis is the stretching/weakening of the linea alba and the entire abdominal wall that occurs during pregnancy. It usually happens during later stages of pregnancy and sometimes doesn’t go back together afterwards, which is why you still have that mummy tummy. Diastasis recti reduces the integrity and functional strength of the abdominal wall and can aggravate lower back pain and pelvic instability.
If you have abdominal separation, you should focus on working on your deep abdominal muscles (transverse abdominus) and avoid moves and exercises that can increase intra-abdominal pressure. Working your TA will take pressure of your healing six pack muscles. Also, working on your posture and breathing will help with healing the separation. Just as poor posture can lead to neck, back, shoulder pain, and other problems, it can also put your pelvic floor in a vulnerable position and prevents the diastasis from healing.
- Not getting your abdominals and pelvic floor checked
I honestly think every mum should get checked by a women’s health physiotherapist (often clearance form GP is not enough) so they know what is going on with their pelvic floor and abdominals. Especially with vaginal birth but even after a C-section, mums can benefit from seeing a women’s health physio, who can check if you are engaging your pelvic floor properly (50% of women do it incorrectly), can check for abdominal separation, and, if you had a C-section, can help you with your scar tissue.
It doesn’t matter how good I am or any other trainer you may work with is. We cannot assess your pelvic floor or give you proper exercise instruction without the help of a women’s health physio.
Check out my interview with a women’s heath phsyio about why mums should get checked post-birth here.
- Going on a diet
After giving birth, we just want to get that pre-baby body back, so if we can’t exercise, we cut calories (or do both). This is not the right time to cut calories. Your body is going through hormonal changes and a healing process. To heal, it needs a sufficient amount of calories. Also, if you are breastfeeding, your body needs an extra 200-300 calories. A good idea in the postnatal period is to review what you eat to ensure you provide your body with enough nutrients. Don’t rely on takeaway and fast food. Focus on eating real food and loads of fresh veggies. And your meals don’t have to take a long time to prepare; you can cut your veggies into batches and keep them in a fridge or freezer. You can also cook your proteins in batches, too. Boiled eggs and roasted chicken should last you a few days, and you can use them in salads and sandwiches.
If you want to get back to exercise in a safe and effective way check out our 6 week online program – Busy Fit Mums.