We asked our resident fitness expert and mother Suzanne Bowen for the low-down on exercise post pregnancy. Here are Suzanne’s ten top ways to shape up!
1. Hydrate: Drink plenty of water especially if you are breastfeeding. Being dehydrated can make you tired and have headaches among other things. Get a good quality water bottle and keep it filled and with you all day. A tip to make it tastier is to infuse it with frozen fruit.
2. Cardio Mood Lift: When you’re tired from being mom day and night, cardio exercise might seem like that last thing you feel like doing. But I promise it will lift your mood. Go for a walk or a light stroll as soon as you are cleared to by your healthcare provider. Lightly walking your baby in a pram can be incredible for you and her as you gain a new perspective and she sleeps or looks at surroundings.
3. Pelvic Floor Rehab: Sit with your tailbone behind you and breathe. Place hands on your belly and inhale as you feel your diaphragm (or ribcage) expand, your abs expand slightly and your pelvic floor descend. On the exhale, feel rib cage close, abs contract and pelvic floor lift. Do this a few times throughout the day and not only can this exercise help you turn back on potentially lax muscles of pelvic floor and deep abdominals but you’ll also destress by the intentional breath work.
4. Eat quality foods including protein, veggies (that your baby tolerates if you’re breastfeeding), healthy fats, and some fruits like berries and apples. Limit processed foods, starches and sugars. This will make a world of difference in leaning out.
5. Give yourself a break! Too often, those of us in the West think we should be able to bounce back up a day or two after giving birth as super mom but our bodies are designed to rest and recover and nourish baby. Many cultures have a very real fourth trimester so make sure you take time for yourself, for your baby, and for your body to heal. It’s okay to not get as much done.
6. Plank, plank, plank: Upon getting clearance from your healthcare provider, you can add planks as a great way to bring strength to the core muscles. Starting with the most modified plank, find a countertop and step feet back with arms extended below shoulders. Inhale and feel ribcage, abs, and pelvic floor expand. Exhale and feel them contract. Do not hold your breath or tuck hips. Repeat for up to 10 breaths. As you get stronger, take to a lower bench then to a mat on the knees. Finally tuck toes and lift legs. If you find yourself having to hold breath to hold the more advanced plank, drop down a level. Always breathe. Always integrate core.
7. Dress for bouncing back: Postnatal bounce back is often discouraging when trying to fit into clothing that is still a little tight or feels differently than it did in the pre-pregnancy body. Please understand that it takes time for your body to adjust and I personally held on to a little more than 4KGs while breastfeeding even though I was exercising and not overeating. That’s why I thoroughly encourage women to invest in a great yoga pant that offers support through the waist because you will feel slimmer and more like getting in a walk or workout.
8. Choose workouts that are focused on form and a neutral spine. Any fitness program out there that has excessive ab-work or tucks hips under to “work the abs” is out of date especially postnatally. Please find a program that offers low to no impact modifications (especially in the first year) so that while you lean out on the outside, all your structure stays in shape on the inside!
9. Enjoy your man and try to get in fun dates with him when you can so that you can stay connected and remember this time will pass, and pass quickly! I know because my daughter turned 10 last month! It’s such a wonderful time for most mums when babies are tiny and in the first year but for many, it’s overwhelming with night wakings or colicky criers. This can stress out other relationships so enlist help or a babysitter so you can at least grab a quick bite and stroll to reconnect. You’ll feel recharged.
10. And last but most certainly not least, if you experienced abdominal separation or incontinence through pregnancy or delivery, please see a specialized physical therapist or consider a program like Julie Wiebe’s “The Pelvic Floor Piston: Foundation for Fitness” that is specific to these conditions. She teaches in great detail alignment, structure and breath work and helps countless women “return to fitness” in a way that is healthy and safe. Click here to purchase The Pelvic Floor Piston: Foundation for Fitness DVD.