Ask The Trainer: Exercising after Pregnancy
How soon can I exercise after labour?
Regular exercise after you’ve had a baby will strengthen and tone your muscles, help you recover from labour and raise your energy levels so you may feel less tired. Being active is also good for your mental wellbeing. It can relieve stress, help prevent postnatal depression and raise the much needed happy hormone (endorphine) level.
To start an exercise routine will depend on how active you were during your pregnancy, and what type of labour and birth you had. A mum who’s recovering from an assisted birth, or c-section, will feel different from a mum who’s had a straightforward vaginal birth.
If you did regular exercise right through your pregnancy, and your baby’s birth went smoothly, you can carry on with light exercise, such as walking and stretching, as soon after the birth as you feel ready. Generally, to get back to high-impact exercise like running or your much-loved Zumba class for example, it’s best to wait until your six-week postnatal check-up.
Be guided by how you feel and your energy levels. It is important to listen to your body and avoid overdoing it, especially if you’re not used to exercise. Changes in your body caused by pregnancy hormones and breastfeeding can affect your joints for several months after childbirth and you may be at risk of injuries.
But generally, don’t be afraid by the idea – it’s great to get back to exercise after having a baby. If you’ve got any doubts or questions about whether the exercise you’re doing is correct for you, talk to your GP or a health professional specialised in postnatal recovery. This is why so many women choose to work with a certified post natal fitness expert.
What is abdominal separation and how do I fix it?
The woman’s body undergoes some extraordinary changes during pregnancy to accommodate the growing baby. One of them is the expansion of the muscles in your abdominal area.
Abdominal Separation is explained by the separation of the two abdominal muscles, called rectus abdominis, that run down the middle of the abdomen as the tissue (linea alba) between these muscles stretches to make room for the baby during pregnancy.
Due to this separation, after pregnancy, many women will notice a deep recess in the middle of their abdomen, right down the center of the core area, near the belly bottom. But for some moms, that gap is wide and help on repairing is necessary. A wider separation is called diastasis recti.
“Having some separation is normal, but it is considered diastasis recti when the gap is significant.”
Diastasis recti is common, and an estimated 1 in 2 women experience the condition postpartum. The most common symptom of diastasis recti is a pooch or bulge in your stomach, especially when you strain or contract your abdominal muscles. Also, you may present lower back pain, poor posture, constipation and bloating.
The condition isn’t limited to pregnancy. It can affect anyone, including newborn babies and men. In some cases, it can be the result from extreme weight gain, lifting heavy weights incorrectly or performing excessive or unsafe abdominal exercises.
You can yourself check if you have any abnormal separation after having your baby by following the steps below. Bear in mind that it is always recommended to contact a health professional for further advice.
- Start by lying on your back with your knees bent and your feet flat on the floor. · Raise your head and shoulders off the floor a bit and look down towards your belly button.
- Using the indicator and middle finger to start with, feel with your fingertips between the edges of the muscles, above and below your belly button. Check the number of fingers you can fit between your separated muscles.
- Follow the same procedure regularly to see if the gap is decreasing. · If you go to a postnatal class, trained instructors might also be able to help you check your separation.
During pregnancy, you can continue to strengthen your core, but follow modified, pregnancy-safe exercises for diastasis recti. You may also need to wear a pregnancy belt for support during the day and take care to do the following:
- Avoid any heavy lifting or further straining of your abdominal muscles until after your baby is born.
- Practice good posture both when you sit and when you walk.
- Support your lower back when sitting with a towel or pillow placed behind you. · When lying down practice good mobility by bending your knees, rolling, and supporting yourself with your arm when getting in or out of bed, or standing up off the floor.
Ab separation often heals on its own, but if you’re still experiencing symptoms or separation eight weeks postpartum, targeted exercises may help close the gap more quickly. The key is rebuilding your core from the inside out. You need to strengthen the transverse abdominis (TVA) muscle, which is the deepest abdominal muscle and can provide support for those muscles that have been stretched. It is also very important to regain strength in your pelvic floor and diaphragm, which work in conjunction with your abdominal muscles.
Below are some examples of exercises you can perform at home:
1) Belly Breathing
Belly breathing simply involves allowing your stomach to expand and contract as much as possible while you actively inhale and exhale as deeply as possible.
Perform 10 deep breaths, moving slowly.
2) Pelvic Tilts on Hands and Knees
Begin on all fours with hands and knees shoulders-width apart and knees hip-width apart on the ground keeping in a neutral spine.Take a big inhale, then exhale slowly and deeply, drawing your tailbone down and under into a curved spine. Inhale as you bring your spine back to neutral. Avoid over activating your glutes and instead, move from your lower abs.
Perform 10 reps, moving slowly.
3) Kneeling Leg and Arm Extension with Knee Tap
Begin on all fours with hands and knees shoulders-width apart and knees hip-width apart on the ground keeping in a neutral spine. Start by exhaling and drawing the belly bottom up towards the spine. Maintain the contraction of the core while you inhale and reach your one arm ahead and opposite leg straight behind you aiming to achieve a straight line between from your hill to the back of your hand. Exhale and bend the arm and leg then tap your elbow towards your knee, inhale and extend both limbs long returning to neutral.
Alternate sides for 10 reps on each side.
4) Toe Taps Lying on Back
Lying flat on your back, raise your legs to a tabletop position, with knees directly over your hips and knee bend at 90 degrees. Both arms lying flat along your trunk. Avoid arching your back or tucking your pelvis. Inhale into your abdomen and exhale as you tap one foot down to the floor, drawing in your core and maintaining pelvic alignment. Inhale as you return to neutral and repeat on the other side.
Perform 10 reps alternating each side.
What to avoid if you have abdominal separation:
Avoid performing any abdominal crunches and planking until you have regained strength in your core muscles and the gap has started to close, since doing exercises that may over-activate the muscle and can actually make diastasis recti worse. Keep things simple and listen to your body!
Always listen to your body and pay attention to what is going on in your abdominal and pelvic areas. Rehab takes time, consistency and the right guidance from a specialised post natal fitness professional. Also, check with your doctor and get their approval before you start exercising after delivery.
Written By Aline: Female fitness expert at MotivatePT – Reps Level 3 Qualified / Pre & Post Natal