Before we start discussing the ways you can get back to your pre-baby body, I would encourage you to shift your perspective from trying to ‘bounce back’ to creating a strong and healthy body after baby.
As a personal trainer specialising in postnatal fitness and a Mum of two (with another due very soon), I can tell you that there is nothing more frustrating than setting a goal of trying to look how you looked prior to having children.
There are a few reasons that I encourage women to shift their focus from trying to ‘bounce-back” which is focused on the past, to focusing on creating a strong and healthy body after baby.
The first is that prior to having children, you had unlimited time (or at least it felt that way!) to focus on your health. You could spend an hour at the gym without a second thought. You could splash out on all sorts of healthy ingredients and could spend hours on self-care. The life of a Mum is very different. You have someone else to care for and a whole different set of priorities. Finding time to exercise can be hard. Trying to keep up with your pre-kid self is exhausting and frustrating.
The second reason is that in order to grow and nourish your baby, your body undergoes huge emotional and physical changes. When we have changed so much as women, why is our goal to still pretend like this amazing process never happened. Due to my pregnancies, I have an umbilical hernia and suffer from a pelvic organ prolapse. Both of these things have changed the types of exercise I can do. I now try to embrace the changes that motherhood has created in my physical appearance and move my body in a way that makes me feel good now. My focus is on feeling strong, healthy and confident as a woman and a mother.
I am definitely not advocating for you to settle or give up on any goals you have of feeling stronger and fitter than you ever have. All I am asking is that you shift your focus forwards instead of backwards. That you make decisions based on what feels good for you now, rather than what felt good in the past. And that you do it from a place of acceptance and strength rather than desperation to go back to the way things were.
Returning to Exercise After Baby
Stage One – Inner Strength and Mobility
This starts with the birth of your baby and continues until your inner support systems are strong enough to support more intense forms of movement.
In the first six weeks, it is often recommended to do nothing. Whilst I agree that our focus should be on resting, replenishing our energy and connecting to our babies, most of us don’t actually do nothing. We walk our babies in prams. We hold our babies all day long. We carry shopping and baby bags, we lift our babies in and out of cars. These are all forms of movement and exercise and require a basic level of core function and control. If we are walking with poor posture, or don’t have the required level of core control to lift a baby carrier, then we will be causing damage to our postpartum body.
My recommendation is that in the first six to twelve weeks after your baby is born, focus on the following types of movements.
Thoracic Mobility. This involves releasing tension in the upper body, opening up the chest and engaging postural muscles with simple chest + shoulder stretches and strengthening movements using just your body weight. See the Fit Mummy Project App Workout Relief from back pain for a perfect workout to relieve tight shoulders and back.
Pelvic Floor and Deep Core Engagement. Most women have some form of stomach separation and weakness or imbalance in their pelvic floor after giving birth.
Your core is actually comprised of your pelvic floor, your glute (butt) muscles, your stomach muscles and the lower back muscles.
During the first 6-12 weeks, your focus should be on strengthening all of these muscles. This inner support system will create a strong foundation for returning to the types of exercise you love.
I recommend doing your Pelvic Floor Exercises twice a day every day for the first 3-6 months of your babies life. The Pelvic Floor is like any other muscle and needs to be engaged in different ways. I focus on endurance holds, power lifts and quick contractions. These are all covered in the above workout or click here for more details.
After you have a baby, you may lose the neural connection to pelvic floor and deep core muscles. Knowing how to properly engage your pelvic floor and core will help you to re-create these neural pathways and start to build strength from the inside out. I recommend that all postnatal women see a Womens’ Health Physio after they have given birth so they can have their core and pelvic floor assessed.
For some great early postnatal workouts that will strengthen and tone your pelvic floor and deep core – try the Fit Mummy Project App, Pelvic Floor, Core Restore and Glute Workouts.
Stage Two – Building Strength + Endurance
As your core strength builds, you can start to include function strength movements that will help you to feel strong and toned. From six weeks on, I recommend including 1 – 2 strength sessions a week and if you can, 1-2 pilates or specific postnatal classes. This will help you to maintain your focus on inner strength and core connection, whilst building strong legs, glutes and arms.
My favourite types of movements for Mums are function movements. Including functional movements in our workouts simply mean that we practice the types of movements that we do every day. Learning to squat, bend, lift and pull whilst connecting your pelvic floor and deep core will mean that you will be able to lift, bend, squat and pull in real life in a much safer way.
My favourite functional movements for Mums include:
- Squats with Pelvic Floor connection
- Lunge Pulses
- Shoulder Press
- Seated or Bent Over Row
- High Pull
- Squat and Pull
- Push Ups on all Fours
- Tricep Dips
- Hip Raises
- Supported Side Plank
- Single Leg and Arm Lifts in Quadruped
Start with body weight exercises or use your baby as a cute weight. A good guide in those early postpartum days (up until 3 months) is to lift a weight that is similar to the weight of your baby.
As your strength increases, you can then begin to increase the weight you are lifting and the number of reps you are doing. If lifting weight causes you to hold your breath or makes your belly ‘pop’ or bulge the weight is too heavy for you.
Stage 3 – Returning to Running and High Intensity Exercise
If you want to return to running or other forms of high intensity exercise, then I recommend having a check-up with a Women’s Health Physio (even if you have been given the all clear from your Doctor). They will asses your pelvic floor and core and advise you whether these internal support systems are strong enough to cope with the extra demands of high intensity exercise.
If you have a prolapse, you may also be able to be fitted with a pessary to support you whilst you are running. A pessary is a plastic ring or cube that is inserted into your vagina to help support your internal organs. It can help support the pelvic organs, and therefore help you return to exercise more safely. A pessary that is appropriate and well fitted can act like a ‘ sports bra’ for the vagina! It doesn’t fix the problem, but whilst you are working on your pelvic floor strength it can help minimize further damage and allow you to recommence fitness training.