The benefits of exercise throughout pregnancy are well documented. Moms to be who stay active have lower rates of gestational diabetes, are more likely to stay within recommended weight gain guidelines, have lower rates of cesarean deliveries, and tend to recover sooner post-childbirth. But what happens after baby is born? As a new mom, sleep deprivation and diaper blowouts tend to take precedence over exercise for the first few weeks and beyond. But getting active sooner than later can be beneficial for both mom and baby! Exercise in the post-partum phase can help improve sleep patterns, minimize feelings of post-partum depression and the “baby blues”, helps with gradual weight loss and muscle strengthening, can improve posture, and provides a great opportunity to be social with other moms! Typically, most women are ready to resume gentle exercise at the six-week mark. Speak to your OB/GYN or primary care provider to ensure you are ready. Some great questions to ask your doctor are:
- -Do I have a diastasis (abdominal separation) that needs to heal?
- -I have some bleeding/having cramping/in pain. Is this normal, and can I exercise while this occurs?
- -Sometimes when I jump, laugh or cough, I pee! Is this normal? What can I do?
- -Are there any movements or exercises I should avoid, i.e. heavy lifting?
- -I used to do _____ (running, cross-training, play competitive soccer). How can I get back into my favourite activity safely?
Once you’ve been given the “all-clear” to resume physical activity, I highly recommend seeing a pelvic floor physiotherapist to be screened for diastasis recti and/or organ prolapse. Incontinence post-pregnancy is common, but a sign that something has yet to heal. A skilled therapist can help you resume exercise safely and effectively, ensuring no further damage occurs.
Ready to begin? Here are 4 simple suggestions for incorporating exercise into your new mama life!
Head out for a stroll!
Did you register for a stroller? Perfect! Bundle up your tot and head outdoors. Stick to smooth sidewalks and pathways if you are just starting out, or head for walking trails if you are more adventurous. Be sure to pack water and snacks, let someone know where you are headed ahead of time, and bring cell phone in case of any emergencies. Better yet – find a local mall and meet up with a group of moms to stroll together! Afterwards, your babies can nap while you enjoy a much-deserved cup of coffee.
Find a local mom and baby class!
If you live in an urban center, there are likely dozens of these at your doorstep. And many have a fitness component! Call your local fitness studio or gym to see what they have to offer. And take some inspiration from the exercises you used to do before you were pregnant. Love CrossFit? Check out mom and baby boot camp! More of a yogi? Mom and baby yoga/Pilates are popping up in many established studios. Ask for referrals from your care provider, local social media groups (like meet-up) or early years centers. Insider tip: ask to trial a class before your commit to a series to make sure it doesn’t conflict with nap or feeding times.
Take it outdoors!
With the weather improving, many of us are longing to get outside after a long and dreary winter. The great news is you can exercise right in your own backyard, and bring your tot along with you! Spread an outdoor blanket or yoga mat on the grass, and bring along plenty of toys for babe while you’re at it. Here, you can keep an eye on your little one while you stretch and strengthen right in the comfort of your own home. Sunny day? Set up a beach umbrella to keep you both made in the shade. And don’t forget the SPF!
Bring baby along for the ride!
You might be saying, I couldn’t possibly exercise when I’m always holding my baby… why not take him or her with you? Investing in a structured carrier allows you to keep baby close, while giving you the freedom to move around. “Kangaroo-Care” for babies helps stabilize blood sugars, promotes healthy weight gain, and allows mom and babe to bond. It’s also a great way to help a newborn nod off to sleep! Simply strap your baby into a carrier and head out for a walk. Feeling ambitious? Check out a baby-wearing exercise class in your area. From Zumba to Salsa dancing, the possibilities are endless!
Congratulations on your new role as a mom. Enjoy incorporating fitness into this exciting new phase of your life!
By Holly Wykes, Registered Kinesiologist, ACSM Certified Clinical Exercise Physiologist Toronto, Ontario