The baby was up five times last night. Your breasts are not your own. You have no idea if it’s 3 in the morning or the afternoon. The last thing you want to do is exercise. And if someone else tells you this is the exact time you need to exercise you’re going to cry.
Exercise is Key to Postpartum Health
Research shows that new mothers and women with infant children have some of the lowest rates of physical activity of any demographic group in Canada. Many new moms are facing dramatic sleep deprivation, and getting to the gym is beyond their means. But, it’s important to know that for both mental and physical health reasons, exercise is THE most important thing a woman can do to stave off postpartum depression, anxiety and stress – and recover her body physically.
“Exercise is essential for a new mom,” says Andrea Page, owner of FitMom, which offers pre and postnatal fitness classes. “It releases endorphins, helps you recover from the experience of giving birth.”
Every postpartum exercise regime will be different. Physicians recommend waiting six weeks before beginning to exercise again. “A full postpartum assessment should be done before you start exercising,” says Page. “Every new mom should have a full screening and be assessed for abdominal separation to determine what exercises will be appropriate. It isn’t a one size fits all post-delivery!”
Postpartum Health Concerns
Diastasis recti is a concern and should be determined by a postnatal expert or your physician. During pregnancy, the uterus stretches the abdomen which can cause two large parallel bands of muscles that meet in the middle to separate – this can cause a bulge, and will need proper exercises for rehabilitation. Planks, which work the transverse abdominus, will help strengthen the core, which can help heal diastasis recti.
This could mean that “belly bulge” that persists post-pregnancy – the little tummy that sometimes makes you still look pregnant – could be the result of more than diet and lack of exercise. It can make clothes tight and, at the extreme, can cause abdominal pain.
Uterine prolapse can be an issue – and anyone who has tried to do a jumping jack or a HIIT (high-intensity interval training) move will attest to the need for further pelvic floor strengthening. The uterus is supported by muscles and tissues that weaken during pregnancy – and can feel like the bladder is always full or, in extreme cases, causes pain. Kegels, where you strengthen the pelvic floor (think about tightening your vagina when you are peeing to stop the flow) can help.
You Can Do It: Easy Exercises for Postpartum Moms
With all this, it’s no wonder that so many women decide to take a pass on exercise. But getting your heart rate up and moving is an essential part of recovery after pregnancy and birth – and overall postpartum health. “The best exercises for new moms are non-impact strength training, cardio, and mobility work,” says Page. “Squats and lunges and upper-body work will help strengthen the whole body. Core exercises, planks, and deep abdominal breath work are also smart protocols to follow. Avoid crunches – these are not appropriate for postpartum women. And keep an eye on your wrists – tendonitis is common and needs to be addressed with modifications and functional movements.”
The best thing about exercise for new moms is taking some time for yourself, and connecting with other moms if you join a mom a baby class. Exercise will improve your mental and physical wellbeing, and it only takes 15-20 minutes a day to reap the benefits. (Only have 10 minutes a day? Try these get-fit ideas!) Your body will bounce back, and you will quickly realize exercise is the best form of “me time” and self-care.
I started training for a half-marathon when my son was four months old and I was also fighting postpartum depression. Long runs on Saturday mornings became a sacred time with my friend, where we talked and ran. When I crossed the finish line I had a greater sense of victory than just my time: I knew exercise had made me a better mom. I’ve never looked back. I now teach fitness classes and exercise daily.
It only takes one decision to be active again. You can do it.❤️
Small steps. Big gains.
The Healthy Six At-Home Program
Do 5 minutes of warm-up:
– Walk up and down a set of stairs – once comfortably, once out of your comfort zone, once to a high aerobic state (where you feel out of breath).
– If you don’t have stairs, jog or walk on the spot 20 seconds easy, 20 seconds moderate and 20 seconds hard for 3-4 minutes.
Follow up with 10 of each of the following:
– lunges, right leg
– lunges, left leg
– push-ups (from knees) with arms shoulder-width apart
Then, do the following circuit of six exercises:
a) Squat down for three, up for one
b) Push Up – Side Plank
c) Jumping jack – reverse lunge (building to plyometric lunges)
d) Fast Feet / High Knees
Repeat the circuit once or twice, doing each exercise for one minute.
Disclosure: As with all exercise regimens, it is important to consult with your doctor before beginning a new program.